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Austria's Alban Lakata celebrates his victory at round 1 of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series at Meerendal Wines in the Western Cape, South Africa on Saturday. // Photo credit: Zoon Cronje/Nikon.

In the men’s Ultra-marathon race over 105km, Lakata (Topeak Ergon) secured the win in a time of 04 hours 38 minutes 16 seconds, just over a minute-and-a-half ahead of South African Erik Kleinhans (Team RECM), with Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon) of the Czech Republic rounding out the top three places a further 20 seconds back.

Suss (Meerendal Wheeler) had to outsprint compatriot Ariane Kleinhans (Team RECM) to secure the women’s title in the 70km Marathon distance race, clocking a time of 03:30:05. South African marathon champion, Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health) claimed third place three minutes later.

Just over a thousand participants competed in the event in races of varying distance in weather conditions that started out cool and cloudy, but became sunny and warm.

In the men’s race, South African ace Philip Buys (SCOTT Factory Racing LCB) set a blistering pace on the first major climb, splintering the strong field with only Germany’s Simon Stiebjahn (Team Bulls) able to match the London Olympian.

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Eventual runner-up, Ariane Kleinhans, marked Swiss compatriot and eventual winner, Esther Suss, closely in the final kilometers of the first round of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series at Meerendal Wines in the Western Cape, South Africa on Saturday. // Photo credit: Zoon Cronje/Nikon.

After 50km the lead group grew when more South Africans, Darren Lill (Cannondale Blend) and Matthew Beers, Switzerland’s Konny Looser (Meerendal Wheeler), Germany’s Stefan Sahm (Team Bulls) and Kleinhans and Lakata reeled in the eager early leaders.

By 70km, the race complexion had changed again as Lakata pushed the pace, taking the lead, followed closely by Kleinhans with 2014 ABSA Cape Epic winner, Hynek, picking his way through after having been outside the top 10 for some time.

As the race reached the finale, Lakata began to increase the pressure just enough to open a gap on Kleinhans for the final climb. The Austrian managed to hold his lead to claim the coveted title with a small tumble seeing Kleinhans lose a little more time but still hold on to second place. Hynek, in third, was followed home by Looser, with Sahm, a three-time Cape Epic champion, completing the top five.

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Meerendal Estate was the host venue for the first round of the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series at Meerendal Wines in the Western Cape, South Africa on Saturday. // Photo credit: Zoon Cronje/Nikon.

The women’s race became a duel between Suss, the current Swiss national champion, and Kleinhans, the 2013 Swiss national champion, who lives in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The intensity of their tussle saw their lead steadily grow over the Ascendis Health pair of De Groot and Swedish national champion, Stenerhag, as well as early protagonist, Candice Neethling of South Africa.

But it was never a large lead, with rising South African star, Bianca Haw entering the top five battle in the latter stages. As the leaders neared the finish, Kleinhans attacked. But Suss, one of the most experienced riders in women’s racing, stayed calm and then countered with an attack of her own, quickly putting seconds into Kleinhans.

But Kleinhans wasn’t ready to concede defeat and gradually began to claw her way back to Suss in the last couple of kilometres. The effort of the chase took the snap out of her legs though and Suss was able to find something in her reserve tank to power clear in a finish-straight sprint. De Groot, in third, was followed across the line by Stenerhag and Haw respectively in what was a thrilling women’s contest.

2015 Ashburton Investments National Marathon Series

Round 1, Meerendal, Saturday 31 January 2015

Leading results

Elite men – 105km Ultra-marathon:

1 Alban Lakata (AUT) Topeak Ergon 04hrs38min16sec

2 Erik Kleinhans (RSA) Team RECM 04:39:49

3 Kristian Hynek (CZE) Topeak Ergon 04:40:19

4 Konny Looser (SUI) Meerendal Wheeler 04:41:49

5 Stefan Sahm (GER) Team Bulls 04:46:35

6 Nico Bell (RSA) Team RECM 04:49:30

7 Lourens Luus (RSA) Contego Swift 04:50:29

8 Waylon Woolcock (RSA) Cannondale Blend 04:54:48

9 Arno du Toit (RSA) SCOTT Factory Racing LCB 04:55:46

10 Gawie Combrinck (RSA) ESI Cycling 04:56:46

Elite women – 70km marathon:

1 Esther Suss (SUI) Meerendal Wheeler 03:30:05

2 Ariane Kleinhans (SUI) Team RECM 03:30:08

3 Robyn de Groot (RSA) Ascendis Health 03:33:06

4 Jennie Stenerhag (SWE) Ascendis Health 03:35:28

5 Bianca Haw (RSA) Sasol Racing 03:36:50

6 Helen Grobert (GER) Focus 03:37:40

7 Candice Neethling (RSA) Freewheel Cycology 03:46:32

8 Mariske Strauss (RSA) Paarl Media OMX Pro 03:47:32

9 Cherise Stander (RSA) Team RECM 03:47:59

10 Cherie Vale (RSA) Paarl Media OMX Pro 03:49:59

The Ashburton Investments National MTB Series now moves to South Africa’s Mpumalanga province for Round 2, on 21 February. The event doubles as the first round of the 2015 UCI Marathon World Series and promises to draw even more international stars and deliver spectacular racing.

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