The MTN Clarens Ultra-marathon that will take place on Saturday (19 February) will in all probability boil down to a battle of wits and brawn between the riders from Garmin-adidas and DCM.
When it comes to racing ultra-marathons, Max Knox (DCM) is certainly the in-form rider at the moment. He finished fourth in the Attakwas and fulfilled the role of destroyer in Barberton when he simply ‘killed off’ his competitors on the last climb of the race to achieve a third consecutive victory.
However, racing in Clarens will be nothing new for the Garmin-adidas riders. Even though Kevin Evans (360Life) was the overall winner, they practically dominated last year’s race. Mannie Heymans finished second, followed by Buys a mere ten seconds behind, in the third place. Francois Theron finished fourth.
Cycling experts predict that Heymans will win on Saturday, in spite of being more than ten years older than most of his rivals.
Heymans proved, with his third-place finish in Barberton, that he is fighting fit. It was noticeable in Barberton that Heymans had developed into a ‘thinking’ cyclist. He realizes that he can no longer, as he did in his prime, rely on simply outriding his rivals on steep climbs.
He has now resorted to riding at his own steady pace, playing the waiting game. And it seems to be working for him. Towards the end of the Barberton race, Heymans managed to catch up with and pass his younger rivals one by one.
Where this might become a major advantage is in the last kilometers of the Clarens event. This year the race is 13 kilometers longer than the year before and even more difficult than before. Riders who race each other too hard in the early stages of the Ultra Marathon event will pay dearly right where it matters most right near the end.
What makes the Clarens ultra-marathon an exciting challenge, is the steep, technical climb which will be contested on a slick rock surface. Not many riders can boast that they have conquered the climb, staying on their bikes all the way to the top. Buys is one of the elite few who can.
Judged purely on his climbing and technical abilities, the question is not if Buys is capable of winning the Clarens race, but rather when he will do so. The only factor that might count against him is the fact that at the moment he focuses on cross-country racing and not so much on marathon racing. This could mean that his stamina might not be what it should be.
Knox is not overly worried about the fact that neither he, nor his teammates, have ever raced at Clarens. This is another advantage the Garmin team might benefit from on race day.
“It is just another race. I know that there will be tough climbs and challenging downhill sections, as well as some really technical single-track sections, but that applies to every ultra-marathon. Therefore, riding in Clarens cannot be much more difficult than racing in Barberton, or Sabie, or any other venue for that matter.