MTN National MTB Series: Bell claims Rooiberg title

Words: Sarah Kobal ǀ Photos: DO IT NOW Media

Mountain Biking

On Saturday, 15 June, Nico Bell took home the MTN National MTB Series #6 Rooiberg title in a winning time of 4 hours 21 minutes and 21 seconds - his first win of the series.



Boasting varied terrains, including rocky, arid, mountainous, and bushveld, the 105 km ultra marathon race, held at the Rooiberg Golf Club in Limpopo, was not for the inexperienced mountain biker. Despite the organisers removing dangerous rocks and cutting the long grass, overhanging bushes, tree, thorns and vegetation, the routes along gravel roads, natural and built single track, as well as the game paths were still incredibly tough on the tyres.


At the starting line of the ultra marathon, Johnny Koen, the MC, made sure that everyone knew the rules, potential dangers, and what animals to look out for during the race. Riders were also warned about the freshly-dug holes, courtesy of the warthogs, which could be found along the route and possibly leave a rider badly injured should they hit one at pace. With all the rules and warnings out of the way, the whistle was blown and the riders powered away.


Leading (and speeding) into the first technical point, some 58 km and two-and-a-half hours into the race, was Gawie Combrinck, Nico Bell, Max Knox, and Matthys Beukes.


Stopping just long enough to get replacement drinks from their technical teams, they were off again in a blur, leaving only dust in their wake. Just two minutes later, Darren Lill and Matthew Brittain (London Olympic gold rower) passed through, pausing only to replace their empty bottles before setting off in hot pursuit of the leaders.


Nearing the end and without any warning, Bell picked up the pace and crossed the finish line in a convincing victory, to the cheers and claps of the spectators. In second place was Matthys Beukes in a time of 04:27:34, with Gawie Combrinck just two minutes behind in a time of 04:29:59 to claim third. Darren Lill secured fourth in a time of 04:41:34, and Johann Rabie came in fifth in 04:41:46. When asked what it felt like to win the Rooiberg ultra-race, Bell responded with a resounding, "It's about time, especially with all the hard work that I have put in and the close second places I've had. I finally got the chance to prove my strength and worth to myself and the people who questioned my desire to win, or capability to win!" Bell added, "I am able to race at this level and win races even with a full-time job and without being paid a salary to ride my bike and have done so since I started racing."



Bell had surprised most by crossing the finish line first, as the favourite to win was Max Knox, who already had three of the five MTN National ultra-race wins under his belt. Knox, who was in the leading batch to go through the first technical point, lost a lot of time because of his tyre being slashed on two occasions due to the rough terrain. From there onwards, he was riding with a tube in his tyre. Knox said that this was when he realised that he had no chance to win the race. Tyre problems also plagued top road cyclist Hanco Kachelhoffer, Knox's new teammate, who had to use a total of four tubes as a result of the rough terrain. At times, Kachelhoffer had to walk as he had already used the spare tube he had with him. Fortunately, when fellow competitors caught up to him, they were kind enough to give him their spare tubes and he was able to finish the race.


Bell, who finished in fourth place in Wellington race and second in Sabie and Clarens races, proudly stood on the first place spot on the podium, posing with Beukes and Combrinck. Going into the race, Bell's race tactics were to make the pace hard and ensure the strongest rider won! "My teammate Gawie helped me with this and was committed from the start," explained Bell.


When asked what the biggest challenges were during the race, Bell said that it was the thick sand and loose rocky climbs. He added, "I was racing Max Knox to make sure he doesn’t win and consolidate the leader's jersey for the series." By coming sixth in this race, Knox hasn't secured the overall victory in the MTN National MTB Series, but there are still two more races in this series and anything can happen.


In the 75 km Rooiberg Marathon Ladies race, it was Robyn de Groot who took home the coveted title in 03:42:44, followed by Yolandi du Toit in second in a time of 03:44:21, and in third was Yolanda Speedy
in 03:54:25.


The next race in the MTN National MTB Series is at Hilton on 27 July. Predicting the winner for this race is very difficult, as the terrain will always be a big factor in how smoothly the competitors ride, and with Bell claiming the Rooiberg title, the other top competitors will definitely have a fight on their hands if they want to win the Hilton title.