South African marathon champion, Robyn de Groot, teamed up with Swedish marathon champion, Jennie Stenerhag, to secure a dominant win in the women’s category at the 2014 Nedbank Sani2c mountain bike stage race at the weekend.
Attracting 4500 participants, the three-day 265km race from Underberg to Scottburgh in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province is the biggest mountain bike stage race in the world.
The event was celebrating its 10th anniversary and was held in perfect weather conditions, in contrast to cold and rainy conditions in 2013 when De Groot claimed her first win the high profile race along with teammate, Ischen Stopforth. The event is contested by teams of two.
De Groot and Stenerhag, racing as the Biogen Toyota Cape Brewing Co. team were up against a strong field in this year’s race. They won Stage 1 comfortably, a full 12 minutes ahead of second-placed Garmin ASG’s Yolande Speedy and Yolandi du Toit.
The first stage is always a tense affair because all the teams are eager to get a good start. Unfortunately one of the teams that looked likely to be a strong contender for the women’s title, Hi-Tec USN, had to withdraw during the stage. Theresa Ralph, who was teamed up with Jeannie Dreyer, crashed and broke her wrist.
“With that kind of lead going into Day 2, the toughest and longest of the three days, Jennie and I were able to ride with a decent level of caution and avoided any mechanicals and crashes. The pressure was on the other women to see if they could close that gap and that suited us,” said De Groot.
Speedy, a multiple South African cross-country and marathon champion and Beijing Olympian crashed on Stage 2 and ended up having to get a gash on her chin stitched up after the stage. The incident saw De Groot and Stenerhag extend their lead going into the final day to more than 40 minutes.
“Even with a big lead, you can never ever feel secure. Mountain bike racing can throw up some big surprises and a mechanical, crash or even wrong turn, can cause major time loss or even end your race. We had to once again keep our risk-taking to a minimum. Having no big pressure on us helped, but you can only really relax once you’ve crossed the finish line,” smiled De Groot.
Stenerhag and De Groot won the final stage and extended their final winning margin in the process to over 52 minutes, securing a dominant victory in South Africa’s most popular mountain bike stage race.
“It’s quite an honour to win the Sani2c. So many have ridden it and can relate to it, which makes it quite special. It’s a truly great event in every aspect, not only for us top contenders, but for every competitor. It was the first time Jennie and I have teamed up for a race and we quickly developed a good understanding of each other, which certainly helped us race as smoothly as we did,” added De Groot
Du Toit and Speedy finished second, with Team Baeti’s Natalie Bergstrom and Tammy Visagie rounding out the final overall podium.
The 31-year-old biokineticist will now focus on the MTN Rooiberg marathon in Limpopo Province on Saturday. It doubles as Round 5 of the MTN National Marathon Series, which De Groot is leading.
“Having won the national series last year, it’s one of my goals to try and defend that title this year. I love that each event in the series this year offers such varied terrain. It keeps things very interesting and unpredictable,” said De Groot, who switched to mountain bike racing after having represented South Africa in the London Olympic Games road race.