South African marathon champion, Max Knox (New Holland/This Way Out) secured a dominant victory over a strong field at the inaugural two-day format race of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series in Sabie at the weekend.
Knox, a Sabie resident, made the most of his local knowledge and the muddy conditions on Saturday to secure victory in the 64.5km first stage in a time of 02 hours 36 minutes 26 seconds. He was 3:32 faster than Swiss marathon champion, Urs Huber (Team Bulls) with Philip Buys (Pyga/EuroSteel) completing the podium places in 2:41:19
On Sunday’s shorter 44km stage, Knox rode off the front on the first climb and stayed away, eventually finishing first in a time of 1:51:25. Another local racer, Nico Bell (Team NAD Pro) launched a late attack from the chase pack to finish second 3:11 behind Knox. He was just a second ahead of a group dash for third place, won by Buys.
With the two stage times combined, Knox claimed the overall fastest time and maximum points for the second round of the Ashburton Investments National MTB series. Huber was second more than six minutes back with Buys claiming third on the combined classification.
“I felt very motivated after Saturday’s win. Obviously Sabie is a big one for me being from here and having so much local support. With two shortish stages, the race had to be very explosive. I love it! It’s very dynamic and thanks to Advendurance for making the change to suit the rider’s needs,” said Knox.
“In the off season I concentrated more on speed than endurance compared to previous years because of this new format. It paid off today! It’s always nice to win in front of family and friends and race on my home trails,” added Knox.
Huber, winner of the Sabie round of the series in 2014 and 2016, admitted the new format didn’t suit him.
“It was just full gas from the beginning today. But it was really nice. The trails are really nice and the weather was better than yesterday. So I could enjoy it a little bit more, but I also had to suffer today. Two hours on these trails is enough,” smiled Huber.
“I think the new two-day format is interesting. Nothing is decided after the first day. Another long stage would be really nice though, especially for me because I like the long races,” added Huber.
Bell also said the new format would take some getting used to.
“I prefer the longer events over five hours where you can catch guys towards the end. This new format is hard from the start and you have to hang in! On every hill you have to try and stay on the front and if you’re feeling good, try and attack. I thought the Bulls would try and chase Max. Towards the middle of the stage I started to feel good and I put in some attacks later on. My flyer with about a kay left stuck and I managed to get second on the stage,” said Bell.
Gert Heyns of Ascendis Health was the most prominent of the chasers on Sunday’s stage, but ended up finishing fourth.
“It was fast and exciting from the start. It was hard to get away from the group – I tried a few times but they caught me each time. I think this format is a lot more exciting and good for the racing in general,” said Heyns.
“Max started with quite a speed up first the climb. I tried to follow him but just couldn’t stay on his wheel. Once the chase group formed, nobody seemed to want to work to close the gap, so we pretty much ended up racing each other for second,” added Heyns.
Germany’s Karl Platt, five-time Absa Cape Epic winner, struggled during Saturday’s stage, but had a better day on Sunday.
“Today was fun and much better than yesterday. Yesterday I really didn’t have a nice day. I tried to show today that I was still there. Today was a lot of fun riding these trails on York Timber’s land. The new format is interesting and the shorter distances are good for our speed, which is good for our training,” said the Bulls rider.
The Ashburton Investments National MTB Series now moves to South Africa’s Free State province for Round 3, on 8-9 April. For more information or to enter, visit www.nationalmtbseries.com.
Ashburton Investments National MTB Series 2017
Round 2, Sabie
Elite men Stage 1:
1 Max Knox (RSA) New Holland/This Way Out 2:36:26
2 Urs Huber (SUI) Team Bulls 2:39:58
3 Philip Buys (RSA) Pyga/EuroSteel 2:41:19
4 Nico Bell (RSA) Team NAD Pro 2:42:36
5 Arno du Toit (RSA) LCB Racing 2:42:44
6 Gawie Combrinck (RSA) Team NAD Pro 2:43:01
7 Lourens Luus (RSA) ADRS 2:43:57
8 Travis Walker (RSA) ASG 2:46:00
9 Heine Engelbrecht (RSA) 2:47:02
10 Matthys Beukes (RSA) Pyga/EuroSteel 2:48:39
Elite men Stage 2:
1 Max Knox (RSA) New Holland/This Way Out 1:51:25
2 Nico Bell (RSA) Team NAD Pro 1:54:36
3 Philip Buys (RSA) Pyga/EuroSteel 1:54:37
4 Gert Heyns (RSA) Ascendis Health 1:54:37
5 Urs Huber (SUI) Team Bulls 1:54:38
6 Karl Platt (GERO Team Bulls 1:54:41
7 Travis Walker (RSA) ASG 1:55:29
8 Martin Frey (GER) OMX Pro 1:57:04
9 Arno du Toit (RSA) LCB Racing 1:58:47
10 HB Kruger (RSA) Team Telkom 2:00:31
Elite men combined – final positions:
1 Max Knox (RSA) New Holland/This Way Out 4:27:51
2 Urs Huber (SUI) Team Bulls 4:34:36
3 Philip Buys (RSA) Pyga/EuroSteel 4:35:56
4 Nico Bell (RSA) Team NAD Pro 4:37:12
5 Travis Walker (RSA) ASG 4:41:29
6 Arno du Toit (RSA) LCB Racing 4:41:31
7 Gert Heyns (RSA) Ascendis Health 4:43:17
8 Gawie Combrinck (RSA) Team NAD Pro 4:47:58
9 Waylon Woolcock (RSA) Team Telkom 4:49:12
10 HB Kruger (RSA) Team Telkom 4:51:35
Males combined – final positions:
1 Keagan Bontekoning 3:16:27
2 Wicus Breytenbach 3:16:42
3 Marc Oliver Pritzen 3:24:02
For full marathon and half-marathon results visit www.saseeding.org.