Max Knox and Robyn de Groot continued their winning ways when they claimed the men and women’s titles respectively at Round 6 of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series at Dullstroom, Mpumalanga at the weekend. The two current South African champions won in dominant fashion on a tough course at relatively high altitude.
It was the fourth Ashburton Investments National MTB Series win in succession for Knox (Lowveld Tractors), who wrapped up the 2016 men’s Series title with a perfect score of 16000 (riders get 4000 points for a win). The best five results are used after the seventh and final round to determine the final standing, but with four victories, Knox cannot be beaten even if someone else wins, he just needs to finish and score some points to stay ahead of Nico Bell the defending series champion.
De Groot’s (Ascendis Health) win was her third in the Series, putting her in contention to retain the title with a good finish at the final round next month. Amy Beth McDougall (Valencia), second at the weekend, still leads the women’s Series with 16514 points, while Samantha Saunders (Valencia), third at Dullstroom, is a close third on 14960. The overall series will only be determined at the final round and any of the top five ranked women can take the title at this point.
Perfect weather greeted the riders at Dullstroom on Saturday and with the men’s race 15km shorter than the 2015 edition at 98km, the intensity was expected to be as high as the altitude, which rises in excess of 2200 metres above sea level.
The full SCOTT LCB Factory Racing team of Gert Heyns, Arno du Toit, Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes ensured the race started fast and split quite early on. The small lead pack of eight comprised three members of the SCOTT LCB team, Matt Beers (Red-E Cannondale), Gawie Combrinck, Knox and Johann Rabie (Team Telkom). Then, at 55km on the race’s big climb, Knox was setting the pace, which proved too quick for his rivals. He then continued on alone to the finish to clock a winning time of 03 hours 52 minutes 47 seconds.
Gawie Combrinck (Team NAD) finished second in 04:00:21 with Beukes claiming third place in 4:01:42. Buys and HB Kruger (Team Telkom) rounded out the top five positions respectively. Combrinck’s podium place made up for the fact that his NAD teammate and Series leader, Nico Bell, had to drop out at 70km after suffering with a virus all week. Bell is still second in the series rankings going into the final round.
“Everything went perfectly for me today. The bunch was a bit smaller but it was a quality field. The SCOTT LCB guys were very positive and pushed the pace hard from the beginning. I knew they’d struggle towards the end though because they’ve focussed mainly on XC this year and aren’t used to the longer duration of these ultra-marathons,” said Knox.
“On the big climb at around 55km, I saw the guys were hurting a bit so I set a steady pace and managed to get a small gap over the top. I knew that if could maintain a good pace from there and through the rough last 20km, it would be difficult for anyone to catch me. I’m happy to have stayed away,” smiled Knox.
“Max has got really good form. I had a bit of a rest and am starting to build up for the last part of the year. I just didn’t’ have the legs to go with Max up the big climb. But I do enjoy this course. I like the long climbs and I seem to do well at altitude,” said a satisfied Combrinck.
“I’m quite happy with third place,” said Beukes, “I wasn’t sure how the altitude would affect me and I didn’t feel great initially. For the first hour and a half I held back. As soon as we hit the big climb Max went and no one could respond to that. I held back a bit and then with 30km to go I felt good so I went for it. I trained for this race for the past six weeks so am happy to get on the podium.”
Robyn de Groot setting the pace and making easy work of the Dullstroom’s higher altitude
Photo Credit: www.zcmc.co.za
In the women’s race, the course and the altitude took its toll. A group of three formed at the front early on comprising De Groot, McDougall and Sanders. First Sanders dropped off the pace at around 12km and then McDougall at around 18km, leaving De Groot in the lead for most of the race. The Ascendis Health rider kept a steady pace to finish in a time of 03:12:03.
McDougall was second in 3:18:16 with Sanders third in 3:19:35. Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk) and Vanessa Bell (Bells Cycling) were fourth and fifth respectively.
“This was an important win for myself and my sponsors. They’ve been very patient in letting me take the time to get back after my injury. I’m happy with this one,” said a delighted De Groot.
“Coming from sea level to altitude I didn’t know how my body would respond. But I’m pretty happy with how it went and I’m looking forward to the last round at Rooiberg now, which has a challenging course and should make for a great Series decider,” added De Groot.
“I definitely surprised myself after quite a substandard performance last week. I’m very happy with second place. With longer climbs and more technical sections, the course suits me. Living in Joburg, we have an altitude advantage over those from the coast I think. I’m looking forward to the last round at Rooiberg where the conditions and terrain suit me,” smiled McDougall.
The Ashburton Investments National MTB Series now moves to South Africa’s Limpopo province for Round 7, 15 October. For more information, visit www.nationalmtbseries.com. For
For full results of Round 6 at Dullstroom, visit: www.saseeding.org
2016 Ashburton Investments National Mountain Bike Series
Round 6, Dullstroom, Saturday 3 September 2016
Elite men – 98km Ultra-marathon:
1 Max Knox (Lowveld Tractors) 3:52:47
2 Gawie Combrinck (Team NAD) 03:59:11
3 Matthys Beukes (SCOTT LCB Factory Racing) 04:00:21
4 Philip Buys (SCOTT LCB Factory Racing) 04:01:42
5 HB Kruger (Telkom) 04:02:59
6 Johann Rabie (Telkom) 04:04:30
7 Timothy Hammond 04:05:30
8 Thinus Redelinghuys (Jeep) 04:07:05
9 Matthew Beers (Red-E Cannondale) 04:10:48
10 Arno Du Tiot (SCOTT LCB Factory Racing) 04:11:29
Elite women – 70km marathon:
1 Robyn De Groot (Ascendis Health) 03:12:03
2 Amy McDougall (Valencia) 03:18:16
3 Samantha Sanders (Valencia) 03:19:35
4 Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk) 03:22:24
5 Venessa Bell (Bells Cycling) 03:24:33
6 Dalene van der Leek 03:41:14
7 Rozalia Kubyana 03:45:08
8 Bonny Swanepoel 03:48:30
9 Carly Kent 03:59:13
10 Natasha Viviers 04:09:13
2016 Series Standings
1 Max Knox – 19605
2 Nico Bell – 17748
3 HB Kruger -16185
4 Gert Heyns – 16178
5 Waylon Woolcock – 15862
6 Lourens Luus – 15411
7 Gawie Combrinck – 12671
8 Matthew Beers – 11440
9 Timothy Hammond – 10868
10 Thinus Redelinghuys – 10467
1 Amy McDougall – 16514
2 Robyn De Groot – 15474
3 Samantha Sanders – 14960
4 Vanessa Bell – 13240
5 Theresa Ralph – 13147
6 Candice Neethling – 10962
7 Mariette Hattingh – 7460
8 Ariane Kleinhans – 7362
9 Carmen Buchacher – 5694
10 Emily Clarke – 5614