Charismatic Clarens has become a regular stop of the National Mountain Bike Series, and with good reason. The town generously opens its doors to mountain bikers for race weekend, hosting the event from the town square and offering up a variety of routes with the gorgeous Free State landscape as backdrop.
It’s been exactly one year since we last took part in a series event and we were excited to be back racing at the country’s premier Marathon MTB series. With the series now boasting a new two-day stage racing format, there was even more reason to look
forward to a weekend of racing with double the fun!
The first stage was held on Saturday with70km and 1044m of elevation gain to be traversed in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. Sunday’s second stage covered 50km with 835m of elevation gain finishing with a descent of the technical Porcupine Trail down into town to conclude proceedings.
With challenging routes and professional organization, the National MTB Series always draws a strong field. As if that doesn’t make for enough nervous start line excitement, most of the contenders were coming off a Cape Epic which finished less than 2 weeks ago and would affect each rider differently.
We set off in near perfect autumn conditions on stage 1, heading straight up a hill and out of town to begin our journey. Initially we were on wide open, fast roads but soon we encountered some singletrack climbing which stretched the field. With such a relatively short race distance everyone was going flat out, willing to play their hand and unafraid of ‘blowing up’. This made for exciting, tactical racing and small time gaps.
On open roads the saving and making of efforts had to be carefully judged while everywhere else each rider was trying to maximise his/her strengths and hide their weaknesses.
Day 2 was fairly similar just a more condensed version albeit on tired legs from stage 1’s racing.
Yolandi had a solid weekend finishing alongside Cape Epic partner Theresa Ralph (Galileo Risk/Navworld) in 6th place on stage 1 and 5th on stage 2 giving her 5th place overall for the stage race. Still riding her strong cape Epic form, Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health) took top honours with the dormakaba girls Candice Lill and Vera Adrian rounding out the top 3.
Ben Melt finished a respectable 16th on stage 1 and 17th on stage 2 for a combined 16th place for the weekend in a deep field where less than 15 minutes covered the top 17 places after 2 days of racing. African Jersey winners at the Cape Epic Matthys Beukes and Phillip Buys (Pyga/Euro Steel) stood on the first and 3rd step of the podium with HB Kruger (Team BCX) splitting the pair in 2nd place.
The new 2 day format seems to be a winner and will grow the sport in leaps and bounds, pushing everyone to maximise each advantage to gain that vital edge needed to win a race. It is also more spectator friendly and will make for some exciting racing. We say, bring it on!