Monday, June 16, 2014

MTN Ultra Marathon, Van Gaalens #6

MTN Ultra Marathon #6, Van Gaalens

The sixth leg of the Ultra marathon series took us to the well known cheese farm of Van Gaalens in Magaliesburg. If anything, the start of the race would be remembered as one of the coldest yet, a chilly minus 5 as Max and I warmed up behind the Team Fedgroup-Itec KIA Sorrento on the way to the start. (or possibly a warm down!)
The cold start was short lived as the racing began, and I was pleased to know that we were following most of the trails we rode in the Route66 MTB race earlier in the year. So I knew what to expect, well at least kind of for the first 30km. The group split up very early on with the usual contenders at the front. I put the pressure on the group up the second big climb of the day to take the King of the Mountain, and was surprised that I had managed to ride a small gap into the chasing group.
Knowing better though at what still lay ahead, I took it easy and stayed with the group. We then had a very rocky (understatement) of a descend to the first tech zone. I was not comfortable on this section at all, and I will be the first to admit that I was not going to take any risks with World Champs only two weeks away. 

The first half of the route was really technical, perhaps one of the more technical in the series, with plenty of physically demanding trails, making it tough on the body.
The second half of the race included some rolling gravel roads, and then various short steep climbs with technical trails up and down, and I knew the final 30km would always be tough. At 65km, Max decided to split the large group that had reformed, and it left only Lourens Luus, Darren Lill, Max Knox and myself. I could feel that my legs had not fully recovered from SA champs the week before, and normally where we would have had the upper hand in terms of tactics and numbers, Max and I were actually in a slightly stalemate position as we had to make the racing and set the pace to keep the other riders from re-joining.
I only needed a good result to move up the series rankings and with Nico Bell missing from the front group, we found ourselves racing maybe more for the series than the race win.

I lost touch with Lourens and Darren on the final descend when I had a slight off in a corner, and could not chase back to the two, who sprinted for the finish, with Lourens taking his second MTN Ultra win for the season.
Darren was second and myself third.

The series however starts to get a little interesting now. You see the best five races of the eight race series count towards the overall points and the eventual winner. So although Bell is leading, he has done all six races so far, thus giving him the lead. The rest of us have only done four races, with two races remaining. As I've won the series 6 times, I know better than most how the points work, and if I go on average points after three races, its interesting to see Lourens Luus would have overall lead, followed by myself, Bell and Lill. So in theory the series is hotting  up and still wide open, but of course it leaves no margin for error in the remaining two events.

Provisional results:
1st Lourens Luus (RECM) 4hrs49
2nd Darren Lill (Cannondale/Blend) 4hrs49
3rd Kevin Evans (FedGroup-Itec) 4hrs50

Looking forward to another tough but well organised event from the Advendurance crew next week I Hilton.
Till then,

South African Marathon Championships


A star studded field lined up at Cascades, Pietermaritzburg for the 95km marathon boasting a vertical ascent of 3500m! With only three weeks left before the UCI World Marathon Championships will take place on the same course, South Africa’s finest bikers were there to test their mettle and fight for the most prestigious national title. Over the last 11 years only five athletes have won the title, namely JP Pearton, Kevin Evans, Burry Stander, James Reid and Max Knox.
Max takes us through the race....
The race started steadily with a big group forming at the front. The course was mixture of punchy climbs and short technical descents. Kevin and I settled comfortably into the lead group. After a good build up in the past few months we were pretty confident one of us would be able to pull off the win. Kevin was coming into some really great shape, but sadly for him he was having some technical issues with his seat post that kept putting him on the back foot having to chase back a couple of minutes to the lead group each time he stopped to sort out the problem .
Approximately 40 km into the race Lourens Luus, one of the contenders for the title had a huge crash putting him out of the race. A small group then formed consisting of James Reid, Brendan Davids, Rourke Croeser, Kevin Evans and myself. Brendon kept the tempo steady to avoid chasing riders from Cannondale, EAI, Scott or RECM catching our group. With the course being so tough the time gaps where pretty big and after doing a really good job up front Brendan eventually dropped off the lead group. It was then just before the 70km mark that Rourke and James decided to turn on the gas. Kevin was able to stay with them for a while but I just didn’t have it in my legs to go at that speed. The two of them [Reid & Croeser] really showed great strength and maturity beyond their years and were super strong on the day.
The second loop of 23km was a case of survival for me, with about 5km to go I took the incorrect route where there course split. Unhappy to say the least, when I turned around to back track and find my way I noticed a totally disinterested marshal sleeping in the bush ! No excuses, it is the riders responsibility, so as disappointed as I was I rejoined the race in 6th place.

Back at the front of the race Reid had ridden off Croeser and at 83km had a 20sec lead followed by Kevin who was fighting hard to pull back some time on 1st & 2nd. In the end the SA title was not ours to take home this time as Reid crossed the line a few minutes ahead of Croeser with Kevin finishing in a solid third place.

Finishing 6th I was not terribly happy with my performance but in hindsight i shouldn’t have been disappointed. Having had a super busy schedule with The Epic, JHB2C and SANI2C the fatigue was bound to play a role so ultimately I was pretty chuffed.
Lessons learned and experience gained we continue our build up to the UCI World Marathon Champs later this month. With the SA MTN Marathons at Van Gaalen’s and Hilton in between let’s hope our preparation holds us in good stead for the big one.
We will keep you posted.

MTN Ultra Marathon #5, Rooiberg

A classy field of South Africa’s top pro’s filled the start pen ready to give the race a crack. As it’s really close to SA and World Marathon Champs, now is the time to start shinning.
Kevin and I had laid out a race strategy which we thought would work best for us.  I would make the racing hard at the beginning to isolate some of the other riders from their team mates and hopefully we could get away. The other option was if I got away, Kevin would marshal the chase bunch and ride across to me at the end. So the plan was in place.

All seemed in order and after 10km Darren Lill and I got away. I knew the chase bunch behind consisted of Kevin, Gawie Combrinck, Hanco Kakkelhoffer, and Waylon Woodcock (who would sit on as his team mate Lill was up the road with me) as well as Nico Bell and Lourens Luus.
The only team put under pressure was RECM, now paying the price for not having a rider able to go with Darren and I early on.  Knowing both riders and their competitive spirits I was budgeting that neither of them [Bell or Luus] would be prepared to work together, with one having to sacrifice his own chances for the win by trying to close the gap for the other. Sometimes in a team you have to make scarifies, work together and rejoice in a team mates success putting personal ambitions aside for the good of the team.  Sadly with the team captain out due to injury and not much cohesion between these two teammates the situation worked in favour of Darren and I.  

By the 60km mark Darren and I had built up a solid lead fortunately as some days you need to be humbled and today was one of those for me. Having not executed the correct nutrition strategy in the heat of tactical racing I hit the wall completely, with a spectacular mushroom cloud. To be honest there were stages where I thought it would be easier to just get off and push my bike!
 Now racing in survival mode, I don’t even know how I dragged myself through the next 50km.
 Somehow I managed, obviously moving faster than it felt I rolled over the line in 2nd position. An excellent win for Darren hard earned with aggressive racing from the gun. Exactly what we need in SA to lift our level of competition. 

A mere 30 seconds later Kevin came charging in in third position and man did he look strong. After he had taken care of the chasing bunch and he’d set his sights on the Iead. In my opinion Kev was the strongest rider on the day. His race was very cat and mouse, with me up the road he needed a very hard section to get rid of the chasers and cross over to the leaders [which he came very close to doing]. Finishing as strongly as he did it’s a really great sign for the upcoming events. We where chuffed with our two podiums spots and really are starting to gel as a team.

As always thanks to FedGroup Financial Services, Itec Group, Kia Motors SA, Crusader Logistics and Kathea Communications for keeping the dream alive along with Trek, USN, Quickrock and Shimano for providing us with top notch equipment and nutrition.