The riders were greeted by beautiful sunny conditions, but very variable track conditions following some heavy evening rains leading up to the event. Karkloof MTB Club and Sappi Forestry had their trails primed, with 3 stages comprising 600m vertical descent over 7km of special stages.Hard pack clay with slippery rocks and roots made for some greasy conditions under foot just waiting to trick up an unsuspecting rider.

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The 162 strong field waiting to leave the event base for Stage 1 - Image Copyright Nick Ferreria.

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The ladies having fun in Liaison 1.

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Forest views.

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All riders big and small came out for the day.

A record number of entries with 162 riders meant that the wait at Stage 1 would be a long one, but once racing began, the guns came out with Craig Paul (Greg Minnaar Cycles) setting the benchmark at 8:28 over the tight, rocky, tree-lined stage. Hot on his heels, Jedson Tooms (ROAG) lost only 4 seconds on the long stage 1 with Hilton Frost (Pyga) sitting in comfortably in third. Stage 2, the slickest and most rock strewn of the 3 stages saw Frost put the hammer down and claw back to be within 1 seconds of Tooms at the end of stage. But out front Craig Paul was dominating putting another 3 seconds into the chasing duo. Stage 3, the shortest, but steepest trail for the day, saw full aero tucks down the start fire road before entering the final slippery rooty woods. At the end of the stage Craig Paul remained in the top spot with a late charge by Canadian rider Joe Bauckham to match Paul's stage time. But it was not enough, with Craig Paul taking top honours on the day in a time of 15:13, with Tooms and Frost rounding out the top 3.

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Craig Paul (Greg Minaar Cycles) boosting a table in the Gauntlet - Image Copyright Nick Ferreria.

In the ladies, a 21 strong field rolled out of the start to attack the days stages with the grace that only ladies can! Kim Westbrook started strong, putting 43 seconds into 12 year old XC wonder-kid Sabine Thies (Greg Minnaar Cycles) on Stage 1. Tiffany Keep (PAW) was in 3rd just off the pace. Stage 2, and Westbrook attacked again extending her lead. The steeper nature of stage 2 and 3 saw a comeback from the DH riders with Kath Fourie tying for 3rd on stage with Tiffany Keep. It wasn't to be however, as Kim Westbrook took a convincing win in an overall time of 17:56, with Thies in 2nd and Keep taking the bronze medal.

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Sabine Thies on her was to 2nd in the ladies.

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A rider negotiates the rocks in the Gauntlet.

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Mark Millar on fire.

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Sharjah Jonsson flying in the Gauntlet - Image Copyright Nick Ferreria.

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Second Overall, Jedson Tooms with a crew at the finish of Stage 3 - Image Copyright Nick Ferreria

Race director Dave Drummond and his team at KZN MTB did an amazing job of putting together a smooth and successful event. And a big thank you goes out to the Series Sponsors: NMI-DSM, Shreddtech, Elite Athlete Performance, Pyga, and of course the Karklool MTB Club and Sappi as trail builders and landowners. Thanks to the photographers Gavin Ryan (www.finishlinephotos.co.za), Craig Scott, Callum Borthwick, and Nick Ferreria for the images. Round 2 moves over the hill to St Ives Bike Park on the 21st March, a brand new venue with new natural stages awaiting the riders.

Check out the KZN MTB Downhill #1 Karkloof race report here.

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