The penultimate round of the Ashburton National MTB Series took riders to Dullstroom, situated on the edge of an escarpment 2000m above sea level. The altitude was a big factor affecting performance but being one of the coldest towns in South Africa, the weather would also have its say.
The venue at Dunkeld Estate was covered in fog as riders lined up for day 1 of the 2 day event. As always the new, shorter format made for aggressive racing from the start as riders jostled for position in the yet to be established pecking order.
As the fog lifted a howling wind came up that made the going difficult on the district roads and jeep track which characterized the 71km route of day 1. Candice Lill (Team Dormakaba) was on a storming ride winning day 1 alone despite suffering a flat. Behind her the ladies bunch had disintegrated and they were all chasing solo with only some ego-driven males stuck to their rear wheels. Sam Sanders (Valencia) finished 2nd on the day with Yolandi in 3rd and still in the hunt for overall honours on the weekend.
In the men’s race the Pyga/Eurosteel boys were duelling with Team NAD leaving the rest of us trailing in their wake. Only Gert Heyns (Ascendis Health) could keep up and he made it count escaping in the final singletrack to win ahead of Nico Bell and Philip Buys.
I was in a 4-man group battling for 5th spot when my pedal came apart at the top of a lo
ng technical descent. Luckily for me the one and only tech zone was at the bottom of said descent, but unlucky for me none of the mechanics had a compatible spare pedal. Despite some help from Team NAD’s Nadia Bell, I reluctantly decided to call it a day and loaded my bike in their team bus. As we waited to cheer for Yolandi who would pass by shortly, Bradley Potgieter from Team Road Cover pulled into the tech zone with a flat tire. His race was done, but his pedals were intact…
Queue a quick pedal swap and I was back in the game doing my best to salvage some sort of result. I snuck in 20th, but just finishing was a moral victory!
Day 2 dawned clear but ice cold as a layer of frost covered anything and everything unlucky enough to be situated in the shade. Although shivering at the start we were up to race speed in no time, warming up quickly as we tackled day two’s 51km course. The route was much faster and much more fun than day 1 with plenty of singletrack and well ridden trails making for easy going with only the relentless pace responsible for the perpetual discomfort!
In the ladies race Samantha and Candice stuck together all day with Sam winning the stage in a sprint, but Candice taking overall honours for the weekend by crossing
the line only seconds behind Sam. Yolandi only just didn’t have the legs to go with them at the start, but she continued her consistent showing by finishing 3rd again despite riding alone for most of the day and claiming 3rd overall for the weekend.
The men’s race was once again dominated by Team’s NAD and PYG
A/Eurosteel with Matthys Beukes coming back from a puncture on day 1 to win ahead of Philip Buys and Nico Bell. This changed the overall standings for the weekend with Philip Buys taking overall honours ahead of Nico Bell and Gert Heyns in 3rd.
I managed to keep my bike in one piece and with a loan pedal from Andrew Grobler I battled with Tim Hammond, Dylan Rebello and Wessel Botha for 6th place out on trail. I just lost contact with this group at a water crossing/road underpass – a mistake which cost me dearly as I was left to chase about 1 min behind them for the second half of the race. I never caught them and finished in 9th place on the day, but only a minute off the pace giving me some measure of redemption for day 1 with a 12th place overall for the weekend.
Next up for us the Crater Cruise and we look forward to racing on the Free State flatlands!