Gawie Combrinck achieved the biggest result of his professional cycling career when he claimed the South African Elite men’s Mountain Bike Marathon Championship title at Round 4 of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series at Van Gaalen Cheese Farm, in the North West province on Saturday.
Combrinck and his EAI Cycling teammate, Johann Rabie, dictated the pace throughout the demanding 111km race, with Rabie setting the early pace and breaking up the field considerably within the first 30km and then Combrinck going on the attack shortly after that.
Combrinck’s move wasn’t planned, but he found himself with a small gap on his rivals after the King of the Mountain prime just after 30km and decided to push ahead on his own. The timing was perfect as none of the other contenders expected a race-winning move from that far out. The courageous Combrinck began to build his lead, which reached more than eight minutes at one stage.
While Combrinck was gambling up ahead, pre-race favourite and two-time defending champion, James Reid (RECM) saw his hopes of a third win fade, first having to remove some barbed wire from his wheel and then struggling to cope with a painful knee. Other top contenders that faltered in the first half of the race were Erik Kleinhans (RECM) and Max Knox (Biogen Volcan).
Setting about in earnest pursuit of Combrinck were Darren Lill, Nico Bell (RECM), Lourens Luus (Contego Swift) and Konny Looser (Wheeler iXS). Their combined effort saw them steadily cut down Combrinck’s lead and with 15km remaining the gap was down to 2:20. Combrinck managed to maintain his focus and, despite coming across ‘slower traffic’ from the 75km marathon distance race on the last section of singletrack, was able to hold on for the win in a time of 4 hours 46 minutes 53 seconds.
On the climb up to the Greek Church, around 17km form the finish, Looser and Bell moved clear of Lill and Luus. They were unable to catch Combrinck, but sliced his lead down to just 39 seconds, with Bell ousting Looser in the sprint for the runner-up spot. Luus finished third and earned the bronze national championship medal as Looser is a Swiss national. Looser did however extend his lead in the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series with three rounds remaining.
Lill finished fifth overall and was followed home by Adriaan Louw (Contego Swift), Rabie, Melt Swanepoel (Squirt) and Brendon Davids (Kargo Pro) respectively, with Timothy Hammond rounding out the top 10.
“I never planned to go on the attack that early, but when I realised I had a gap on the downhill after the King of the Mountain, I decided to push the pace and bit. It turned out to be a good decision. It was a tough course. I know the trails at Van Gaalen quite well so figured that if I had a two minute lead at the Greek Church that I would be able to hold on as the twisty riverside singletrack that follows makes it impossible for anyone to really work together,” explained a delighted Combrinck.
The 29-year-old Combrinck, who lives in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, started mountain bike racing in 2012. Like many other South African mountain bike racers, he switched from professional road cycling. His major mountain bike racing successes include winning the 2014 and 2015 Old Mutual joBerg2c (with Rabie) and the 2012 Cape Pioneer Trek (with Bell).
The top three riders in the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series are now Looser (14619 points), Louw (12704) and Guylin van den Berg (10955). Round 5 of the seven-event series will take place in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal on 26 July.
2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series Round 4, Van Gaalen Cheese Farm, Saturday 6 June 2015
Elite men – 111km Ultra-marathon:
1 Gawie Combrinck (RSA) EAI Cycling 4:46:53
2 Nico Bell (RSA) Team RECM 4:47:32
3 Konny Looser (SUI) Meerendal Wheeler 4:47:33
4 Lourens Luus (RSA) Contego Swift 4:48:12
5 Darren Lill (RSA) 4:49:33
6 Adriaan Louw (RSA) Contego Swift 4:52:36
7 Johann Rabie (RSA) EAI Cycling 4:54:03
8 Melt Swanepoel (RSA) Squirt 4:58:43
9 Brendon Davis (RSA) Kargo Pro 5:05:00
10 Timothy Hammond (RSA) 5:07:26