9 July 2011 - With most of the country’s top marathon racers on the start line, Darren Lill’s victory in the 80km mountain bike event at the Pick n Pay Weekend Argus Knysna Festival was a surprise to all but Lill. It was also the first major mountain bike race victory for a Team Bonitas rider.
While his primary focus is on road racing, Lill makes the occasional foray offroad when the Team Bonitas road racing schedule allows. And he’s usually a top-five contender in most of the mountain bike races he contests. But at Knysna, he wasn’t going to be satisfied with anything but than first place.
“I wasn’t surprised. I went there to win,” said Lill. “I did the Knysna race last year after coming off a break with no great condition and didn’t do too badly. So I know the course and am in very good form now. I rode the whole route the day before to work out my strategy, so it was definitely a well-planned win.”
Darren Lill, pictured here in his 2011 SA Road Champion kit, won the Knysna mountain bike race at the weekend.
Lill used his climbing strength to put pressure on his rivals on the ascents early in the race. After the first two climbs, it was just Lill, James Reid (360Life), Waylon Woolcock and Neil MacDonald (both Team RE:CM) remaining at the front.
“I knew the last real climb was at 40km, around half way, so I set a high pace on the preceding climbs and that got rid of Neil and Waylon at around 35km. Then I moved clear of James on that last climb at 40km,” recalled Lill. “From then on it’s relatively flat and fast. I just kept it steady and focused on not taking any major risks.”
Lill finished in a time of 02hrs 47min 00sec. Reid, who was caught by MacDonald and Woolcock, managed to outsprint them to secure second place, with Woolcock third, MacDonald fourth and Louis Brelser-Knipe (Contego 28E) rounding out the top five.
“I was only really worried about Reid. He’s talented rider and in good form, but as a cross-country specialist, I was banking on the distance being a challenge for him,” said Lill. “His teammates, David George and Kevin Evans are coming off a break so were never a concern. After having ridden against them at the Plett race the week before, I knew they wouldn’t be as formidable as they usually are.”
Lill was leading the Nedbank Tour de Plett mountain bike race the weekend before, but his chances of victory were dashed when he missed a turn.
“I enjoy the varied challenge of mountain bike races. They’re also really great for my road conditioning as they’re pretty much a time trial from start to finish and the climbs are usually tough. My form is good for the road team’s European trip. I’ll do some motor-pacing over the next 10 days and then the Jock Tour followed by some warm-up races in Spain. That should fine-tune my form for the Tour of Portugal, a major goal for our team."
“Darren’s ability to be a top contender in mountain bike races is a bonus for Team Bonitas. I do worry about the chances of him crashing and getting injured, but he seems to manage his risk well. For him to win the Knysna race, one of the most popular races in the country, is a great achievement, both for him and for Bonitas,” said Malcolm Lange of Lange Sports, which owns and manages Team Bonitas.