Swiss mountain bike racing legend, Christoph Sauser didn’t only mark his return from retirement at the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge in South Africa on Saturday, he won the gruelling 121km race after the most incredible comeback following a mechanical delay early on.
The 40-year-old Investec-Songo-Specialized rider clocked a winning time of 04 hours 50 minutes 09 seconds to capture his third title in what is widely considered to be South Africa’s premier one-day race. Sauser narrowly beat Attakwas novice and former Cape Epic winner, Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon) into second place in late dash for the line, with defending champion, Karl Platt (Team Bulls) rolling home a minute-and-a-half later in third place.
Sauser cut his rear tyre badly at the 27km mark and lost the lead group while repairing it. He was over five minutes behind the lead group at the 30km mark but was committed to limiting the damage as best he could, pedalling powerfully up the steep climbs and aero-tucking on every fast descent. He didn’t only limit the damage though, he undid it, steadily moving through the field and eventually catching leaders Hynek and Platt with 22km remaining.
A clearly spent Platt capitulated on the final long climb where Sauser made the catch and resigned himself to riding for third place, leaving Hynek and Sauser to wage a two-way battle for the title. Sauser’s knowledge of the course, which has a tricky, fast descent to the finish straight, was in his favour, but in doubt was how much he had left after his phenomenal effort to close a more than five-minute gap.
“I felt very good from the start. But unfortunately I double-flatted and it took four or five minutes to fix it because I ran out of CO2 Bombs and had to pump it. I decided not to change wheels when I got to the tech zone. The spare wheels I had there were quite heavy and I felt too risky for a one-day race, so I just kept going, with the small bit of hope of catching up to fight for the podium,” explained Sauser afterwards.
“And yep, the guys came closer and closer until I could see them. That was motivating. The finish suits me because it’s technical. It helped that I know the finish. The sprint for the finish is always the most exciting part of the five hours of racing,” smiled the champion.
“Christoph had an impressive ride today. He knew the finish which was a big advantage for him at the end. I’m happy with my second place though. It was a great race and great preparation for the Cape Epic,” said Hynek.
Erik Kleinhans (Topeak Ergon), riding solo for most of the second half of the race, kept his pace steady to finish fourth and the first South African, with HB Kruger (Telkom BCX) rounding out the top five.
Langvad destroys Attakwas record
Denmark’s multiple mountain bike world champion, Annika Langvad (Specialized) beat off a strong field to win the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge in a new women’s record time in South Africa on Saturday.
It was Langvad’s debut appearance at the demanding 121km event, which is considered South Africa’s toughest one-day mountain bike race. She clocked a time of 05:25:55 to slice almost five minutes off the previous record of 05:30:58, set by five-time winner, Ariane Lüthi in 2015 in cooler, calmer conditions.
South African champion and 2016 winner, Robyn de Groot (Ascendis Health), finished second in 05:30:00 with Swedish champion, Jennie Stenerhag (CBC/Abro) rounding out the podium places. Lüthi (Team Spur), the Swiss champion, finished fourth, with South Africa’s Amy Beth McDougall in fifth.
From the first climb at 5km, it was essentially a four-rider battle for the coveted title. De Groot, Lüthi, Stenerhag and Langvad moved off the front and stayed close together for the next 25km through the Karoo, an inhospitable semi-desert region. But at the summit of Sonnop, a technical ascent at 30km in, Langvad held a 15-second lead over De Groot and Stennerhag with Lüthi cresting a minute-and-a-half later in fourth.
De Groot and Stennerhag then rejoined Langvad and the trio entered the Attakwas Reserve together with De Groot impressing on one of the technical climbs, riding away briefly from Langvad and Stenerhag, who had to climb off and push.
But Langvad, a former three-time marathon world champion, three-time Absa Cape Epic winner and current XCO World Champion, was in her element through the Attakwas Reserve, an isolated wilderness region, which includes a series of impossibly steep climbs and rough, rocky descents. She took the lead, claimed the Queen of the Mountain title and went through Waterpoint 4 (with 35km remaining) holding a 2:00 lead over De Groot.
“I had a really good time. I tried to keep reminding myself to just enjoy this. But you know, when you’re sitting there pedalling in so much pain, it’s hard to enjoy the views. But when I did look up it was amazing, especially coming out of the Attakwas valley. It was so beautiful, but you could have turned down the headwind at the end of it,” smiled a content Langvad.
“Obviously we come here to win, but losing to Annika isn’t too bad. It’s an honour to race against her. I was pretty surprised that I was able to stick with her as long as I did. I enjoyed the race. It’s a good start to the year, I’m happy with where I’m at,” said De Groot.
All photos by Ewald Sadie.