There is definitely something in the air at Karkloof, KwaZulu-Natal, that brings out the best in Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas). This was the second year in a row that he made his presence felt every time he got on his mountain bike to race during the three-day cycling festival.
On Friday night Buys made mountain bike history when he became the first rider to win the 20km Stihl night race for the second consecutive year. The next day he finished 2nd in the Red Sprint shoot-out and on Sunday he finished 3rd in the marathon.
Apart from Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price), who won the shoot-out as well as the marathon, Buys was certainly the most consistent rider during the three days.
When Buys learned before the start of the night race that his team-mate, Francois Theron, was not going to compete, he had some serious negotiating to do.
“I wanted to borrow Francois’ light. He must have known something that I did not, or else he had much confidence in my riding abilities, because he drove a tough bargain. He agreed to let me use his light on one condition. If I should win I had to give him R1 000 of my prize money. It seemed fair to me.”
Theron’s confidence proved to be well founded. Buys took control right from the start as he powered his way to the front within the first two kilometers. The matriculant, James Reid (Mr Price/Specialized), was the only rider who was prepared to take Buys up on the challenge of ‘catch me if you can’.
“I was very impressed by the way James rode. He just refused to give up. Every time I looked over my shoulder I could see his light following me,” Buys said.
Buys eventually won by outsprinting Reid. Renay Groustra (Mr Price/GT) finished third.
During the shoot-out, in which the riders diced each other for ten laps over a 250m obstacle course, it was clear that Buys was the only rider who had a realistic chance of beating Stander. They were the only riders who seemed to thrive when things really started to get technical and tough.
In the final, Buys and Stander were basically racing shoulder to shoulder during the first five laps. Unfortunately for Buys his mountain bike’s chain dropped during the fifth lap. Stander made the most of the few seconds it took Buys to put his chain back and, with a classy display of power riding, he managed to take the lead. From then on there was no way of stopping the u.23 Cross-country World Champion.
Buys is not despondent about the way in which the race finished.
“I don’t think I would have been able to beat Burry. He is, after all, a world champion and there are very few of us who can match his power. But, if my chain had not dropped off, I certainly would have given him more of a run for his money.”
Stander beat Buys by 18 seconds. Rourke Croeser (DCM) finished third, a further 15 seconds behind.
The marathon turned out to be a repetition of last year’s, with Stander and Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade) again battling it out during most of the race. Stander was again the stronger rider.
The race started off with Buys and Craig Paul taking the early lead, but it did not take Stander long to catch up with the two of them.
According to Buys he managed to sit on Stander’s wheel until about a 100 meters from the hot spot.
“I then accelerated, sprinting to take the hot spot. To my surprise Burry just continued riding at a constant tempo. Afterwards he told me that he did not realize that there was a hot spot, so I actually had a lucky break.
“The moment Kevin joined up with us it was ‘race over’ for me because Burry and Kevin worked well together on the big open roads to open up a gap. Try as I might, I just could not keep up with them. My legs were slightly ‘dead’ because of the previous two days of racing.
“So Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin-adidas), Brandon Stewart (DCM) and I were left to battle it out for the third place. Marc had to drop out when he started to cramp.
“About five kilometers from the finish I was a bit worried because I could also feel the beginning of a slight cramping attack. If Brandon attacked at that moment I would not have been able to go with him. Luckily he did not and we continued to race together until the finish where I outsprinted Brandon to take third position.”