The Ashburton Investments National MTB Series prides itself on travelling around South Africa to different venues to offer a variety of challenges. This past weekend, Round 6 of the seven-race series stopped of at Rooiberg in the Limpopo Province with a rough, rocky course that saw South African champion, Gawie Combrinck and multiple Cape Epic champion, Ariane Kleinhans, emerge as men and women’s champions respectively.
The warm, sunny weather, excessive dust and rugged terrain all added to the challenge, which saw the men race a distance of 109km, while the women did battle over 77km. For Kleinhans (RECM), a former Swiss national champion, the victory took her into the lead in the prestigious Asburton Investments National MTB Series for the first time this year. Combrinck (EAI Cycling) is now seventh in the series, but he became the first male rider to win more than one of the series events in 2015
Darren Lill and HB Kruger (Abantu) finished second and third respectively in the men’s race at Rooiberg, while current South African champion, Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health), and former national champion, Cherise Stander (RECM), rounded out the women’s podium places.
Despite the relatively long distance, the pace in the men’s race was high from the start, which led to large gaps forming between the top finishers at the finish. As expected, the steep, rocky and loose Seven Sisters climb was where the final decisive moves occurred, leaving the last 40km a demanding solo effort for most. Combrinck clocked a winning time of 4 hours 27 minutes 53 seconds, more than six minutes slower than the course record set by Nico Bell in 2013.
By contrast, the women’s race developed into an intense three-way battle between Kleinhans, De Groot and Stander. But Stander crashed and wasn’t able to rejoin the leaders, who matched eachother strength for strength right down to the final few hundred metres, where Kleinhans outsprinted De Groot to secure the maximum points for the victory.
“The race was on from the gun and the route was really hard. Max (Knox) really drove the tempo on the ‘Hysback Climb’ and I saw the other guys suffering a bit so I continued to drive the pace,” said Combrinck. “Five of us managed to get away and on the ‘Seven Sisters Climb’ I made my move. This was the first time I rode that climb without walking!”
“We saw quite a bit of wildlife out there and with the dry, hot conditions it was very different to the cold and rainy Ballito round. Robyn (de Groot) and I rode together for most of the race and I must say her climbing and technical ability has come a long way and I just couldn’t manage to get away. I just had a bit more left in the legs at the finish and I’m happy to have the win,” recalled Kleinhans.
Taking the series lead was crucial for Kleinhans, who will miss the final round at Dullstroom, Mpumalanga in mid-September as she will be racing in Europe. She will hope that her total of 19831 points from five events will be enough for her to defend the series title from her closest rival, De Groot.
The leader of the men’s series is also Swiss. Konny Looser, who had trouble with his gears at Rooiberg, finishing sixth, has contested each of the six rounds so far. He has two second places, one third, one fourth and one fifth as his points-scoring results. He hasn’t wrapped up the series just yet though as Max Knox (Biogen Volcan), winner of Round 2 can still upstage Looser with a high finish at the final round in Dullstroom.
“I suffered a mechanical problem even before the race started. I solved it before the start, but I only had one chainring from halfway. It was very disappointing, but that is mountain biking,” said Looser on the Rooiberg finish line.
“What I love about the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series is the variations in terrain and difficulty between the races. Unfortunately I will be missing the last race of the series and it will all come down to where Max finishes. I might just still walk away with the overall but I wanted a good result today so badly,” added Looser.
The 2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series now moves to South Africa’s Mpumalanga province to the town of Dullstroom for the final round on 12 September.
2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series
Round 6, Rooiberg, Saturday 8 August 2015
Elite men – 109km Ultra-marathon:
1 Gawie Combrinck (RSA) EAI Cycling 4:27:53
2 Darren Lill (RSA) 4:30:37
3 Hendrik Kruger (RSA) Abantu 4:31:32
4 Max Knox (RSA) Biogen-Volcan 4:37:50
5 Erik Kleinhans (RSA) RECM 5:14:05
6 Konny Looser (SUI) Wheeler IXS 4:43:11
7 Nico Bell (RSA) RECM 4:46:58
8 Thinus Redlinghuys (RSA) 4:49:18
9 Guylin van den Berg (RSA) IXS 4:51:10
10 Alan Gordon (RSA) 4:53:30
Elite women – 77km marathon:
1 Ariane Kleinhans (SUI) RECM 3:25:49
2 Robyn de Groot (RSA) Ascendis Health 3:25:51
3 Cherise Stander (RSA) RECM 3:27:04
4 Theresa Ralph (RSA) RBS 3:35:13
5 Vanessa Bell (RSA) 3:39:08
6 Mariette Hattingh (RSA) 3:56:18
7 Vera Adrian (NAM) BestMed 3:59:34
8 Candice Neethling (RSA) Freewheel Cycology/Pam Golding 3:59:48
9 Janice Venter (RSA) 4:06:38
10 Catherine Tasseron-Meyer 4:06:53