ccs-62657-0-07934000-1462167542.jpgOverall Men’s winner Brandon Stewart was the first to cross the finish line in the Men’s race and take the title in the 35-39 category in a time of 02:43:51 followed closely by second-placed rider overall, but first in the 30-34 category, Derrin Smith in 02:44:28 in the SA MTB Masters Marathon Championship at the 2016 Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades MTB Park on Sunday 1 May. Photo: Darren Goddard

Masters Marathon Championship titles and jerseys were awarded to riders aged 30-and-above in increments of five years, and the tight field of starters set off on their 60-kilometre route that led them out of Cascades MTB Park around the Otto’s Bluff area through Pietermaritzburg’s neighbouring farmlands, overlooking Albert Falls Dam and the beautiful surrounding scenery amidst some misty sections.

Overall Men’s winner Brandon Stewart was the first to cross the finish line overall in the Men’s race and take the title in the 35-39 category in a time of 02:43:51 followed closely by second-placed rider overall, but first in the 30-34 category, Derren Smith in 02:44:28. The third male rider home was Gerrie Beukes in the 45-49 category, finishing his race in a time of 02:44:51.

“The track was really good today, I think it’s been so dry out there that the rain made the course really grippy and it was nowhere near as wet as I thought it would be,” said Stewart. “It was a little chilly this morning and warmed up quite quickly and made for a really fun track. There were some slippery sections on the downhill sections in the shady parts, which is where I managed to get my gap in the end, as I think Derren slipped a bit on a bridge and I got 10 seconds on him. I had earmarked this race as a race I would’ve liked to have done well in. There were parts today where I really battled but overall it was pretty good.”

Smith found the pace fast in the beginning but managed to stay close to Stewart’s wheel in the early parts of the race. “We spoke and decided to work together because he was a category above me. Climbing up the valley from Otto’s Bluff was hectic and Brandon was on fire today and I struggled to stay with him. Unfortunately I crashed on one of the bridges towards the end and that is where the break happened between the two of us. I’m happy to take the win in my category because it was a goal of mine for the season.”

ccs-62657-0-28207500-1462167598.jpgGerry de Boer finished the 60km race in second place in the Men's 60+ category during the SA MTB Masters Marathon Championships at the 2016 Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades MTB Park on Sunday 1 May. Photo: Darren Goddard

Representing the 60+ category, Paul Furbank came straight from the joBerg2c to compete in the 60-kilometre race, winning his category in a time of 03:02:48. “My race started off pretty hard and I couldn't stick with the front guys at all. There was a lot of steep climbing. There were a group of three in front of us and towards the end I popped quite badly and I did about a 3:02. But I had a good ride though, I had some fun but it was hard work.”

ccs-62657-0-10406600-1462167547.jpgThe Women’s race saw local rider Jeannie Dreyer lay down the hammer from early in the race and hold her lead until the end, finishing in a time of 03:01:30 in the SA MTB Masters Marathon Championship at the 2016 Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades MTB Park on Sunday 1 May. Photo: Darren Goddard

The Women’s race saw local rider Jeannie Dreyer lay down the hammer from early in the race and held her lead until the end, finishing in a time of 03:01:30. The second and third place was decided in a very-close sprint finish with Theresa Ralph (40-44) crossing the line in 03:10:10 to take her category win and edging out Fienie Barnard (35-39) into third overall but second in her category in 03:10:11.

“Today was an absolute treat, it is always nice being able to roll out of bed and onto the start line,” boasted Dreyer of the privilege of racing so close to home. “Having done the World Champs here two years ago, it was nice having a bit of insight to the course layout. It started with a big gradual climb straight away onto some district road and through some sugar cane, we had some portage sections too so a little bit of everything but what a wonderful day it was and we were so lucky that the weather turned for us. I feel super blessed that we had a beautiful day to ride.”

ccs-62657-0-64584000-1462167552.jpgSecond place in the Women's overall race was decided in a very-close sprint finish with Theresa Ralph (40-44) crossing the line in 03:10:10 to take her category win during the SA MTB Masters Marathon Championships at the 2016 Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades MTB Park on Sunday 1 May. Photo: Darren Goddard

Ralph said: “I wasn't too sure who my competition was and didn't recognise any names that I knew really well. I knew Jeannie and Fienie would be strong. Jeannie went out a bit too hard for me and vanished out of sight but she wasn't the one that I was racing. After that I rode at my own pace and had a couple of falls – one of the bridges out there was like ice so I landed in a donga – but that's part of mountain biking. Apparently the route was very similar to the World Champs route, which was very nice, and thank goodness it dried up today, which made it pleasant.”

Run in conjunction with the SA MTB Masters Marathon Championships was a non-championship 60-kilometre race and a 20-kilometre race. Matthew Wilkinson and Hanli Cilliers claimed the victories in the 60-kilometre race in 02:34:38 and 03:52:17 respectively, while Travis Stedman and Sarah Ryan won the 20-kilometre race in 01:04:45 and 01:23:09 respectively.

ccs-62657-0-68992100-1462167576.jpgSthembiso Masango couldn't resist racing so close to home when he finished third in the 60km non-championship marathon race in a time of 02:45:16 at the 2016 Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades MTB Park on Sunday 1 May. Photo: Darren Goddard

District Development Series Finale


KwaZulu-Natal Cycling’s District Development Series culminated with the annual finale, which KwaZulu-Natal Cycling’s Development Officer, Tyrone Johns, said that was biggest event on the programme’s annual calendar, representing each of the 11 District Municipalities of KwaZulu-Natal. One hundred and twenty five enthusiastic learners took to a level track of roughly two kilometres on singlespeed racers or BMX bikes in a series of knockout heats, similar to those run in BMX races.

ccs-62657-0-29929200-1462167560.jpgOwami Khumalo (56) and Fezile Linda (32) race hard in the 13-14 Boys category during the District Development Series Finale at the 2016 Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades MTB Park on Sunday 1 May. Photo: Darren Goddard

Nhlanhla Thabethe of the Uthukela (Ladysmith) was thrilled to be back with even more learners this year: “Last year I came here with 12 riders and this year we have 20 riders. I said last year that we wanted to return again with more learners and we have achieved that. We have the talent in our District and we would really like to see these young riders make the transition into the more technical races.” Thabethe said that his learners started from the age of 10 and up.

KwaZulu-Natal Sport and Recreation’s Deputy Manager of Monitoring and Evaluation, Duncan Pool, felt pride in seeing a programme like the District Development Series come together: “We’ve seen it grow and certainly aside from the skills development that we’ve seen on the bicycles there is also the life skills development. On the racetrack, the level of competition is high. It's a successful programme and obviously there are limitations in terms funding and finance and how far it can go but it is really important to sustain it.”

Pool said that the Department observes two major aspects: to be seen as an active province, promoting a healthy lifestyle with active children and adults; and there is also the winning, or performance, side. “We’re clearly using this as a talent identification process to find somebody to be on those podiums at the Olympic Games, never mind the Commonwealth Games.”

ccs-62657-0-24539400-1462167570.jpgA rider on a singlespeed bicycle whizzes past his peers during the District Development Series Finale at the 2016 Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades MTB Park on Sunday 1 May. Photo: Darren Goddard

Talking about the great strides that have been made in KwaZulu-Natal regarding the District Development Series, Pool said: “We’ve got to boast, we’re trendsetters in this province in many fields, and this programme is certainly one of them. The other provinces are surely watching what we do, so we certainly want to see programmes like this rolled out across the provinces.”

Dundee Primary School brought 11 riders representing the uMzinyathu District and Nhlanhla Sibisi’s riders have been part of the programme for a year now. “We have six girls and five boys who enjoy the racing very much. They don't practice at school, so they ride and practice at home. We are hoping to bring some more riders next year as we believe that we have potential champions here,” he laughs. “The primary lesson that our youngsters have learnt from cycling is discipline, because the principal tells them that when they race for the first time, they don't have to rush because they need to compete again in the second round. They get tired quickly, especially in the knockout rounds, and the discipline helps them conserve their energy for more racing later.”

Scelo Luhlongwane from the eSikhawini township (under Richards Bay) in the uThungula District, said that the learners were competing to have fun and to make sure that they at least experience the programme. “For sure they are very happy about this. I have a lot of kids riding today, totalling 17 riders and we start from age 11 up to 16. In short, I have about eight girls and nine boys. They enjoy cycling a lot!”

ccs-62657-0-34237100-1462167565.jpgCalvin Khumalo (221) and Scelo Biyola (710) in the 13-14 Boys category during the District Development Series Finale at the 2016 Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades MTB Park on Sunday 1 May. Photo: Darren Goddard

Representing Hammarsdale Cycling School, Guy Watkins has been part of the programme for two years after starting with 18 learners and has 165 learners today. He sees the importance of getting his learners into a competitive environment and shows them where they are pegged at in terms of their skills. “When we first started in Hammarsdale, it was a lot of fun for them. But now we have a group of some serious riders that train three times a week and are part of the competitive side. They have aspirations and we need to keep feeding that for them.”

The Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival takes place at Cascades MTB Park from 30 April to 2 May 2016 and forms part of the greater Africa Bike City project in Pietermaritzburg. The legacy project and continued development of the venue of Cascades MTB Park as well as staff, cyclists and officials strengthens the local resource pool as we build towards the 2022 Commonwealth Games. For more information on the 2016 PMB MTB Festival, click here: http://www.cyclingsa.com/2016-pmb-mtb-festival/.