“I love it when a plan comes together.”
Nico Bell (Westvaal/Bell Cycles) could be forgiven if this phrase from the ever popular television series, the A-Team, crossed his mind as he won the MTN Rooiberg ultra-race (105km) on Saturday (15 June).
This victory, his first ever in the MTN series, has been a long time in the making.
Bell’s winning time was 4 hours 21 minutes and 21 seconds. Matthys Beukes (Scott) was 2nd in 4:27:34; Gawie Combrinck (Westvaal/Bell Cycles) 3rd in 4:29:59; Darren Lill (Cannondale/Blend Properties) 4th in4:41:343 and Johann Rabie (NuWater) 5th in 4:41:46.
Bell’s name has been mentioned since last year whenever pre-race favourites were discussed, but for a plethora of reasons, he always seemed to run out of luck at crucial moments in almost every race. To his credit he refused to become despondent. In fact, he just became more motivated.
It should be mentioned that Bell left nothing to chance.
Bell and his trusted sidekick, Gawie Combrinck, sat down and carefully planned the best way to ensure a victory at MTN Rooiberg.
“I asked Gawie to put his body on the line to make sure that we keep racing at a fast pace for the duration of the race. In this way we can make sure that a rider who drops back will not be able to join up again.
“I want it to be a race of attrition in which only the strongest riders will survive,” said Bell last week when asked about his plans for the MTN Rooiberg race.
That was exactly how Saturday’s race played out. For the first approximately 20 kilometres, Beukes was the rider who set the pace that enabled him to win the king of the mountain prime.
The moment he started to slow down, Combrinck went to the front to set the pace. He did such a good job that, after 60 kilometres, there were only a few riders left in contention to take the victory. Bell waited for the steepest climb of the day to start playing his cards. He tested the strength of his rivals with short bursts of acceleration, but refrained from any major heroics.
On the seven sisters climb after the first tech zone, the real fun began when Bell attacked. Beukes tried for a while to keep up but, realizing that he was fighting a losing battle, he wisely decided to consolidate his second place.
The entire event took place in the Rooiberg conservancy and inevitably there was numerous encounters with the resident wildlife.
According to Beukes, they had to stop and get off their mountain bikes at one stage during the race to give a herd of Impala and Springbok the right of way. “It was exciting but also slightly scary.” Lill nearly landed up with a Springbok landing on his back while they waited for a herd to pass while Combrinck had a close encounter with a kudu while they were racing down one of the trickiest descents.
London Olympic gold rower Matthew Brittain commented after the race “Only in Africa, the front group stopped and waited for the herd to pass without a comment and just continued racing after they passed!” reminding of the famous Paris Roubaix where riders sometimes have to stop for a train to pass mid race, but with African flair.
“MTN Rooiberg was definitely a race of a different kind. Not only did you have to watch out for loose rocks all the time, but you also had to be on constant alert for what might jump out of the bush,” said Combrinck.
Bell said without hesitation that the MTN Rooiberg was one of the toughest races of the series so far.
“I had flash backs of the first stage of the Absa Cape Epic. Riding through the thick loose sandy sections and over the loose rocks were not easy. You really had to keep your wits about you.”
Robyn de Groot (Need Sponsor) also achieved a cycling first by winning the MTN Rooiberg women’s 75km race. Yolandi du Toit (Bizhub) was 2nd and Yolanda Speedy (ASG) 3rd.