Karkloof Classic: Cyclists great and small

2008-05-11 00:00

The Mr Price Karkloof Classic MTB Festival came to an end yesterday in the beautiful Karkloof Valley, having broken last year’s attendance records by 300 entrants.

A total of 2 900 riders turned out at the Karkloof Club to share in the festivities on offer.

Friday night saw the Bell Night race event, with RED/Mongoose’s Renay Goustra taking the honours, followed by USN’s Brandon Stewart. The night racing concept has proved to be hugely popular in the past two years and over 350 riders turned out to kick the festival off.

On Saturday morning, the Victoria Country Club Estate cross country event took place, which doubled as the KZN Cross Country Championships. It proved to be a huge spectacle, with the tussle for honours at the front eventually being taken by veteran Namibian rider Mannie Heymans (MTN/Energade). He was closely followed by team-mate Ben Melt Swannepoel in third place.

Brandon Stewart’s bad luck at Karkloof came back to haunt him: he split open his tyre on the second to last lap after having front brake failure during the night race.

Saturday afternoon turned out to be an action-packed session where the Red Sprint Event caught the crowd’s attention. A unique event for mountain biking in South Africa, this race tests rider skill against awkward and demanding obstacles around the race village, with a series of jumps including a ride through the middle of the aQuelle truck.

Last year’s runner-up, Mr Price/GT’s Johan van Zyl, kept himself fresh for the event by not taking part in any of the previous festival activities, and was just too strong for the rest of the field, as he powered himself to first place, claiming the R10 000 prize money.

Yesterday saw a mass of around 2 500 riders converge on the Karkloof Valley. The batch starts allowed for uncongested racing out on course, and the top 20 riders pushed hard throughout, making placing extremely difficult. The first hotspot prize at the 10-km mark went to Van Zyl. He was closely shadowed by Heymans and Stewart.

These three riders stuck with each other for a few kilometres before Heymans put the hammer down half way up the notorious Lebanon Climb, where he powered away from his fellow riders to take the Timber24 King of the Mountains award. From there on, the rest of the field showed no sign of troubling the veteran Namibian, as he showed all his class to claim victory under the Mr. Price arch after 75 km of exhausting riding.

Commenting on his win, a fresh-looking Heymans said that “it was one of the best courses I have ridden recently. It was tough out there, but well worth the slog. I have never won Karkloof before, and I am extremely proud to finally take first here.”

Heymans was followed by Swannepoel, making it a one-two for the MTN/Energade team in the men’s division.

Fullimput’s Roan Exelby turned in a sterling performance to take third place ahead of Marc Bassingwaite and Stewart.

In the ladies’ section, it was plain sailing for Carla Rowley, also from the MTN/Energade team, making it not only a one-two in the men’s division, but a first place in the ladies to boot.

The aQuelle 40-km half marathon once more proved to be a very popular event of the festival, with the 700 limited spaces sold out a week before the festival.

In the end, it was last year’s second-placed athlete, Jedson Tooms, who raced first over the finish line and was awarded the King of the Mountains prize.

As the curtain closed on the biggest mountain bike festival in SA, it could be said that this was one of the most professionally run and well organised events, providing great value to athletes.

The Mr Price Karkloof Classic MTB Festival is one of those events that riders look forward to every year, and the 2008 event has given every sign that 2009 will provide even more than what was delivered this year.

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