Burry, Karien are champs | SASCOC - SASCOC

Burry, Karien are champs

For the past four years Kevin Evans (360Life) and Burry Stander (Specialized) have battled it out for the honour of being called South Africa’s top marathon rider.

In 2008 Evans won the title. Since then it has become a tit-for-tat battle between the two of them.  Stander won in 2009 with Evans finishing second. Last year Evans won, while Stander came second.

On Sunday at the Inanda Dam in KwaZulu-Natal’s Valley of a Thousand Hills, Stander kept his cool when it mattered most and won his second SA Marathon title in three years.

He outsprinted Evans going through the last sharp corner to win the race over 80 kilometres in 3 hours 25 minutes and 20 seconds.  With a gutsy ride Philip Buys (Garmin-adidas) ensured that the bronze medal remained his to keep.

An interesting aspect about this epic duel between Stander and Evans is that it seems as if Evans wins on the even years and Stander on the uneven years.

Another interesting cycling statistic is that, by winning on Sunday, Stander joined the elite group of South African mountain bikers who managed twice to win the marathon and cross-country titles in the same calendar year. He made the coveted double gold his by also winning the SA pro-elite cross-country title last weekend in Stellenbosch. Stander did the same in 2009.

Regarding Sunday’s race, it would seem that Stander and Evans chose to play the waiting game at first, allowing riders such as Buys, Rourke Croeser, Brandon Stewart (DCM) and Paul Cordes (MTN/Qhubeka) to set the pace and be the early aggressors.

Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN/Qhubeka) and Mannie Heymans (Garmin-adidas) were the unlucky riders as far as mechanical problems were concerned. Niyonshuti punctured three times, which effectively meant race over for him, and the seat post clamp of Heymans’s mountain bike came loose, making it difficult for him to sit properly.

About halfway through the race, Evans had an anxious moment when he made a judgemental error while racing at high speed through one of the sharp bends on a single-track section. The price he had to pay was flying through the air across his handle bars and doing a crash landing among the bushes.

Being a seasoned mountain-bike professional, it took Evans only a few seconds to gather his wits and get back on his mountain bike, but he had to chase hard to catch up with the leaders.

Stander said that he decided halfway through the race to increase the pace because he did not want the race to end in a bunch sprint to the line.

ÔÇ£I had one of those perfect racing days when it felt as if I could do nothing wrong and could just go on racing for another hour or two without even getting tired. It is a pity that the race was not a bit longer, to the credit of the organisers, I must admit that it was a true mountain biker’s race with a lot of technical single-track sections.ÔÇØ

Evans was the only rider who managed to stay with Stander, proving that South Africa’s two top mountain bikers are definitely ready for the Cape Epic that begins this coming weekend (26 March).

Evans also expressed surprise that the marathon race for pro-elite riders was not longer.

In the women’s race Catherine Williamson (Bizhub) raced first across the finishing line. It certainly was a well-deserved victory for the British rider but, not being a South African citizen, it does not mean that she is the new South African marathon champion.

This honour belongs to South African Karien van Jaarsveld (USN), who finished second overall. Cherise Taylor (USN), the Argus champion as well as the South African individual women’s time-trial champion, proved that her victory in the Grape Escape was no fluke by finishing third overall.

After Sunday it cannot be denied that USN is at the moment South Africa’s best and most versatile women’s cycling team.

Three of the team’s four riders are currently South African champions. Apart from Taylor being the time-trial champion and Van Jaarsveld the mountain bike marathon champion, Marissa van der Merwe won the South African women’s road race.

Van Jaarsveld’s victory proved that good results will be achieved by those riders who are prepared to do the hard work week after week and do not allow themselves to get demotivated when things don’t always work out as planned.

Last year Van Jaarsveld finished second in the women’s SA marathon race in Sabie. In other races ‘Lady Luck’ deserted her time and again, but Van Jaarsveld refused to give up. It is her motto that a rider who is prepared to put in the long hours, will eventually triumph. That is what happened to her on Sunday.

ÔÇ£I think what made the difference on Sunday was that I decided to ride my own race and not allow myself to be intimidated by what my rivals were doing or not doing,ÔÇØ said Van Jaarsveld.

ÔÇ£In the past I made the mistake of trying to race with the leaders right from the start and I always ended up paying the price. On Sunday I deliberately rode at my own pace during the first 10 kilometres. ┬áBecause I was still feeling strong towards the end of the race, I decided┬áto begin the big chase. Luckily for me I had the near perfect race.ÔÇØ

Van Jaarsveld’s next big challenge will be the Absa Cape Epic in which she will be teaming up with the British marathon champion, Sally Bigham.

Sunday’s women’s marathon race certainly had its fair share of controversy.

As was expected, the defending champion Yoland├® Speedy (MTN/Qhubeka), wasted no time in taking the lead. Taylor and Candice Neethling (Bizhub) were the two riders who made sure that they kept her in their sight. Unfortunately, somewhere along the route, they missed a race marker which caused them to go in the wrong direction.

ÔÇ£It was our own stupid mistake, we should have looked more carefully where we were going.┬á Because there were riders who followed us, we did not immediately realize that we made a mistake and just kept on riding,ÔÇØ Taylor said.

ÔÇ£It was only when we ran out of single track to race on, that we realised that we were going the wrong way. By that time we had lost about 15 minutes on the leaders.

ÔÇ£Turning around was mentally tough for me because I was so motivated to race from the front and now, all of a sudden, we were almost stone last and faced with the challenge of having to play catch up with the leaders.

ÔÇ£Luckily I managed to get going again. ┬áI passed Candice with about 15 kilometers to go. Yoland├® just had a really bad day.ÔÇØ

Taylor is developing into the first woman rider since Anke Erlank who seems to have no problem with switching from road racing to mountain biking and continuing to win as well.

Speedy had no excuses for the way her race played out. ÔÇ£Naturally I would have liked to defend my title successfully, but it was not meant to be. I got lost and I crashed, but that is no excuse.

ÔÇ£If I am quite honest I have to admit that I just did not have the best of legs during the race. You do get days like that.ÔÇØ