Competitive mountain biking and trail running took tentative steps toward a semblance of normality in KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend when runners and riders took part in a version of head-to-head competition at the Sappi Scottburgh Virtual MTB and Trail Run.
The event, which is part of the Quattro ROAG Series powered by Momentum and was originally scheduled for July, is something of a bridging event as sports organisers try and plot a route through new rules toward hosting post-Covid events.
The three-day race offered runners and riders the option to compete on some of the routes planned for the July event, although the virtual nature of the event and social-distancing rules meant competitors were also allowed to compete against each other at any venue that suited them.
The new rules, and the fact riders and runners can use different routes, means there was a shake-up of the old order and a few of the big-name competitors found themselves watching the virtual prizegiving without being mentioned.
For the record, Marius Mostert and Gillian von Buddenbrock produced the fastest MTB times for the 41km ride. The 2019 ROAG Series runner up, Linda Zondi, was the fastest male in the 12km trail run with Hayley Mackinnon best among the women.
To keep up the interest, Sappi Scottburgh and the Quattro ROAG Series powered by Momentum awarded a host of other prizes, with the award for the most vertical ascent generating lots of interest.
The winner of the prize for the most elevation gain in his 41km ride was Michael Foster, who notched up an eye-watering 1 357m of ascent from his ride in and around the Lufafa Valley near Ixopo. The tough climbing meant he was never going to be in contention to post a quick time, but he was rewarded with R500.
The effort was enough to edge out some other big names, such as current series leader Stuart Marais and the rider who has finished second to him in both the opening two legs of the series so far, Andrew Hill. Marais "only" notched up 1 159m of elevation gain as he meandered through the trails north of Howick, while Hill probably thought he had done enough with a ride that gained 1 277m of elevation in the foothills of the Drakensberg near Kamberg.
The women's winner of the most elevation was Sanchia Malan who climbed just over 1 000m in her 41km ride in Karkloof.
The trail runner who took in the most hills was Alison Wasserfall, whose six repeats at Honey Trails added up to 792m of climbing in just 12km of running, a feat that was impressive enough to probably be classified as the performance of the weekend. Carel le Roux notched up 388m in Cedara to take the men's trail running prize for the most climbing.
ROAG Managing Director Nicole Talbot was pleased with the restart of the 2020 series.
"We are so pleased to have been able to give runners and riders a chance to compete again , even if it is a new and different way of competing," she said after finishing the trail run event in Mauritius on Sunday. "The past six months have been difficult and frustrating for event organisers who rely on an income from hosting events, both for themselves and charities associated with most events. And the athletes are also desperate to compete, or just trying to be healthy and active again.
"We would really like to thank the loyal event and series sponsors, such as Quattro, Momentum and Sappi, who continue to enable us to put on events. A few major events have lost their sponsors over this difficult time and that has the potential to have a negative impact on specific events, and sport in general, for many years to come. We really appreciate the efforts of all our sponsors who have stuck with us."
The Sappi Scottburgh event raised R5 000 for their designated charity, Cycling4Mobility.