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Knox, De Groot triumph at Dullstroom finale

Big smiles and mud as Max Knox realises he has won the series title

Max Knox (Biogen Volcan) showed that he responds well to pressure when he won the final round and claimed the 2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series title in Dullstroom, in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province at the weekend. South African champion, Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health) claimed the women’s race title, but had to settle for second in the series behind Switzerland’s Ariane Kleinhans (RECM).

Knox’s victory in a time of 04 hours 36 minutes 16 seconds gave him the 4000 points on offer for the win and, importantly, secured him a little more than what he required to pass Swiss racer, Konny Looser (Wheeler iXS), who led the series from Round 2.

Also in the running to claim the series crown was South African champion, Gawie Combrinck (EAI Cycling). He too responded well to the challenge by tussling with Knox at the head of the race for the big points haul, but in the end failed to match Knox in the closing stages and had to settle for second place which, based on his time behind the winning time, gave him 3815 points and put him in third overall, just 22 points behind Looser.

Misty, cool conditions greeted the riders at Dullstroom, a town that’s located just over 2000 metres above sea level. The 116km ultra-marathon route took the riders down the escarpment and into in the surrounding valleys before bringing the riders back up to the finish.

The conditions, combined with the distance and 2500 metres of vertical ascent, saw a gradual splitting of the front pack in the early stages with a group of eight still in the mix as they reached the climb to the King of the Mountain prime where the race-winning move was to come. Nico Bell (RECM), the 2013 and 2014 series champion, punctured and lost contact with the group just before the climb.

Rourke Croeser (Full Dynamix USN) and Knox began to increase the pace at the base of the KOM climb and Combrinck added a big attack, which left the group in tatters with around half of the race remaining. Knox drove the pace up the climb, claiming the KOM prize ahead of Croeser and Combrinck. Croeser managed to get onto Knox’s wheel and the pair rode together at the front with Combrinck chasing on his own.

Croeser rode for some distance with a flat tyre before he stopped at the final tech zone to get another wheel. Combrinck passed him in the process and charged on in pursuit of Knox and the coveted series crown. But he was unable to catch Knox and had to settle for the runner-up spot. Croeser managed to hold onto third with a hard-charging Bell recovering well from his early mechanical to claim fourth place. Matthys Beukes (SCOTT LCB) rounded out the top five.

“A championship cannot be won in the first race of a series but it can be lost,” said Knox, who was outside the top 10 at the series opener in January. “I had a bit of pressure today. I knew If I could win the race I could win the series, which in my eyes is one of the most prestigious awards… Being the most consistent rider throughout the year is quite difficult to achieve. I’m super stoked to the win the series again!”

“It is always hard racing at altitude and Max just had the better legs today. Visibility is tricky in the mist. You can’t always see what’s coming so puncture risks are higher. I sat on the front of the bunch where possible in order to reduce the risk of punctures and it worked out well for me,” said Combrinck.

“I’m more used to 90-minute full-out efforts. The last hour of the race hurt me today. I had a flat wheel that I had to ride for 20km that made things tougher. I’ve been through a difficult time in my career recently and took a week off training. Today was about showing face and being back in the public eye,” said Croeser.

In the women’s race, De Groot was able to establish herself a dominant lead from early on. The South African champion, winner of the national series in 2013, had no series title to chase, but she was hungry for the win and to defend the race crown she’d won in 2014.

De Groot clocked a winning time of 03:23:08 and collected the 4000 points on offer for the victory. That put her 509 points behind Kleinhans for the runner-up spot in the 2015 series. Theresa Ralph (RBS) claimed second place in Dullstroom and third in the series with Vanessa Bell securing third place in the final round of the series.

“It was really an awesome but tough route. The fog made it tricky but what a nice race to finish off the Ashburton Investments Series,” smiled De Groot.

There were seven rounds in the 2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series, with the five best results of each rider counting towards the final series rankings. For more information, visit www.nationalmtbseries.co.za. For full results, visit: www.saseeding.co.za

2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series
Round 7, Dullstroom, Saturday 12 September 2015
Leading results

Elite men – 116km Ultra-marathon:

1 Max Knox (RSA) Biogen-Volcan 4:36:16
2 Gawie Combrinck (RSA) EAI Cycling 4:39:16
3 Rourke Croeser (RSA) Full Dynamix 4:41:51
4 Nico Bell (RSA) RECM 4:48:54
5 Matthys Beukes (RSA) SCOTT LCB 4:56:13
6 Adriaan Louw (RSA) Contego Swift 4:48:57
7 Guylin van den Berg (RSA) iXS Sport 5:01:49
8 Alan Gordon 5:05:07
9 Thinus Redlinghuys 5:05:12
10 Stu Rawlinson 5:05:45

Elite women – 75km marathon:

1 Robyn de Groot (RSA) Ascendis Health 3:23:08
2 Theresa Ralph (RSA) RBS 3:35:11
3 Vanessa Bell (RSA) 3:39:27
4 Dalene van der Leek (RSA) 3:44:08
5 Susan Sloan (RSA) 3:44:18
6 Adrienne Moolman (RSA) 3:49:48
7 Mariette Hattingh (RSA) 3:56:18
8 Bonny Swanepoel (RSA) 3:58:26
9 Wilmarie du Plessis (RSA) 4:01:13
10 Karyn Southgate (RSA) 4:10:46

2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series
Final leading standings Men:

1 Max Knox (RSA) Biogen Volcan 18419 points
2 Konny Looser (SUI) Wheeler iXS 18203
3 Gawie Combrinck (RSA) EAI Cycling 18177
4 Nico Bell (RSA) RECM 16995
5 Erik Klienhans (RSA) RECM 16302
6 Darren Lill (RSA) 16209
7 Adriaan Louw (RSA) Contego Swift 15989
8 Guylin van den Berg (RSA) (iXS Sport) 14638
9 Alan Gordon (RSA) 14460
10 Thinus Redlinghuys 14158

Final leading standings Women:

1 Arian Kleinhans (SUI) RECM 19844 points
2 Robyn de Groot (RSA) Ascendis Health 19335
3 Theresa Ralph (RSA) RBS 16805
4 Candice Neethling (RSA) Pam Golding/Freewheel Cycology 16769
5 Vera Adrian (NAM) 16109
6 Vanessa Bell (RSA) 14989
7 Cherise Stander (RSA) RECM 14031
8 Mariette Hattingh (RSA) 11547
9 Jennie Stenerhag (SWE) Ascendis Health 10846
10 Michelle Beetge (RSA) 10526

For more information, visit www.nationalmtbseries.co.za. For full results from Dullstroom and the final overall Ashburton Investments National MTB Series rankings, visit: www.saseeding.co.za