Under heavy Joburg skies, and despite one cheeky request from a South African Tour de France star, Sam Sanders and Wessel Botha were crowned champions of the Telkom 947 Mountain Bike Challenge at the Riversands Commercial Park on Sunday.
Sanders, who dominated the women’s category in the prestige 55km race around the northern trails of Johannesburg, described her race as the “most fun she had ever had in Joburg”. Along her route to victory, Sanders said she had passed Daryl Impey, the first South African to wear yellow in the Tour de France.
“He had punctured and as we went past him I asked him if he was alright. He laughed and asked me to give him my front wheel so he could keep on racing,” smiled Sanders. “He knew I was leading the women’s race and you could seem him laughing. It was cool to have him riding in the race, but it was cooler for me to win today.”
Sanders, who is from Bonnievale in the Western Cape, won in a time of two hours, 10 minutes and three seconds beating veteran and Joburg local Theresa Ralph by over six minutes. Carli Cooke was third.
“That is the most fun I have ever had in Joburg,” said Sanders. “That was spectacular. Well played to the organisers. I have never experienced fun like that in this city. I went hard from the start, I didn’t want to get stuck behind the group in front of me, so I got a gap and rode my own pace. It’s by no means an easy race, there are tough climbs and windy single track where you can put the power on through the corners. It is tough.”
Ralph, an experienced MTB star on the South African circuit, said that she had hoped local knowledge would help her win. “This is my backyard, but Sam was outstanding. I wasn’t warm at the start and failed to find my legs. The diesel engine needs some time to get going, and by the time I got there Sam was gone. I love this race because there are some of the areas I cannot ride in. I feel spoilt being able to ride some of these trails.”
Botha, the South African junior champion in 2016, blew off last year’s winner of the Telkom MTB Challenge, Jan Withaar, to win his first race at the elite level in an incredible time of 1:55;40. Withaar was almost two minutes behind and Pieter du Toit took third.
“I was fifth last year as a junior. My legs were a bit cold at the start, but we made a break and I managed to get away,” said the 18-year-old Botha. “It was very tactical because of the superb singletrack. The corners were quite slippery, but on the last climb through Steyn City I managed to get away and put my head down.”
Impey, who in 2013 became the first South African to pull on the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, suffered an early puncture and after that, along with former teammate and winner of the Cycle Challenge, Nic White, enjoyed their ride at a more leisurely pace than usual. Impey joked that he was just happy he had managed to catch up with his brother, Grant.
“Catching Grant was my favourite part of the race,” smiled Impey. “When I punctured, Sam was flying past us and I asked her if I could have her front wheel as a joke. She laughed. It is a perfect circuit. Not too technical. I loved it.”
Travis Barrett and Chloe Gardner won the men’s and women’s categories in the 25km race. Barrett pipped Aaron Heyneke by just one second in a sprint finish, winning in a super-fast time of 53 minutes and 39 seconds. John-William Lang was third (56;17). Chloe Gardner had a much more comfortable but equally quick victory, coming home in 1:04;44 with Natalie Long second (1:05;47) and Natalie Strydom third (1:05;50)