The gutsy performance by Matthys Beukes and Philip Buys (Scott Factory Racing) at the Absa Cape Epic showed that they have come of age as mountain bikers and are now able to beat the world’s best riders if they really put their minds to it.
Not only did they finish 6th overall and win the Absa African Jersey, but they also finished 2nd in stage seven and 3rd in stage four.
The only time they did not manage to get a top-ten stage finish in the Epic, was on day three when they were 13th.
A year ago nobody would have considered Buys and Beukes even good enough to be competitive in the Epic. Now there are people who think that they might be able to challenge for the yellow jersey in a few years from now.
Judging by the performance by Buys and Beukes in the Epic, it seems safe to predict that the battle for victory in the MTN National MTB ultra marathon series is wide open.
The days when the MTN series was dominated by only four riders is most certainly something of the past.
The MTN Series resumes again in Tulbagh on 14 April.
Buys is still undecided whether or not he will race. There is a cross-country race scheduled at the same time and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio remains his main priority.
Beukes has made up his mind and he will be racing. After his success in the Epic, he is confident of getting another good result. “During the Epic, we raced on many of the tracks that will form part of the Tulbagh route, so I know what to expect. It will certainly not be a walk in the park.”
Will there be enough time to recover from the Epic before the Tulbagh?
“Yes,” Beukes answered confidently. Philip and I are actually quite surprised about how good we feel after the Epic. I think it is because we raced cleverly. Apart from during the last stage, we never really pushed ourselves to the limit”
Their heroic duel with Jose Hermida (Spain) and Rudi van Houts (Netherlands) in the Epic’s 7th stage, was a definite highlight from a South African perspective.
It went right down to the wire, with the Multivan Merida riders just managing to pip the South Africans at the line to win the 7th stage.
Hermida is a former cross-country world champion, and also a silver medallist at the Olympic Games.
The South Africans also managed to outride Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel. Schurter (Switzerland) is the current cross-country world champion.
Quite a few other former world champions and Olympic medallists followed in the wake of the South Africans during stage seven.
Beukes said they did not crash once and had no mechanical problems, not even one puncture. He ascribes it to their slightly conservative approach. “You could say that the Epic was a good training exercise for us.”
The MTN Tulbagh ultra-race will be there for the taking. Neither Max Knox (Specialized/EAI Solutions), Kevin Evans, Brandon Stewart or Neil MacDonald (FedGroup-Itec) will be racing.
Knox predicts tips Nico Bell (Westvaal/Bell Cycles) as the rider to beat.
“People tend to forget about Nico, but he is a much improved rider since last year. Maybe it is because he is somewhat shy and therefore does not talk much before races.”
According to Knox, the other rider worth watching will be Charles Keey (Cannondale/Blend Properties).