Thanks to Charles Keey (Cannondale/Blend Properties) and Nico Bell (Westvaal/Bell Cycles)’s never say die approach to racing the UCI MTN Sabie ultra-race yesterday (23 February) went right down to the wire.The 112 kilometer race was literally decided in the last 100 meters. Keey insured his victory by managing to be the first to race into the final corner.
In doing so he forced Bell to break for a mere second. That was all Keey needed.
He won in 4 hours and 59 minutes with Bell basically finishing on his shoulder.
Max Knox (Specialized) was third followed by Waylon Woolcock (RE:CM) and Lourens Luus (RE:CM).
“This is definitely the biggest victory of my career,” a jubilant Keey said afterwards.
By winning the MTN Sabie ultra-race Keey might have insured that he is now also the number one ranked rider on the local Kia-rankings.
He ended last week ranked second, behind Matthys Beukes (Contego).
Unfortunately nothing much came of the South African versus European challenge.
Karl Platt and his Team Bulls teammates were not able to compete in Sabie due to their team launch that was held over the weekend.
Steffen Thum (Germany), the overall winner of the 2011- 2012 UCI MTB Marathon World Series, his compatriot Simon Gegenheimer who finished fourth overall in the same series, were as he has predicted beforehand not quite fit enough yet to take on the South Africans.
Keey’s victory and Bell’s second place finish should not be a great surprise..
In fact both of them could have podiumed at the January MTN Barberton Ultra race if it were not for bad luck at a crucial moment.
Bell’s race ended in the first ten kilometres when a stick got stuck in his wheel damaging his derailleur beyond repair. He was racing in the front when it happened.
Keey was even more unlucky at MTN Barberton, he was racing from the front for the most of the race, made one mistake which led to him going down hard, but he refused to give up even though he dropped back to the 18th position.
He got back on his bike and raced as never before to finish third overall.
Darren Lill (Cannondale/Blend Properties) was once again the first to attack at MTN Sabie as at MTN Barberton which led to him taking the lead on the first serious climb.
Unfortunately for Lill one moment’s lack of concentration led to him going off onto the wrong route effectively ending any hope of a victory.
Bell, Neil MacDonald (Fedgroup-Itec) and Philip Buys (Scott) proved over the next 20 or so kilometres to be the strongest riders racing at the front at various stages..
After the first 74km lap Buys had about a two minute lead but as luck would have it he punctured not once but twice and in the end he rode the last 20km with a flat tyre.
MacDonald attacked on the last serious climb.
Keey who knew he had good legs opted for a conservative approach deciding to riding at his own page.
“I just made sure I kept Neil in sight.”
In the end he did caught up with MacDonald then Bell and Knox joined up with him.
But for Knox who was been playing catch up for most of the race that was it he just did not have anything left in his legs to keep on racing at that pace that led to the start of the “dogfight” between Bell and Keey.
For the last few kilometres they took turns riding in front.
Keey managed to be the first to get onto the last five kilometres of single track.
According to Bell there was no way he could pass Keey.
Actually it is not a surprise that Keey took the lead on the single track.
He qualified as a mechanical engineer last year and it is well known fact that engineers are very precise in what they do.
That is why Keey made sure he was in Sabie a day before the race so he could ride parts of the course.
“I realized it would be important to the first on the single track and going into the last corner.”
Knox has no qualms about finishing third.
“I raced as best I could in the end Nico and Charles’s tactics were better than me.
“I lost the race due to the mistakes I made on the “Rocky Horror” technical descent.
“But I am honest when I say, I could not have lost to two more deserving riders. Both Nico and Charles have been putting in the long and hard hours, it is time that their efforts start to pay off.
“Actually I think this year’s MTN-series is going to one of the most exciting as there are so many new riders who can win,” said Knox who won last year’s series.
The women’s marathon was also a humdinger with Ariane Kleinhans (RE:CM) and Candice Neethling racing shoulder to shoulder to the end.
In the end Kleinhans managed to beat Neethling by a mere 22 seconds.
The winning time was 3 hours 32 minutes and 52 seconds.
It is the second year in a row that Kleinhans won at Sabie.
Robyn de Groot (Songo.info), a former Olympian road cyclist, was third.