Clocking a time of 05hrs 11min 28sec for the gruelling 120km race, which included almost 4000 metres of ascent, Knox actually led a Team DCM Chrome 1-2-3 across the finish line with teammates Jacques Janse van Rensburg finishing second and Brandon Stewart third.
However, Stewart was later disqualified for an incident involving South African marathon champion, Kevin Evans (MTN Energade) out on the course. Evans crossed the finish line fourth, but was promoted to third following Stewart’s removal from the results with David George (MTN Energade) claiming fourth place and Francois Theron (Garmin adidias) rounding out the top five.
“It was a pretty brutal race today but a good one to win. We had quite a fast pace early on so it ended up being a matter of who had the most left at the end. My teammates were strong today. Any one of us could have won. I just happened to be the least tired at the end,” said a typically modest Knox.
Knox, Stewart and Janse van Rensburg were in the small select lead group that formed early on along with defending champion Burry Stander (Mr Price Specialized) and 2007 winner, Evans. Stander, the current Under-23 World Cup cross-country champion, crashed in the muddy conditions just before halfway, sustaining a knee injury. For fear of aggravating the injury, Stander opted to withdraw, leaving Evans to contend with the DCM Chrome trio on his own.
“With three of us against Kevin (Evans) we did what any team would do in that situation and worked him over a bit with repeated attacks forcing him to chase which wore him down,” explained Knox. “There was some heated interaction between him and Brandon (Stewart) which resulted in Brandon almost crashing and Kevin actually crashing. We waited for him to rejoin us before continuing to race.”
But a weary Evans eventually dropped out of podium contention with 35km remaining, leaving the three DCM Chrome riders to decide the final positions among themselves. Evans lodged a protest against Stewart at the finish, which resulted in officials disqualifying Stewart.
In the women’s 75km event, Yolande de Villiers (Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota) made a triumphant return to racing following a disappointing 2008, most of which saw her sidelined by a lengthy recovery from shoulder surgery.
The 35-year-old former national marathon champion took an early lead and finished in a respectable time of 3hr43min20sec, almost 20 minutes ahead of runner-up Ischen Stopforth, who ran her bike across the finish line as a result of a mechanical problem late in the race. Chrissie Viljoen (MTN Energade) completed the podium places.
“I was a bit apprehensive for the long, fast downhill so I pushed hard at the start to try and build up as much of a lead as I could. That way I could be a bit cautious on the downhill,” explained an elated De Villiers who was virtually unchallenged throughout the race.
“There were a lot of river crossings late in the race and by the end my arm and hand had gone numb. But it was a case of putting mind over matter since I was very motivated to defend my title. I am so happy to win my first big race back!”
In the men’s 75km marathon, Sub-veteran, Paul Cordes (IMC Racing) captured the win ahead of rising Junior star, Shaun-Nick Bester and Veteran, Andrew McLean (both of Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota).
More than 1800 riders started the traditional big-race season opener, competing in the 120km and 75km MTN National Marathon events and the 45km MiWay National Half-marathon. Conditions were cloudy and ranged from humid and sticky in the valleys to cold and misty at the top of the big climbs, while mud, stones and sand created a good variety of surfaces – and challenges – over what was a very balanced new race route.
The next event in the prestigious series, the MTN National Marathon – Chandelier, will take place in Oudtshoorn on Sunday 26 April.
For full results and more information, visit www.cyclesport.co.za
MTN National Marathon Series – Barberton
Brief leading results
1 Max Knox – DCM Chrome 5:11:28
2 Jacques Janse van Rensburg – DCM Chrome 5:12:15
3 Kevin Evans – MTN Energade 5:29:17
4 David George – MTN Energade 5:38:32
5 Francois Theron – Garmin adidas 5:40:38
1 Yolande de Villiers – Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota 3:43:20
2 Ischen Stopforth 4:03:00
3 Chrissie Viljoen – MTN Energade 4:04:05