Robyn de Groot and Wessel Botha showed imperious form to blow away their rivals and win the 2018 Telkom 947 Mountain Bike Challenge at the Riversands complex on Sunday.
For De Groot, the victory was an emotional return to her city of birth, which could be her last for a while as she recovers from surgery to correct a long-term medical condition.
De Groot won the 55km race in a time of 2hr, 9min and 15sec, just over 2min ahead of Sarah Hill and 3min in front of Theresa Ralph. 'It's been a long while since I did the Telkom 947 MTB Challenge and I have to compliment the race directors and the route. It was a super, super route. I can highly recommend it for all the elite riders out there,' said De Groot.
'I started a bit slow. We all just stayed together and then slowly began to lose some riders, and then it was just Sarah and I. With 10km to go to the finish, I gave it a go because I just needed I had to take a chance.
'I've been diagnosed with a blood flow and vascular issue called endofibrosis,' said De Groot, who now lives in George. 'I'm busy working with my medical aid to see if they can cover my surgery in Europe. I've got a surgery date provisionally booked for January.
'It's taken two years to diagnose, so it has been really frustrating. My symptoms have been burning in my glutes, hamstrings and calves. It is something that has limited my performance and progressively got worse and worse. It's going to be a long recovery and I don't have sponsors for next year, but I do believe I will be back and will be looking for sponsors for the second half of next year,' added De Groot.
The men's elite 55km race was a repeat of the 2017 event, with Botha beating Jan Withaar and Pieter du Toit, who were second and third respectively. At just 19, Botha is developing into one of South Africa's top up-and-coming mountain bike stars, having won the Wine2Whales stage race earlier this month. Botha had predicted that the winning time would be 1hr 57min and he stayed true to his word, coming home in 1:56:43.
'I'm so happy to have defended my title,' said Botha. 'It was a hard race. I knew it was going to come down to the last few hills towards the end. I just tried to keep the pace high to tire the guys out a bit. I attacked flat out on the Steyn City climb, I got a small gap and then went full gas from there on until the end.'
Unfortunately, the race was shocked by the news of Neil van Vuuren's passing. Race organisers have confirmed that Van Vuuren collapsed on his bike just 15km from the finish line, and was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital.