The annual running of the Cycling SA-MTB Marathon Championships is a draw card for the country’s top endurance off-road cyclists. Induna Adventures in Hazyview played host to this prestigious event, using their annual First Ascent Big Induna race to host not only the championship for the elite class, but to crown age group categories as well, at the same venue on the same day.
This year’s national championship elite race brought about a surprise result in both the men and women’s events.
Having just arrived from the high intensity cross-country (XCO) courses in Europe, James Reid (sponsored by Trek, Craft and Privateer) surprised the pundits with a stellar performance and race tactics over the longer marathon on Saturday.
The same applied in the women’s race when London Olympic road cyclist Robyn de Groot overcame the odds and displayed gutsy determination to claim her first national title ever.
Reid said he felt as if his training for the UCI XCO World Cups in Europe had all culminated in peaking for this marathon race. “I put in a big block of work before the world cups. The training has been intense, right down to my diet as well as powering up.”
Twenty-year-old Reid finished 23rd and 18th at the German and Czech Republic under-23 world cups respectively. “It came right for me at the marathon champs and I could use it! The course was explosive with short, punchy climbs and lots of up-and-down sections. It required a lot of power and it all seemed to come right for me on the day.”
Racing tactics came into play for Reid, as he raked up his first marathon championship title in his young career. “From mostly racing cross-country, I had to save as much as I could until the end,” he continued. “I only have so much to spend. The other guys have bigger tanks and bigger engines. I knew my only opportunity was to get into the last singletrack section first at around 10 kilometres to go. It was there, or never for me.
“I got in first and managed to hold off the chasing riders until the end. It felt like 8km of drag racing. Everyone had been watching Max (Knox); the defending champ was a marked man. But you have to race the route and not the riders.”
Reid completed the 112km race in 4 hours 40 minutes and 36 seconds, followed by Nico Bell in second place (04:41:08) and Kevin Evans in third place (04:41:41).
For De Groot, her transition has been from skinny road tyres as a professional cyclist in the European Lotto Belisol Ladies team to mountain bike knobblies as a non-professional at home.
“It has always been a dream of mine to be a national champion,” said De Groot. “I think I’ve finished second twice in road racing, but never managed to achieve that title. I’ve been doing well in the MTN (National MTB) Series, and I’ve managed to podium in all the races, so I thought I might as well give it (National MTB Marathon Champs) a bash.”
Claiming her first ever title was not without its mishaps as the leading women found themselves off course and worked hard to regain their lead positions. “There was a climb in the first 5km, and I put a little pressure there already to test my climbing against Candice (Neethling). I’ve never beaten Candice before, and her technical skills are excellent, but I was feeling strong. Candice bridged the gap to me after the climb, and Samantha (Sanders) joined us.
“The three of us pulled about a 90-second gap at roughly 20km into the race when we must’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up on some farm driveway. We had to climb back up to get back onto the route, and caught up with Yolandie (Du Toit) who told us there were about 4 or 5 girls ahead.
“I think the adrenalin kicked in for me, and I worked very hard to catch them and pass them. This was my only chance to get the national championship title and I wasn’t going to let it slip through my fingers.”
In a phenomenal display of determination, De Groot raced the final 30km of the 73km race on her own to claim the victory in 3 hours 33 minutes 56 seconds. Samantha Sanders finished in second place (03:38:25) with Candice Neethling third (03:38:57).
“This is a whole new world for me, and the mountain biking vibe at the races is really great,” said De Groot.
Cycling SA Mountain Bike Director Brett Coates was pleased at the turnout and the mix of talent at this year’s event. “It was fantastic to see pretty much all of our top mountain bikers line up, and even better, to see how strong we are across all disciplines.
“The fact that a cross-country specialist and an ex-road cyclist won the event just shows how diverse our talent is. Good luck to all our cyclists as they head overseas to compete and prepare for this year’s World Champs.”
Download the full results on our dedicated SA XCM Champs web page here: http://www.cyclingsa.com/