MTN National MTB Series driven by Nissan, #2 Sabie (22 February 2014)

The second leg of the MTN marathon series took riders to the little town of Sabie in Mpumulanga. The Sabie Classic persistently attracts a strong local and international field as it is an established and UCI sanctioned event, meaning there are valuable UCI points up for grabs. For South African riders it also served as a qualifying event for the 2014 Marathon World Championships held in Pietermaritzburg later this year. Needless to say we were in for a tough race as riders were battling for UCI points, World Champ spots, MTN series points and the coveted victory in a prestigious event.

The Elite Men competed in the 113km Ultra Marathon distance while the Elite Ladies raced the 75km Marathon distance.  From the start the route tilts upwards until reaching the summit of “Mamba Switchbacks” about 35km into the race at a staggering height of 1975m. From those dizzy heights one can only descend, but the plunge was very rocky and rutted making it quite treacherous. No wonder it’s called the “Rocky Horror” downhill. The final 20km stretch was on strength sapping, rolling terrain taking us to the finish at the York Timber Sports Grounds.  Measured by my new Garmin Edge 810, the route contained a total ascent of 1990m over a distance of 75km (you can look at my training file here http://connect.garmin.com/activity/449707330#).

Two days prior to the start of the event rain descended on Sabie continuing throughout the race which made for horrendous race conditions on the day. Staying on your bike and avoiding mechanical problems would be the key to a good result on the day.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of ladies that lined up to start the 75km marathon event. It was by far the biggest ladies field I have ever competed against locally and judging by the weather conditions, this was one tough group of ladies. The first and only ‘long’ climb on the route soon turned into a race of attrition with Ariane Kleinhans (Team RECM) setting the pace up front.  She was also the first to reach the summit and was shortly followed by Robyn de Groot (Biogen Toyota) and myself. At that point I was very happy with my climbing legs, despite being rather surprised with my form given my recent bout of illness.

In the muddy conditions the downhill section that followed wasn’t only a “Rocky Horror” but also proved to be an elimination race of sorts. A lot of riders, including myself, fell on the slippery descent which saw a radical change in the race positions out on course.

Cherise Stander (Team RECM) showed some excellent skill making contact with me and riding herself into 2nd place on the descent. Unfortunately she suffered a setback when she slit the sidewall of her tyre a few kilometres from the finish, relegating her to a 4th place finish by the end. Cross Country specialists Amy MacDougall and Candice Neethling were more adept to the slippery conditions and took advantage moving themselves into 3rd and 5th spot respectively. After my crash I was a little more careful in the slippery conditions, finally settling for 6th place on the day.

Ariane Kleinhans turned her ill luck at the first round of the MTN series into a very well deserved victory at the Sabie Classic with Robyn de Groot and Amy MacDougall rounding out the podium in 2nd and 3rd place respectively.

In hindsight it was a good course and I am sure if it wasn’t for the rain everyone would have had quite a different experience. At least it made for some good war stories under the Valencia tent at the finishing venue.

Final Results:

1st           Ariane Kleinhans              (Team RECM)

2nd          Robyn De Groot               (Biogen Toyota)

3rd           Amy MacDougal               (Valencia Cycles)

4th           Cherise Taylor                   (Team RECM)

5th           Candice Neethling           (Team Velolife)

6th           Yolandi du Toit                   ( ? )