Robyn de Groot became the first female rider to win the South African marathon mountain bike title three years in succession, when she put on a dominant display at Round 4 of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series at Van Gaalen Cheese Farm, in the North West province on Saturday.
Wearing the colours of Ascendis Health, De Groot raced to a dominant victory over a strong field to retain the national title in a time of 3 hours 36 minutes 08 seconds. She was more than four minutes faster than runner-up Yolande de Villiers (Sasol Racing) with Candice Neethling (Freewheel Cycology Pam Golding) completing the podium a further minute-and-a-half later.
After the frantic pace of the early kilometres, a lead group of five developed on the first major climb at 15km. The group comprised De Groot, De Villiers, Neethling, Cherise Stander (RECM) and Bianca Haw (Red Bull). Once they began to climb in the Segwati Game Reserve, Haw and Neethling dropped off.
“On the technical, loose climb ‘Apollo’, Yolande rode away from Cherise and I. We both lost traction and had to dismount and run. Once back on my bike, I realised that Yolande had a decent gap and I set off to try and catch her. I looked back and realised Cherise was no longer with me. Yolande was incredibly strong and I only caught her on the Satellite climbs,” explained De Groot.
“She started the tricky, steep descent just ahead of me, but had some difficulty on it. Knowing the route, I was able to pass her and ride the rest of the descent at a comfortable pace. From then on I was on my own in the lead. I felt pretty good, not my strongest, but not bad. I really wanted to win this race badly and am very pleased that I did,” smiled De Groot.
De Villiers, a 42-year-old mother of three, has had one of her best racing years in 2015, including a third (with Janka Stevkova) at the ABSA Cape Epic and first (with Catherine Williamson) at the Old Mutual joBerg2c.
Despite being the podium battle early on, Stander withdrew from the race.
“I was fine up until 30km and then I just felt awful. Everything felt like it was shutting down. I think I experienced internal loadshedding! I decided to pull out. I just struggled so much to stay up with the leaders and couldn’t see myself making it to the finish so I stopped. No excuses, just not my day,” explained Stander, the 2012 national champion, who went into Saturday’s race as one of the favourites.
De Groot joins Kevin Evans as the only riders to win the coveted title in three consecutive years. Evans won the men’s title a total of four times, but consecutively in 2006/7/8.
De Groot concluded her professional road-racing career when she represented South Africa at the 2012 Olympic Games in London and then switched to mountain biking late in 2013, winning the national title at her first attempt in White River and repeating the feat twice – in Pietermaritzburg in 2014 and Van Gaalen in 2015.
The top three riders in the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series are now Neethling (13516 points), Theresa Ralph (12594) and Ariane Kleinhans (11831). Round 5 of the seven-event series will take place in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal on 26 July.
2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series Round 4, Van Gaalen Cheese Farm, Saturday 6 June 2015
Elite women – 74km marathon:
1 Robyn de Groot (RSA) Ascendis Health) 3:36:08
2 Yolande de Villiers (RSA) Sasol Racing 3:40:25
3 Candice Neethling (RSA) Freewheel Cycology 3:42:11
4 Bianca Haw (RSA) Red Bull 3:44:09
5 Samantha Sanders (RSA) Valencia 3:47:05
6 Vera Adrian (NAM) BestMed ASG 3:52:53
7 Theresa Ralph (RSA) Team RBS 4:00:28
8 Carla van Huysteen (RSA) Time Freight 4:00:42
9 Adrienne Moolman (RSA) 4:02:42
10 Carmen Buchacher (RSA) 4:07:22