MTN National Ultra Marathon Series #4, Clarens


Words: Ben Melt Swanepoel

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The 4th round of the MTN National Ultra Marathon Series headed to Clarens in the Free State as the series reached its halfway mark. It was the 5th time that the series has returned to Clarens, but a brand new marathon course awaited riders. As always, the Ultra Marathon would be a combination of the marathon (75km, 1700m ascent) and half marathon (45km, 1000m ascent) courses for a total of 120km and 2700m of climbing. One thing was for sure, if you weren’t on a dual suspension bike – you were at a disadvantage! Man it felt good to finally put my Merida Big Ninety Nine Team to its intended use!

I really enjoyed the updated marathon course and the first 3 hours of racing absolutely flew by. Of course it wasn’t without incident and I was held up behind an early crash where subsequently I was forced to stop and tighten my front wheel’s skewer which had come undone in the fracas. It was my mistake as I was caught too far back going into the narrow section, but I suppose you can’t always ride at the front. I tried chasing back to the leaders who by now were accelerating to contest the King of the Mountains prime.

Nico Bell showed his early form and intent to pass initial aggressor Karl Platt for the intermediary prize. On the district road that followed a large group formed at the head of the race working together into the ever strengthening wind, while anybody that wasn’t in this group (read: me) was left to their own devices. The leading group stayed intact until 3 riders drew away from the rest about halfway through the race. Nico Bell, Erik Kleinhans (both Team RE:CM) and Karl Platt (Team Bulls) showed they were in a league of their own on the day and they went on to contest the race win. Nico Bell prevailed over Karl Platt who suffered from cramps late in the race while Erik Kleinhans rounded out the top 3 with a solid ride.

Behind these 3 riders the margins were much tighter and a big battle raged to decide the top 10 on the day. Riders were in small groups or alone making for desperate riding on the windswept district roads which greeted us on the opening 15km of the half marathon route. Twice I took a wrong turn which cost me a little time, but lots more in terms of squandered energy and position. Rookie error, but I blame it on being tired and unable to differentiate between stars and directional arrows...

Once off the open roads I passed (or more correctly, re-passed) a lot of riders towards the end of the race, but only managed to move back into 9th place by the finish line. I took solace in the fact that I had been up to 7th place at one stage before I decided to play hide and seek with the rest of the field.

The story of the day was Nico Bell taking a well deserved win in a World Marathon Series event, along with all the prestige and UCI points that go with said victory. However, the fierce contest behind him and youthfulness of the competition bodes well for the future and will ensure that SA mountain biking continues its march towards the world stage. Bring on the Marathon World Championships in June!

Final Results:
1. Nico Bell (Team RE:CM) 4:54:47
2. Karl Platt (Team Bulls) 4:58:17
3. Erik Kleinhans (Team RE:CM) 4:59:20
4. Andrew Hill 5:11:54
5. Adriaan Louw 5:11:59
6. Arno Du Toit (ASG/Epic Sports) 5:12:17
7. Rourke Croeser (Kargo MTB) 5:12:29
8. Timo Cooper (Rocky Mountain) 5:13:10
9. Melt Swanepoel (EAI Cycling) 5:14:28
10. Charles Keey (Blend Properties) 5:15:47

Until next time, happy trails!