Robyn de Groot (Biogen Toyota) outclassed a strong field and conquered a tough course to retain the South African Women’s Marathon Mountain Bike title in Pietermaritzburg on Sunday.
De Groot clocked a winning time of 04 hours 04 minutes 32 seconds for the 70km course, which took the riders out of Pietermaritzburg, up to Hilton and back down to Pietermaritzburg for a total of 2400 metres of vertical ascent.
London Olympian, Candice Neethling (VeloLife Time Freight) claimed second place, over nine minutes back, with Samantha Sanders (Valencia) a further seven minutes down, securing third place. Incidentally, it was the same podium placement as the 2013 national championships.
“That was a hectic course!” said a weary De Groot afterwards. “There was so much climbing and there were technical sections throughout, not just in the final 20km as we’d been expecting.”
De Groot took the lead early on as the race reached the first climb not far from the start. Only Yolande de Villiers (Sasol Racing) was able to match her early pace, but soon fell back into the group behind.
“When I realised I was on my own in the front on the first climb I started wondering why. I thought maybe the others were saving themselves for later in the race. I felt quite good so decided to just ride at my pace and see if I could maintain the lead for as long as possible,” explained De Groot.
But the 31-year-old Biokineticist from Johannesburg extended her lead, holding a four-minute margin over Neethling at 47km, which she more than doubled in the final 23km.
“I must be honest, I felt like I was actually going backwards in the last 10 kilometres, I wouldn’t want to have tackled that race undertrained. We knew by the course profile beforehand that there would be a lot of climbing, but actually riding those climbs was another thing! I have done a lot of hard racing over the past few weeks which has been the best way to prepare for this event I feel,” added De Groot.
Retaining the national title was a big objective for De Groot for 2014.
“I realised yesterday that my year of wearing the national champion’s jersey was up. It was quite a serious reality check. I’m so pleased to be able to keep it for another year. It’s one thing winning it for the first time, but there’s quite a lot of pressure that comes with defending the title. It really means a lot to me,” smiled De Groot.
For De Groot, the next two weekends see her competing in Rounds 6 and 7 of the MTN National Marathon Series, which she is leading, before tackling the 2014 UCI Marathon World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, on what will essentially be the same course as the national championships were held on.