Switzerland’s Urs Huber and South Africa’s Robyn de Groot were the mountain biking king and queen of Sabie after winning the men and women’s titles respectively at Round 2 of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series at the weekend.
For Huber (Team Bulls), it was his second Sabie victory after having claimed the title there in 2014, while for De Groot (Ascendis Health), it was her first Sabie crown, and another major marathon race win for the South African champion, who also won the Fairview Attakwas ultra-marathon for the first time last month.
Close to 2 000 mountain bikers competed at Sabie, which offered five events over two days. The Ultra-marathon and marathon were held on Saturday and the Half-marathon, fun race and fun ride took place on Sunday, taking riders through a combination of indigenous and plantation forest and up and down the mountain slopes of one of South Africa’s premier mountain biking towns.
In the men’s Ultra-marathon, Huber of Team Bulls, was impatient and was on the front virtually from the first climb. By the second climb, The Mamba, the gradient began to splinter the lead pack. The Mamba is a 3.5km switchback gravel road that ascends 360 metres.
There are a total of 3 058 metres of climbing in the 112km race and by the summit of The Mamba, at 28km, one third of those metres had been conquered. The race has been won in recent years by riders attacking the early climbs with aggression and the 2016 edition followed that same pattern
Huber and Sabie resident, Max Knox (Valencia) took turns to set the pace and Huber crested the summit of The Mamba just ahead, collecting the King of the Mountain prize in the process. The pair eased up a little after the climb and there was a regrouping of sorts as Tim Bohme (Team Bulls) and Johann Rabie (Telkom) dropped on the ascent, rejoined the leaders. But the time gaps were already quite significant.
Rabie lost the lead group, but German champion, Karl Platt (Team Bulls) and Gert Heyns (SCOTT LCB Factory Racing) made contact. But Huber was intent on keeping the pace hot and only Knox and Platt were able to respond. Huber then attacked and neither Platt nor Knox could match the Swiss ace, who went on to finish first in a time of 04 hours 54 minutes 38 seconds.
Platt rolled home in second place in 4:55:28 with Knox taking third place in 5:01:40. Heyns claimed fourth place with Nico Bell (Team NAD), outsprint Darren Lill (USN Purefit) for fifth place.
“I’m very happy to win here again. I have been very focussed for the past few weeks on this race and it is good to win it again. It was quite hot out there, but I have been in South Africa for the past two weeks so have got use to the conditions. I am going home tomorrow then back for the Cape Epic,” said Huber.
Huber and Platt will once again team up to try and win the Cape Epic next month. Their one-two finish at Sabie, as well as other recent race successes confirm they’re on track to be title contenders for certain.
“It was hot out there and in places a bit slippery after the light rain yesterday. I knew the race would be hard so I tried not to pace too much in the beginning. I flatted after 10km and I had to stop a couple of times to sort out my gears. Each time I chased back to the front group, so I spend some energy. Sabie is one of the hardest races in the world. The high altitude, the humidity, the heat and the terrain all make is super tough,” said Platt.
The women’s race became a duel between defending champion, Ariane Kleinhans (Team Spur) and De Groot. Kleinhans has struggled with her early season form compared to previous years and was forced on the defensive at Sabie, having to chase a clearly in-form De Groot virtually from start to finish.
De Groot claimed the Queen of the Mountain title at the summit of The Mamba after 28km. Kleinhans was just a few seconds back. But as the 72km race progressed, De Groot managed to extend her lead over the two-time Cape Epic women’s champion.
De Groot clocked a time of 3:45:55 with Kleinhans crossing the finish in 3:51:04. Candice Neethling (Dorma) rounded out the podium places in 4:00:57.
“Sabie is always a toughie. Fortunately I felt pretty comfortable. I wanted to come here and push myself hard. Sabie is the last one-day race until nationals and I wanted to do the SA Champion jersey proud. So, here it is,” smiled De Groot.
“I suffered today. This is such a tough race. It’s nicer to lead the race, but Robyn just rode away. She was the strongest. Congratulations to her on the win. While I suffered, I did really enjoy that last section of singletrack though. Well done to everyone that finished. This is one of the toughest races,” said Kleinhans.