De Groot, who was less than half a minute behind at the time of Kleinhans’ misfortune, offered to assist the Swiss, who told her to continue. De Groot then charged on alone through the muddy conditions to claim the victory. Second went to Jeannie Dreyer (USN) with Samantha Saunders (Valencia) rounding out the first three places. Kleinhans limped home in sixth.
The 31-year-old London road race Olympian has made her presence felt on the women’s mountain biking scene after making the switch from the tar last year. Besides winning the 2013 national marathon title, De Groot also won the overall title in the 2013 MTN National Marathon Series.
“It was a nice way to start off this year’s MTN Series with a win. It’s a pity Ariane had a problem with her tyre as I felt we were really having a solid battle, which would have been great to continue until the end,” said De Groot.
The pair moved clear of the other women on the first major climb at around 25km into the 77km race. They then rode together until the first water point at 34km whereafter Kleinhans managed to edge clear of De Groot on the subsequent descent.
“I found the climbs easier than I’d expected today. But the mud made the going tough. Ariane got away from me on that descent because I really did struggle a bit to negotiate the mud. I just don’t have the same experience as she does,” explained De Groot.
“I could see her ahead of me and she was probably half a minute ahead when I noticed her stop and examine her tyre. I offered to help her, but she said it looked bad and might take a while and that I should continue, which I did,” added De Groot.
The Johannesburg-based biokenicist then claimed the Queen of the Mountain title at 57km and continued to set a steady tempo to the finish.
“I expected Arian to have repaired her tyre a lot quicker and to be chasing me. I wasn’t getting any information about the riders behind me so I really had to keep my pace consistent and avoid any mechanicals or crashes. In the end it all worked out well for me,” smiled De Groot.
After struggling to find sponsors in 2013, De Groot began 2014 with full support with Biogen and Toyota her main backers and Cycle Lab, Trek bikes, Craft clothing and Nike eyewear her support sponsors.
“It’s said so often, but it’s so important to thank one’s sponsors. Today’s race was my first race with all my new gear and if it wasn’t for those companies putting their trust in me, I wouldn’t even be on a bike this year,” said De Groot.