Max Knox (DCM) proved that hard work pays off when he won the MTN Barberton ultra-marathon (120km) on Saturday for the third year in a row.
Actually the way Knox completed his hat trick of victories was uncanny. It was almost a carbon copy of what happened on the slopes of the Barberton mountains the year before.
This time round though it what was no surprise when Knox made his attack at the foot of the second serious climb of the day. This was at about 40km from the finish.
His acceleration up the mountain was so severe that nobody could stick to his wheel.
Only David George (360Life) attempted to try and catch up with Knox, but it was soon clear that he did not have the legs to do it. The “North versus South” battle fizzled out to just a long test of endurance, with George hanging on to finish second.
Knox won in 5 hours and six minutes.
Mannie Heymans (Garmin-adidas) proved those who predicted that he was due for a good ride right by finishing third. Brandon Stewart (DCM) finished fourth after battling with mechanical problems.
The surprise of the day was Kevin Evans (360Life) who finished in fifth. Evans is the six times overall winner of the National series.
What makes his performance remarkable is the fact that it was the first time that he was racing competitively since undergoing an emergency appendectomy in December.
His performance sends a clear message since he only did the race as a training ride proving that he is back and hungry to race.
“I must again commend Advendurance on what they have done and are doing for the sport in our country. Their events are world class, and with UCI points up for grabs, they are setting the standard high. Besides that they are taking the riders wellbeing into account.” Evans commented after the race.
He also wrote on his blog: “For all the mere mortals, I lost count of the number of water points they supplied! Another two small changes made, but of huge significance, the half marathon and fun ride was moved to Sunday, eliminating back markers and congestion on the course for us, and prize giving was held within half an hour of the top ten riders finishing. Brilliant to see the top riders, in their kit, on the podium whilst the crowds are still there, fantastic for every ones sponsors!”.
After his victory Knox battled to find the right the words to describe his emotions after being unbeaten in the ultra-marathon three years in a row.
“I can’t really describe it. All I can say is that I am really ‘chuffed’. I went to bed the night before thinking about how badly I wanted to win.”
“I’ll admit that I might not have had as good legs as the year before, but just gave it my all.”
As for using the exact same strategy for two years running, Knox said he did not intend it as a surprise.
“I have raced a lot in the Lowveld. I trained very hard my body is used to the altitude so I just played the waiting game. I also knew David was also confident of winning.
“As it goes with racing each rider had his own idea of what was required of them to win. I did not let any of the other riders’ tactics get to me. David went hard on the first climb but I just stuck to riding my own tempo.”
“At the foot of the second climb I decided to test the other riders – Mannie Heymans, Philip Buys, Marc Bassingthwaighte (all Garmin-adidas), David and my team mate Brandon Stewart (also DCM).
“When I realized that nobody could go with me it was a simple case of just hang on and keeping it steady all the way to the finish.”
Knox explained why he was confident enough to go that hard so far from the finish by saying: “that final climb just suits me so well. Everything from the gradient to the length of the climb just suits me perfectly.”
“The MTN Barberton’s second lap is tricky. The last twenty kilometers to the finish is quite fast and very technical, I realized that if I could keep on riding at a consistent pace getting a good lead I would not have to take any unnecessary risks in the last few kilometers.”
Knox was especially impressed with Heymans’s performance.
“During last year’s race, Mannie was about 40 minutes off the pace, now he is third. Everybody knows that Mannie has not the best of form so early on. This only means one thing, he going to get better much quicker. He will definitely be one of the riders to beat during MTN’s Sabie ultra-marathon.”
George had no excuses for the way his race played out.
“I have not reached my best form yet, I would actually have been worried if I peaked in January already.
“I had some bad luck during the last 20 technical kilometers of the first lap. My chain came off and I had to stop to fix it. The mistake I might have made was chasing back to hard to catch up with the leaders.”
Eszther Erdelyi-Cluer (MTN-Qhubeka) won the women’s marathon with her teammate, Yolandé Speedy, finishing second and Ariane Luthi (Contego) finished third.
The young 18 year old Candice Neethling (Bizhub) proved that she is certainly a prospect for the future by finishing fourth in her first ever marathon-race.
1st Max Knox (DCM)
2nd David George (360Life)
3rd Mannie Heymans (Garmin/Adidas)
4th Brandon Stewart (DCM)
5th Kevin Evans (360Life)