Last year the NAD Pro MTB Team of Combrinck and Bell finished both the first two stages – from Himeville to MacKenzie Club near Ixopo, and from there to Jolivet Farm in Highflats – in third overall, leaving them too far behind the eventual winners on overall time to take the win despite winning the final stage to Scottburgh.
This year on May 11-13, the pair, who both hail from the Lowveld city of Nelspruit, are expecting to take some of their late 2017 ABSA Cape Epic form into the popular three-day race from the foothills of the Drakensberg to the KZN South Coast.
Combrinck and Bell were second in the sought-after African Jersey competition at last month's Epic, finishing a very creditable 11th overall against the strongest field ever assembled – and less than two minutes outside a coveted top-ten position after over 28 hours of racing. This was despite riding as the backup team for two-time winners and this year’s runners up, Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy.
“At the Epic the African jersey was important, but for us first priority was riding as backup for Jaro and Christoph,” said Bell this week.
“That meant we had to ride hard to be there for them in case they needed us. We burnt a few matches early each day taking up the pace and staying with the lead group as long as possible, so we could help if they needed mechanical assistance.”
It says a lot about the talented South Africans that arguably the most meticulously prepared team, and pre-race favourites at the Epic, chose Bell and Combrinck as a backup team.
After their 2016 successes, Bell and Combrinck are following a similar build up plan for their 2017 KAP sani2c campaign, but are hoping to come off the Old Mutual joBerg2c with some better form.
“The sani2c is a bigger race and so it is important for our sponsors that we try and do as well as we can at Sani,” said Bell.
“Last year we got sick on the final two days of joBerg2c so were not at our best for the Sani, but this year we hope to stay healthy and then do some high-intensity work in the ten days or so between the two races.
“It is a strong field this year and the PYGA team (Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes) will be there and will be hard to beat.
“It is tough to know how your form is going to be. This weekend at Clarens we were expecting all the guys who did not do Epic to be good, but the guys who had a tough Epic were stronger.
"Hopefully we can then go into the Sani with some good form."
Combrinck and Bell have developed into one of South Africa’s top mountain bike stage racing teams with a list of successes that most other riders can only dream of.
In 2016 they won the nine-day Old Mutual joBerg2c after a tight battle with Team Telkom’s Johann Rabie and HB Kruger, and then a couple of weeks later finished second in the KAP sani2c, again getting the better of Rabie and Kruger, but just losing out to Scott Racing’s Beukes and Gert Heyns.
In 2016 the NAD Pro couple were comfortable winners of the African jersey at the Epic with a solid 12th overall.
This year is the twelfth edition of the KAP sani2c, the world’s largest mountain bike stage race, which takes place from Himeville to Scottburgh during the second week of May.
For more information on KAPsani2c: Info@KAPsani2c.co.za or www.sani2c.co.za.