South African Mountain Bike Marathon Champs race report

12 June 2015



Words: Gawie Combrinck, professional cyclist | Photos:

On Saturday, 6 June 2015, Johann Rabie and I (Team EAI Cycling) lined up at the start of the 2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series Van Gaalen, which also doubled up as the South African Mountain Bike Marathon Championships powered by Stihl.

With the thermometer sitting at a very chilly minus two, we set off on the technical and rocky 115 km course. All the usual suspects were there, each just as eager to claim the honour of wearing the sought-after national stripes for the following year.

The first few kilometers were flat and fast through the farmlands. To make sure that Johann and I would be first into the first steep technical climb, we kept the pace high. Our plan worked, with Johann leading the pack up the climb to clinch the ‘King of the Mountain’ title at the top. Johann continued to power ahead, followed by Nico Bell (RECM), Adriaan Louw (Contigo), Brendon Davids (Kargo) and Arno du Toit (Scott). I was just a few seconds behind with Ben ‘Melt’ Swanepoel (Squirt/ Merida), Konny Looser (Wheeler iXS) and Darren Lill.

Eager to rejoin the lead pack, Melt set a furious pace and, as a result, we managed to open up a small gap on Konny and Darren and catch up to the leading five guys. With none of the other riders having teammates in the group, I went to the front to keep the pace high. I opened up a small gap on the rocky descent and kept going from there, thus ensuring that Johann could get a free ride as the others had to commit to chasing me down.

Taking a few risks and close calls with trees and massive rocks, I had just over a minute lead on the chasing group as we headed out into the headwind on the district roads. Once again our tactics paid off with no one willing to commit to chasing me down and the gap extended to 5 minutes.

I rode at a hard, steady tempo, a pace I knew I could keep up to the end, and didn’t take too many risks on the rough, rocky single tracks. Then Nico Bell and Darren Lill put the hammer down at about 70 km into the race as they went up the first of the three steep climbs towards the end. This ripped the small chasing group apart and took a massive chunk of time out of my lead.

On the climb up to the Greek Church, I still had more than a 2-minute lead on the chasers and with technical single tracks left to the finish, I knew I had it in the bag if I could make it down without any technical problems. The chasers had to take a lot more risk and it would be a tough ask at this point to close down the 2 minutes.

Fighting a few cramps in the last 4 km, my Merida took me across the finish line to take the win and South African Elite Men’s Mountain Bike Marathon Championship title. Nico Bell came close to catching me, outsprinting Konny Looser for second place.

This brings an end to a very successful first half of our season, and I am very honoured to wear the National Jersey for the year.

Thanks to my sponsors, EAI, and everyone else for all their incredible help and support so far.


Elite Men
1. Gawie Combrinck 04:46.53
2. Nico Bell 04:47.32
3. Konny Looser 04:47.33
4. Lourens Luus 04:48.12
5. Darren Lill 04:49.33
6. Adriaan Louw 04:52.36
7. Johann Rabie 04:54.03
8. Ben Melt Swanepoel 04:58.43
9. Brendon Davids 05:05.00
10. Timothy Hammond 05:07.26

More information

The 29-year-old Combrinck, who lives in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, started mountain bike racing in 2012. Like many other South African mountain bike racers, he switched from professional road cycling. His major mountain bike racing successes include winning the 2014 and 2015 Old Mutual joBerg2c (with Johann Rabie) and the 2012 Cape Pioneer Trek (with Nico Bell).

The top three riders in the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series are now Looser (14,619 points), Louw (12,704) and Guylin van den Berg (10,955). Round 5 of the seven-event series will take place in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal on 26 July.

For detailed Round 4 results or full Ashburton Investments Series standings, visit For a comprehensive image gallery, Like the National MTB Series on Facebook. For more information on the Ashburton Investments Series, visit