The event doubles as the opening race of the UCI Marathon Mountain Bike calendar, and is renowned for attracting some of the world’s top racing talent. Among the pretenders to Beukes’ throne this year was ultra-endurance legend Karl Platt from Team Bulls and Pyga Euro Steel teammate Philip Buys.
In a tightly fought tactical race, Beukes put the highly competitive field to the test with multiple attacks along the unforgiving 121km route. Early mechanical issues took both Buys and Platt out of contention for the title, leaving Heyns, Carstens, and Arno du Toit pushing to keep up with Beukes’ blistering pace.
Many would presume that the toughest part of the race was over when riders reached the top of the infamous Attakwas “King of the Mountain” climb. The true test of grit had only just begun, however, with the undulating terrain over the final 60 km’s to the finish line.
It was incredibly exciting to watch as Beukes broke away from the group at this point to establish and extend an overall lead to almost 5 minutes.
“This is truly one of the toughest races on the calendar and a great test of physical and mental fitness early in the season. One of my goals was to beat Urs Huber’s record today, but going so hard from the start of the race meant that cramps set in later on. Happy to take the win though,” said an elated Beukes.
Rounding out the all South African podium was Gert Heyns (DSV Pro Cycling) who managed to snatch up second, and a young Nicol Carstens (Imbuko Giant) who finished in third. It was a ground-breaking win in Carstens’ still very young career, and an unexpected thrashing for many salted elite riders in the field.
The women’s race proved to be a truly jaw-dropping spectacle to witness.
As predicted, some of South Africa’s brightest stars Candice Lill (Summit), Sam Sanders (Dormakaba), and Yolande de Villiers; and Sweden’s Jennie Stenerhag (Fairtree Silverback) broke away early into the route.
It seemed that victory was out of reach for De Villiers as she dropped off the pace of the leading group by more than 40 seconds for a large portion of the race. It has to be said that her local knowledge contributed to her carefully calculated effort to regain contact with the leaders at the last waterpoint.
The crowd watched in disbelief as the three women sprinted for the line, with De Villiers snatching victory from the claws of defeat by a hair’s breadth.
“It’s been over ten years since I last tasted this victory! It took everything I had to pace myself and save my legs until the very end. What a proud moment – my whole family is here to support me, it’s wonderful!” said De Villiers.