In case there was still any doubt, former professional road cyclist, David George, added more confirmation to his complete conversion to dirt when he beat a strong field of seasoned mountain bike racers to win Round 5 of the MTN National Ultra-marathon Series at Mabalingwe in South Africa’s Limpopo Province on Saturday.
The 36-year-old George, racing for Nedbank 360Life, clocked a winning time of 04 hours and 23 minutes for the 110km course that incorporated 1 950 metres of vertical ascent and which was described by many exhausted competitors afterwards as one of the toughest mountain bike race routes in the country.
Second place went to Max Knox (Specialized), who retains his lead in the series. Another former road cycling pro, Gawie Combrinck (Westvaal-Columbia) claimed third place with Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life) and Nico Bell (Westvaal-Columbia) rounding out the first five places respectively.
“I’m pretty chuffed with being able to ride that rough course as well as I did,” smiled George. “There were some very rocky, technical sections which made it as tough as any Cape Epic stage. Definitely a course for dual-suspension bikes!”
George pushed the pace on the early climbs, forcing a split, which saw five riders in the lead by the halfway point – Evans, George, Combrinck, Knox and Neil MacDonald (Team RE:CM). Combrinck and Evans helped with the pace-setting while Knox sat on. A crash took MacDonald out of contention, with the resultant broken collarbone and wrist, taking him out of the race completely.
Evans struggled to find his rhythm and also crashed a couple of times, leaving Knox, George and Combrinck as the three remaining contenders in the latter part of the race. Combrinck eventually began to falter and yo-yoed on and off the leaders, eventually losing contact completely after puncturing.
In an effort to dispatch Knox, George upped his pace after the final feed zone, forcing Knox to chase and rejoin him. George then crashed on one of the final rocky singletrack descents giving Knox the lead until a puncture interrupted his victory charge, leaving George to race past him and secure the victory.
George was the fifth different winner in the 2012 MTN Series, which is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in the eight year history of the national series. With, with a total of over 16 000 participants, it is the largest mountain bike series in the world.
“Gawie (Combrinck) did a lot of the work today. It’s a pity he punctured. He’s really coming good as a mountain bike racer. My form is good after joBerg2c. Having good form helps when things get tough. I worked hard for the win though. Max (Knox) chose not do any work and I had a few choice words with him at one point, but it made no difference. The win was good enough reward for me in the end,” said George.
Theresa Ralph (Biogen Britehouse) claimed the honours in the women’s 75km marathon. Ariane Kleinhans (Contego 28E) and Karien van Jaarsveld (MTN Qhubeka) finished second and third respectively.
George and Evans will tackle the Sani2c three-day stage race in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province on Thursday. They have a score to try and settle after having missed a turn on the final stage in 2011. That cost them stage win and overall victory. With a total of almost 4000 participants, Sani2c is the world’s most popular mountain bike stage race.