Kargo Pro MTB Team star Rourke Croeser produced the strongest display at the 2014 Sappi Karkloof Classic as he held off the rest of the field to claim his maiden victory in the 60km marathon event with Time Freight VELOLife’s Candice Neethling cruising to a comfortable win in the ladies race at the Karkloof Country Club outside Howick on Sunday.
Riders were greeted to gloomy weather at the start but as soon as they left the valley they were bathed in sunshine as Croeser and Trek SA’s Brendon Davids made an early break but following a technical glitch to Davids’ bike, Croeser took the outright lead and never looked back despite not feeling on top of his game.
“Funnily enough I didn’t have the greatest of legs today but I really, really wanted to win,” a satisfied Croeser said. “Brendon (Davids) and I got away fairly early on; then Brendon got a puncture at the top of the major climb and I managed to get around him and get to the end.”
The conditions were in between for the riders with track conditions shifting between dry and wet but Croeser managed to negotiate the changing conditions well and was happy with the way he could produce a favourable result for himself and his team with a trip overseas on the horizon.
“There were a few sections that were bone dry and there were a few sections that were really muddy, it was a bit weird but I really enjoyed it.
“Our team needed a big result, I needed a big result and I was just happy to get the win. It gives me great confidence as I leave on the European leg of our World Cup tour and I am looking forward to the rest of the season,” Croeser mentioned confidently.
It was Cannondale Blend’s Darren Lill who claimed the second place on the podium in his first outing to the Sappi Karkloof Classic and after battling through some sections he managed to hold off the chasing bunch to claim the silver medal for the men’s event.
“I seemed to be having a bad day technically, I don’t know what I was doing but I was just hacking badly in the single track and I think that is where I lost most of my time today.
“It is my first time doing the race and I went out there and had fun and I’ve got a better idea of what to expect next time,” Lill mentioned.
Having never raced on the track before Lill felt that he was at a slight disadvantage, but he did not let that come between him and his determination to get into the top three and he was happy to take home the runner-up medal.
“I was pretty confident that I could get a top three today, obviously you always come to races to win but it is not always possible and I think today local knowledge of these trails definitely helped and a lot of guys come from a cross country background so they are really quick and I think that is where I lost it a bit today,” added Lill.
It was a ruthless sprint down the long finish straight for the third position and ultimately it was Team Jeep’s Julian Jessop who outsprinted TIB Insurance’s Andrew Hill and Kargo Pro Team rider Travis Walker to take the final place on the podium before collapsing after the line with cramp.
“It was absolutely unbelievable!” Jessop said ecstatically. “The last 10km I don’t know how I got through there was so much pain and then the end sprint! So as soon as I crossed the line the cramp set in and I couldn’t even stand!”
It was a race to forget for the defending champion Brendon Davids as the Trek SA rider suffered multiple punctures throughout the race that left him playing catch-up for a lot of the race but he fought back gallantly to end in eighth place overall.
“I don’t know what I hit because both wheels went flat at the same time, bombed both wheels, put a plug in both tyres and about three or four km’s later it happened again and at that point I was third just off on Darren (Lill).
“I Punctured again going up ‘Pressure Cooker’ and then got it going again and just rode conservatively to the finish. I was sitting about 22nd at the bottom of ‘Pressure Cooker’ so I dug really deep on the climb but I had to play it quite safe on the descents.
“It’s a bit of a bummer but it is a good indicator of my form going into the World Cup season. It has been a disappointing couple of weeks with the World Cup, Lesotho and now this but I am happy with my form and I’m feeling good and with Sani (sani2c) next weekend hopefully we can go for the win there,” Davids added optimistically.
The women’s race was also fairly one-sided with Time Freight VELOlife rider Candice Neethling’s single track skills proving to be the difference as she opened up a fairly substantial gap over defending champion USN/Hi-TEC’s Jeannie Dreyer.
“I am really stoked, it was one of the best routes I have done! It was quite a lot harder than I thought with all the climbing and I was suffering on the last one called ‘The Pressure Cooker’ but the singletrack in between that made it so enjoyable,” Neethling said happily.
Neethling put her victory down to a superior ability on the singletrack as she used her skills from Cross Country riding to gain a lead over Dreyer who was always a threat on the climbs.
“The singletrack skill is what set us apart I think, I was actually behind her on the first climb and I could see her going up ‘Lebanon’ and I was just hoping that there would be more single track! It helps to have that skill, it’s free speed and I used it.”
Having won this race in 2013 Dreyer knew that the competition was going to be tough and singled out Neethling as her main opposition and knew that it was going to be a tough ask beating the youngster.
“It was challenging, I came into the race knowing that I would have stiff competition,” she said. “Candice Neethling is a phenomenal rider and I went out hard from the start because I knew that my technical is not nearly as good as anybody’s and not nearly as good as Candice.”
Dreyer managed to get ahead of Neethling up the first climb but it was after that that Dreyer was unable to hang on to the tail of the Western Cape resident and it was a case of making sure she consolidated her second place and tried to keep herself out of trouble on the technical sections.
“I put in a little bit of time but she actually caught me on the first bit of technical singletrack and from there I just had to pace it, there is a lot of climbing so you have to keep a little in reserve for the downhill and I found my upper body getting quite tired and my fingers getting tired from braking so much!” Dreyer concluded.
The aQuellé 40km Half Marathon was dominated by Reinhard Zellhuber who won the half marathon race by 11 minutes over Nicolas Westman with Time Freight VELOlife’s Kim Westbrook taking the ladies title in the same event.
The aQuellé 20km family race was, again, popular amongst the youth and with the rain subsiding and the sun shining it looked like a great day out for everyone as another successful Sappi Karkloof Classic MTB Festival came to an end.
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – SAPPI KARKLOOF CLASSIC MTB FESTIVAL
SAPPI 60KM KARKLOOF CLASSIC
1. Rourke Croeser 02:37:29
2. Darren Lill 02:40:42
3. Julian Jessop 02:41:53
4. Andrew Hill 02:42:04
5. Travis Walker 02:42:14
6. Stuart Marais 02:43:47
7. Waylon Woolcock 02:47:19
8. Brendon Davids 02:52:10
9. Bradley Stroberg 02:52:40
10. Brand du Plessis 02:53:18
11. Leeroy Emslie 02:53:45
12. Kevin Patten 02:54:30
13. Derrin Smith 02:54:41
14. James Burne 02:54:50
15. Thomas Jessop 02:55:50
16. Warren Price 02:56:03
17. Callan Deacon 02:56:07
18. Grant Usher 02:56:12
19. Alan Hatherly 02:57:23
20. Jake van Zyl 02:58:02
1. Candice Neethling 03:04.12
2. Jeannie Dreyer 03:10:09
3. Ashleigh Moffatt 03:18:00
4. Natalie Bergstrom 03:21:57
5. Frankie du Toit 03:24:42
aQuellé 40km Half Marathon
1. Reinhard Zellhuber 01:44:22
2. Nicolas Westman 01:55:26
3. Sharjah Jonsson 01:57:43
4. Cameron Doyle 01:59:25
5. Rob Nutt 01:59:27
1. Kim Westbrook 02:04:40
2. Tracey Wood 02:17:36
3. Julieann Hampson 02:27:23
aQuellé 20km Fun Ride
1. Aaron Mitchell 1:01:27
2. Cian Leveridge 01:02:05
3. Robyn Rowe (F) 01:02:11