Knox, the 2009 champion, forced the pace from the first major climb and then led most of the way to claim the men’s 115km ultra-marathon victory in a time of 05 hours 11 minutes and 19 seconds. Waylon Woolcock (Red-E Blend), Knox’s breakaway companion for much of the race, finished second in 5:15:42, with rising star Matt Beers putting in a strong performance to round out the top three places in 5:18:45.

In the women’s race, an in-form Kleinhans, a Swiss national living in South Africa, put her rivals under pressure before the first major climb, leading virtually from start to finish to secure her fourth consecutive Sabie win in a time of 3:40:20. South African marathon champion, Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health) finished second in 3:46:16, with Swedish national champion, Jennie Stenerhag (Ascendis Health) claiming the final podium spot in 3:54:14.

In the men’s race, Matthys Beukes (SCOTT LCB) attacked at the foot of the first major climb, the Mamba, crushing any hopes of a steady ascent up the 3.5km series of switchbacks, which form the base of a 15km climb to the highlands. But his attack was neutralised by his rivals and it was then Knox that made his move.

“The surface is very rough on the Mamba and I really didn’t want to be sitting in a bunch, risking a possible puncture, so I moved to the front and upped the pace to split it up. I also know that riders with good form that have attacked on this first climb have often gone on to win here. I had a very good December and January with my training so decided to give it my all,” explained Knox afterwards.

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Waylon Woolcock on his way to claiming the KOM at round 2.

Only Woolcock responded to Knox’s attack, which to many must have seemed suicidal so early in the race.

“When Max attacked, we’d only done 17km. I doubted Max’s wisdom briefly, then I remembered that he’s a local and he’s won here before. I figured I should take the risk and follow him and it worked out pretty well in the end,” smiled a weary Woolcock.

Woolcock rode across to Knox and managed to claim the King of the Mountains hot spot – in a sprint! The pair then worked together to build their lead for the remainder of the race, which included one 72km loop and one 43km loop.

“I realised that Max was stronger than me but I was still eager to hold onto second place. He got away from me on the final climb. I was tired, but rode hard until I heard that I had seven minutes on the next guy, so I tapped off a bit for the last section. I’m very pleased to get a good result here!” added Woolcock.

“I was feeling pretty confident coming into the race. I’ve lived in Sabie for about 20 years so I know the terrain. Often you have an ideal race plan in your head. It doesn’t always work out but today everything went exactly to my plan. I only got my new Volcan bike on Wednesday and this was actually my first ride off the tar on it. It was superb!” said an elated Knox.

Third-place finisher, Beers, surprised many, including himself with his strong finish.

“I got to the end of the first lap at about 70 kays and was horrified at how good I still felt. My goal was a top-five finish here so right then I just went for it. I surprised myself with this performance. I’ve only been riding mountain bikes seriously for two years, but I’m loving it,” said the 21-year-old former moto-x ace, who turned to cycling following a series of injuries.

For Kleinhans, the win was another confidence booster ahead of her attempt to defend her ABSA Cape Epic title with Danish teammate, Anika Langvad, next month.

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Ariane Kleinhans defending her title at the second round in Sabie.

“It’s a very good feeling to win Sabie Classic. It really suits me. It’s quite similar to the races in Switzerland, which have big climbs too. I had very good legs today, which is just as well because the competition in South Africa is definitely stronger this year.

“I’m feeling stronger than at the same time last year and I’m also more confident in the technical stuff. I did have one small crash today on the slippery moss, but nothing serious and I’m excited for the Cape Epic,” smiled Kleinhans.

2015 Ashburton Investments National MTB Series

Round 2, Sabie, Saturday 21 February 2015

Leading results

Elite men – 115km Ultra-marathon:

1 Max Knox (RSA) Biogen-Volcan 5:11:19

2 Waylon Woolcock (RSA) Red-E Blend 5:15:42

3 Matthew Beers (RSA) 5:18:45

4 Matthys Beukes (RSA) SCOTT LCB 5:22:50

5 Konny Looser (SUI) Meerendal Wheeler 5:26:16

6 Arno du Toit (RSA) SCOTT LCB 5:29:43

7 Adriaan Louw (RSA) Contego 5:31:45

8 Kevin Evans (RSA) Biogen-Volcan 5:32:56

9 Gawie Combrinck (RSA) EAI Cycling 5:32:56

10 Alan Gordon (RSA) 5:33:36

Elite women – 72km marathon:

1 Ariane Kleinhans (SUI) Team RECM 3:40:20

2 Robyn de Groot (RSA) Ascendis Health 3:46:16

3 Jennie Stenerhag (SWE) Ascendis Health 3:54:14

4 Candice Neethling (RSA) Freewheel Cycology 3:57:13

5 Vera Adrian (NAM) Meerendal Wheeler 4:02:48

6 Yolandi du Toit (RSA) Garmin 4:07:10

7 Vanessa Bell (RSA) 4:09:44

8 Theresa Ralph (RSA) 4:11:05

9 Dalene van der Leek (RSA) 4:19:37

10 Tamaryn Kietzmann (RSA) 4:33:39

The Ashburton Investments National MTB Series now moves to South Africa’s Free State province for Round 3, on 18 April. The event doubles as a round 3 of the 2015 UCI Marathon World Series.

For more information, visit www.nationalmtbseries.co.za.

For full results, visit: www.saseeding.co.za.