|Podium finishers :)|
Nedbank Sani2c, Underberg-Scottborough, 3 days
Day1, Underberg-Mackenzie, 82km, 1200m
The Nedbank Sani2c has become one of the most iconic events on the South African calendar. So popular that the organizers had to make it into three races held over three days. Our race, known as the ‘race’, is the last to start, after the ‘trail and ‘adventure’, and after nearly three thousand riders have hit the trails before us, it makes for a fast and smooth course, but takes nothing away from the super trails.
The start was pleasant, temperature wise, as Underberg has some fresh mornings to say the least. The pace however was hot, and the competition was super close this year. After the twin oaks single-track, where the race normally splits up, there were about 9-10 teams all together. This would change the dynamics of the stage. Personally I was having a better day, as I was starting to find some long lost form returning to the legs. My partner, Gawie Combrinck from Westvaal/Columbia was battling with the flu that caught me the previous week, and was struggling through the end of the stage.
By the finish it was almost a bunch sprint of around five teams, with Team Cannondale/Blend winning the stage, with all the top teams finishing on the same time, Brandon and Neil right up there. Gawie and I managed to only loose around one minute, which keeps us in the loop for the race, should we feel better for tomorrow.
Our only podium for the day was from a fantastic ride by team manager Bridgette and her partner Jackie. Top ride to finish third.
The race is normally decided on the second stage, and I doubt it will be a bunch finish tomorrow, but who knows!
Day2, Mackenzie-Jolivet, 102km, 1950m
This would be the second time I’ve had to descend down the mighty Umkomaas in slippery wet and muddy conditions. Combined with mist and an early start, with poor visibility, I was just happy to make it through the stage in one piece.
We got to the bottom of the valley in ‘bits and pieces’ as teams were separated in the technical conditions. After a few kilometers of easy rolling along the river, the teams were all back together and the racing heated up. Team Contego had taken a few risks and made a big gap down the valley, and we would basically be chasing them for the stage. Max Knox and Nico Bell also had a small gap, but were quickly joined by Brandon and Neil. Gawie and myself were trying to follow RE:CM and although he was a bitter better today, the flu still had the better of him on the steep climbs.
At the end of the day, Max and Nico won, followed by Brandon and Neil. Gawie and myself were 5th, around ten minutes behind on the stage.
With only around 10minutes separating the first five teams, the racing will still be on tomorrow, and it won’t be an easy day, that’s for sure.
Day3, Jolivet-Scottborough, 84km, 1000m
Farmer Glen decided to mix things up a little for the final stage, with a new ‘reverse’ order of starting. The A batch would start at 11am, whilst all the rest of the riders would start at 7am. The reason for this would be to have all the riders at the finish when the top guys came in. I have to say that it was a great idea and worked really well. The slower riders that we caught towards the end were gently pulled aside by the lead bikes, and the enthusiasm and support from them whilst racing past was fantastic.
Back to the racing, the start was really fast, and there was a serious tempo being set by most of the top teams. We had decided we wanted to have a hard day of racing, one for training, and two because we had nothing really to lose.
Gawie and I took over the pace making up front, and the group of around five teams rolled quickly through the trails. Once we were through the beautiful Vernon Crooks Reserve, I knew from Joberg2c that the route had changed and the ‘railway’ track was approaching. This was where we made our move, and with Brandon and Neil riding the single-track behind us, they just rode steady which allowed Gawie and I a chance to get our initial gap. Once we had a gap, we put our heads down and powered through the last 20km of the stage.
The finish was really special, the Nedbank floating bridge along the lagoon was unique, but it was the support and the crowds at the finish that made it even more special. Personally for me it was an emotional win as I’ve battled some health issues for the past seven months. The body is good, and the form is slowly returning.
Brandon and Neil finished third on the stage behind RE:CM with Max Knox and Nico Bell finishing fourth.
Max and Nico won the overall title, with team FedGroupITEC taking a great second place and Team Contego finishing third.
Our FedGroupITEC third team of Bridgette Stewart and Jackie Moore took third place overall in the ladies race, rounding out a very successful three days of racing for the team.
Again big thanks to all the sponsors, Scott bikes performed flawlessly, USN kept us fuelled to the finish, and KIA Motors carried our super back up crew of Grant, Sue and Lucky. Thanks again for all the support, on and off the bike.
Next race, Brandon Neil will race the Nissan Trailseeker in Johannesburg, whilst I’ll be flying the flag on golf tour for a change of scenery. Then it’s final preparation for SA Marathon Championships at Induna, Hazyview in two weeks time.
Till then, cheers.
1st Max Knox/Nico Bell (EAI/Westvaal) 9:44:50
2nd Brandon Stewart/Neil Macdonald (FedGroupITEC) 9:46:19
3rd Louise Knipe/Gert Heyns (Contego/Giant) 9:49:02
4th Lourens Luus/Waylon Woolcock (RE:CM) 9:50:48
5th Kevin Evans/Gawie Combrinck (FedGroupITEC) 9:51:43