Whoever wins the MTN Sabie Classic Ultra-marathon mountain bike challenge (115km) on Saturday, will indeed be a worthy South African champion.
According to Wessel van der Walt, series organizer, the rider who wants to wear the coveted white jersey with green and yellow bands, will have to be able to keep his wits about him.
“It will not be merely a matter of trying to hide in the bunch and wait for the right moment to attack and get away. There is a good reason why we have chosen Sabie as the venue for the SA Championship Race. The course will provide the ultimate test, with a steep technical climb, extremely technical downhill sections, ‘chicken runs’ and drop-offs. And I have not even mentioned the loose rocks, the tree branches, the slippery pine needles and the potholes.”
According to Van der Walt, the true challenge for the pro-elite riders already begins after two kilometers of racing, at the foot of one of the big climb.
“The climb is about 17 kilometers up to the king of the mountains, but it is certainly not similar to the climb in Barberton where the riders could pick and choose where they wanted to ride.
“In Sabie the dirt roads are quite bad due to water erosion. At one section the road is strewn with loose rocks, and there is just one line for the riders to take. Any rider who attempts to take any other line, will come second. If your foot touches the ground, it will be a battle to get going again.
“Riders should also keep in mind that on the Sabie climb there are one or two sections with a real bite. There is no guarantee that the rider who gets to the top first will stay in front and win the race.
“Another big difference between the Sabie and Barberton course is that in the Sabie plantation there is constant tree felling which means that the roads are not only covered with rocks, but there are also lots of tree branches and debris strewn about. This will make the downhill race very tricky.
“No rider wants to go over a branch at full speed. The momentum might cause the branch to spring up and rip off the derailleur of the bike. There is also a strong possibility of puncturing. As with the climb, there will be some very technical downhill sections where the riders will have to be really focused if they don’t want to take a bad tumble. Some of the downhill sections will be single track with an option of doing a chicken run.”
Van der Walt reckons that it might be a good idea for riders to use hardtail bikes for the Sabie race, as every bit of weight saved will be a advantage.
The firm race favourite is Max Knox (DCM), who outsprinted Burry Stander (Specialized/Mr Price) last year in the final few hundred meters to win.
Knox makes no secret about the fact that, as a born and bred Lowvelder, he is anxious to win the Sabie race again. For him it is a matter of pride to win in front of his home crowd.
As far as Stander is concerned, it is a well-known fact that, as the third-best cross-country rider in the world, he loves it when the course is technical. For him it is always a case of the tougher the better. What might count against Stander is his kamikaze approach to racing. He might just puncture at a crucial moment or suffer some mechanical failure.
Kevin Evans (MTN-Energade) said that he had competed in the Sabie Race twice before. In 2008 he won and he finished 2nd the other time. But he pointed out that he had never raced the Sabie Ultra-marathon before.
This might be his year though if recent form is anything to go by. Evans won the South African Time Trial Championship over the weekend and is clearly on a high.
Photo Courtesy Zoon Cronje