Knox (Lowveld Tractors/Dirk Louwrens Cycles), the current South African marathon champion, used his strength on the climbs to dispatch a strong men’s field and claim victory on the tough 113km course in a time of 04 hours 45 minutes 02 seconds. Nico Bell (Team NAD), was next home, three-and-a-half minutes later with HB Kruger (Team Telkom) rounding out the top three podium places a further two minutes back after finish line dash against Luus (PSG).
It’s the first time Knox has won at Van Gaalen and the 4000 points for the win gives him a significant boost in his hopes to retain the Series title that he won in a tight contest last year.
On the first major climb early on, the field began to split with a lead group of seven forming. This group comprised Knox, Bell, Kruger, Philip Buys (SCOTT LCB Factory Racing), Matt Beers (Red-E Cannondale), Lourens Luus (PSG) and Matthys Beukes (SCOTT LCB Factory Racing).
Despite a number of attacks on the gravel roads around midway through the race, nobody was able to break clear. When the climbing started again at around 70km, Knox rode clear of the group with only Bell able to go with him.
“We soon had a good lead on the others and I knew that it would be between myself and Nico for the win,” said Knox afterwards.
“As we approached the Concrete Road Climb for the second time, I saw Nico was taking a bit of strain. I kept my speed quite high and that let me get the lead on my own. From there it was head down and keep as safe as possible to the finish. It all went well and I’m very pleased to get my second win in the Series this year,” added Knox.
In the women’s race, Neethling (Dorma) and Amy Beth McDougall (Valencia) proved to be the strongest on the early climbs, riding ahead of their rivals. Neethling kept the pace constant and got a gap on McDougall early on. She managed to keep a consistent pace for the remainder of the 73km race and avoided any crashes or mechanicals to claim the win in a time of 3:31:19. McDougall claimed second place almost five minutes later with Samantha Saunders (Valencia) securing the final podium place a further five minutes back.
“On the Concrete Road Climb early on I was leading and I kept making small gaps which Amy had to keep closing down. I know from being in that position that it takes a lot out of you – physically and mentally) to keep riding back to someone. And eventually it became too much for Amy and I rode clear.
“I grew up riding and racing steep, rocky terrain where you have to constantly pick your line at the last moment. The Van Gaalen terrain is similar and I suppose that helped me. I didn’t take any risks on the descents and just focussed on riding at the maximum pace I knew I could maintain until the finish,” explained Neethling afterwards.
In the overall National MTB Series standings things are heating up with the best result from four events in the Series counting towards the final standings. Knox currently in 5th stands to catapult up the standings as soon as he completes his fourth event even though Bell is still leading the charge ahead of Gawie Combrinck and Waylon Woolcock. The fight is far from over with three events remaining the overall standings are far from cast in stone. In the women’s race McDougall moved into 1st overall passing an injured Robyn de Groot and Candice Neethling both on only three events. De Groot and Neethling are separated by less than 500 points after four rounds with De Groot having won two rounds versus Neethling’s one this weekend.
The Ashburton Investments National MTB Series now heads to Ballito in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province for Round 5, on 23 July.
2016 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series
Round 4, Van Gaalen, Saturday 11 June 2016
Elite men – 113km Ultra-marathon:
1 Max Knox (RSA) Lowveld Tractors/Dirk Louwrens Cycles 4:45:02
2 Nico Bell (RSA) Team NAD 4:48:51
3 HB Kruger (RSA) Team Telkom 4:50:43
4 Lourens Luus (RSA) PSG 4:50:45
5 Matt Beers (RSA) Red-E Cannondale 4:52:05
6 Waylon Woolcock (RSA) USN Purefit 4:59:12
7 Gawie Combrinck (RSA) Team NAD 5:00:55
8 Matthys Beukes (RSA) SCOTT LCB Factory Racing 5:03:59
9 Philip Buys (RSA) SCOTT LCB Factory Racing 5:09:48
10 Julius Cobbett (RSA) Cycle Nation 5:22:49
Elite women – 73km marathon:
1 Candice Neethling (RSA) Dorma 3:31:19
2 Amy Beth McDougall (RSA) Valencia 3:36:16
3 Samantha Sanders (RSA) Valencia 3:41:15
4 Vanessa Bell (RSA) Bells Cycling 3:48:23
5 Genevieve van Coller (RSA) 3:56:05
6 Sarah Hill (RSA) 4:01:24
7 Tamaryn Kietzmann (RSA) 4:07:31
8 Emily Clarke (RSA) 4:08:55
9 Michelle Benson (RSA) 4:10:12
10 Janine Muller (RSA) 4:14:53