With the world marathon championships looming, Nico Bell is preparing for a ding-dong battle as he mounts his title defence at the Nedbank sani2c mountain bike race in KwaZulu-Natal from Thursday.
Bell, riding in the colours of Team RECM, will saddle up with Cape Epic partner Erik Kleinhans for the 10th edition of the world’s largest stage race.
Last year, he claimed victory in the three-day race from Underberg to Scottburgh alongside two-time winner Max Knox.
“The sani2c is one of my build-up races and fits in perfectly as it is only three days of fast racing, so it doesn’t drain the body too much and helps build the speed needed for world champs.”
A marathon specialist at heart, Bell is the reigning MTN Series champion and currently leads the standings in this year’s competition.
“It’s a goal for me to win the national series once again as you have to be consistent throughout the year. But my main focus this season has been stage races alongside Erik as we build a strong team together.”
The two are currently in good form, having taken first and third respectively at the recent MTN Clarens race.
“Based on our performances at Clarens, I think we will be a strong team. But with sani2c you also need some luck; a puncture or wrong turn can cost you the race!”
Bell, 30, said he and Kleinhans, 32, had the age and experience to shine in longer endurance events, as evidenced by their top-10 finish at the Cape Epic earlier this year.
“We are both strong riders and can climb and pace ourselves well, but experience is probably our best trait as we know how to stay calm and handle the situation,” said Bell.
According to him, the famed Nedbank sani2c single-tracks provided good skills training ahead of the UCI world champs in nearby Pietermaritzburg in June.
Bell said he expected stiff competition from the likes of his former teammate Gawie Combrinck and ex-roadie Johann Rabie of EAI Cycling.
“Gawie and Johann will be strong because they just won the Old Mutual joBerg2c and are consistent riders.”
He said RECM had competed in a combination of single and multistage events throughout the season and should give EAI a run for their money.
“I also rode Lowveld Quest and Panorama Tour, so I’m sure we have enough racing in our legs to go well.”
The Nelspruit-based rider said he and Kleinhans (a three-time mixed category winner alongside wife Ariane) had sufficient experience on the 270km route to influence the racing upfront.
The Race for pros and elite riders finishes at Scottburgh on the South Coast on Saturday, May 17.
The world’s largest mountain bike stage race is presented by Nedbank Private Wealth and comprises the Trail (May 13 to 15), Adventure (May 14 to 16) and Race (May 15 to 17) components on the same course.