Clarens, situated in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains hosted the 4th leg of the MTN National MTB Series on the 3rd of May 2014.
Since my teenage years, the “Jewel of the Free State” has held a special place in my heart. Growing up I spent countless weekends with my dad and friends cycling in the beautiful surroundings of Clarens. To me, the town will always be more than just a quaint little tourist village with famous art galleries and coffee shops lining it streets.
The event, now in its 5th year, forms part of the Marathon World Series which means that there are valuable UCI points up for grabs as well as the qualifying spots for Marathon World Championships in June. This always seems to draw a strong local field as riders vie for a spot on the national team, as well as international riders looking to boost their UCI ranking. This time it was no different and I lined up as part of a strong ladies field in the town square as morning temperatures hovered just above freezing.
This year’s 75km marathon course took us on a new circular route with only the final 15km following the familiar Porcupine single trail back into town. The saying, “a change is as good as a holiday” held true and although demanding, I enjoyed the new route. Being on a full suspension bike added to my experience and I can’t imagine racing this course on anything other than my Merida Big Ninety Nine full suspension bike. I breezed over the slick rock formations, grassy patches and rough trail which littered the route.
The challenging course and fierce pace meant the field split up and spread out very early in the race. These gaps steadily increased as the race progressed as there was no respite from either the course or the competition. In the final kilometres of the race a group of six ladies were still at the sharp end of the field, all trailing lone leader Robyn de Groot who had built up a substantial lead. Sadly Robyn missed a turn somewhere which saw her 1st place fading into a 3rd place finish. Theresa Ralph who had been in 2nd place was happy to take the win on the day; with Candice Neethling finishing in 2nd place.
I was pleased with my performance on the day being one of the six ladies still in contention towards the end of the race, and finishing in 5th place only seconds behind Jenny Stenerhag.
After the race we duly refuelled at a coffee shop situated in Clarens’ well-known Town Square. To my surprise we stumbled upon my first pot of “moer koffie” (traditional Boer coffee) served with homemade rusks and the obligatory full cream milk. All this whilst sitting next to my dad and reminiscing about the day’s big battle! Clarens just seems to have a way of always inspiring not only artists but fond memories as well.
1st Theresa Ralph
2nd Candice Neethling (VeloLife)
3rd Robyn de Groot (CycleLab)
4th Jennie Stenerhag (Cape Brewing Company)
5th Yolandi du Toit (Garmin)