Mountain bike stage racing is big in South Africa. The good year-round weather, varied terrain and world-class events offer a perfect platform for multi-day bike races. Riders on SCOTT bikes have been prominent at the country’s two largest mountain bike stage races of 2013 – the ABSA Cape Epic in March and joBerg2c in April and May.
Phillip Buys and Matthys Beukes of Team SCOTT Factory Racing impressed with their sixth place overall at the Cape Epic. Riding Spark 29 RCs, the pair of South Africans had a mechanical incident-free eight days to challenge the world’s best riders for daily stage success. They achieved two stage podiums and claimed the coveted top African team title in the process.
A certain highlight was their challenge for the stage win on the final day where they were narrowly ousted in the sprint for the stage honours; this after having spent the majority of the final stage being the aggressors and setting a pace only one other team could match.
“There is also no doubt in my mind that 29-inch dual suspension is the ideal bike type for this race. Our SCOTT Spark 900 RC 29er’s are perfect stage race bikes,” said Buys.
“We saw in the sand on Stage 1 how well the 29ers managed. And you can see how the guys on hardtails have to brace themselves all the time. It’s a rough course in places and a long race. Dual suspension is not negotiable,” added Buys.
Two steps down the podium for the African team title were Brandon Stewart and Neil MacDonald of Team FedGroup Itec. Also racing SCOTT Sparks, the pair had a more dramatic Cape Epic, which saw them slapped with a time penalty after being unintentionally separated by more than two minutes at one of the checkpoints.
As one of just nine participants on a mission to complete his 10th Cape Epic Stewart was unfazed by the setback and ended up becoming the first South African to complete all editions of the prestigious international race. He and MacDonald managed to claw back enough time to climb onto a podium on the final day, finishing third in the African team competition.
With a nine-day duration, the joBerg2c is the world’s longest full-service mountain bike stage race. This year was the fourth edition of a race that’s rapidly growing in prestige and numbers.
The FedGroup Itec team was there in force in a quest to make up for the slightly disappointing Cape Epic the month before. Winner from 2012, Kevin Evans, decided to participate in the Solo category to minimise pressure and maximise conditioning as he regained racing form following his recovery from abdominal surgery. MacDonald, also a former joBerg2c winner, teamed up with Stewart to challenge for the overall team title.
Over a distance of more than 900 kilometres, which included some very challenging trails and rough terrain, the FedGroup Itec riders experienced a problem-free race. Evans comfortably claimed the Solo title and finished with the fourth fastest time overall, while Stewart and MacDonald claimed four stage wins and the overall title.
It was the first major stage race title of Stewart’s career, but not a new experience for 2011 joBerg2c champion, MacDonald, who also won the overall title at the Isuzu Ride the Rock three-day stage race in the Cedarberg mountains in February.
“I am so impressed with this SCOTT Spark. It’s easily the best mountain bike I’ve ridden. You just don’t get a bike that’s better suited to marathons and stage races. It’s light and responsive, but also has the right geometry and suspension design to ensure you always feel in control,” said MacDonald after his Ride the Rock victory.
“This race was truly one of the roughest routes I’ve ever ridden and I came from a road cycling background to beat experienced mountain bikers. I really believe the Spark played a big part in that.”
Success for SCOTT riders in South African stage races this year hasn’t been limited to the dirt though. A new international road stage race, The Mzansi Tour, took place in April.
FedGroup Itec, primarily a professional mountain bike racing team, assembled a five-rider strong squad for the five-day UCI-graded 2.2 tour, which started at the Kruger National Park in the Mpumalanga province and finished at the Montecasino entertainment complex in Johannesburg in the Gauteng province.
The team, comprising Ian McLeod, Brandon Stewart, Neil MacDonald, Kevin Evans and Nico Bell, rode SCOTT Foil Team Issue bikes. They surpassed all expectations and ended up winning the Team Competition and placing fourth and seventh on the individual General Classification and second in the King of the Mountains competition.
“The SCOTT Foil bikes are among the finest road bikes in the world. Having that kind of equipment just adds to your confidence. We went into the Mzansi Tour with very little pressure, but after Stage 1 it became clear that we mountain bikers were in it to win it!” smiled Stewart.