Even with the defence of her MTN Series title in tatters after an early-season crash, Team bizhub’s Ischen Stopforth sent out a reminder of her pedigree when she won the fifth round of the 2010 series in Cullinan near Pretoria on Saturday.
“Hard work and patience is starting to pay off,” Stopforth, who crossed the line in 3:42:04, said after cruising to a comfortable win over team-mate Yolandi du Toit (3:51:18) and USN’s latest acquisition, Karien van Jaarsveld (3:57:45), in the elite women’s section of the 79-kilometre marathon mountain bike event.
The men’s race over 108 kilometres was won by MTN-Energade’s Kevin Evans (4:05:56) in a sprint-finish ahead of SAFindit’s David George (4:05:57). DCM’s Max Knox (4:07:57) completed the podium.
“After my crash (in which she broke her pelvis and collarbone), I was no longer in contention in terms of the overall series and I had to re-evaluate my goals for the year,” said Stopforth.
“It has been a long road to recovery and it’s only recently that I’ve been able to test myself in racing conditions,” said the 38-year-old from George, who was equally impressive in winning the Trans Baviaans endurance race with colleague Lisa Olivier two weekends ago.
Stopforth pointed out that it was a pity that MTN-Energade’s Yolande Speedy and Mariska Strauss weren’t in Cullinan due to their World Cup commitments in New York.
“They’ve been setting the benchmark this season and I would’ve liked to have measured myself against them. Nevertheless, today’s result shows that I’m competitive again.”
Although her winning margin ballooned to nine minutes, Stopforth didn’t have things her own way early on.
“It was a brisk start and very dusty and I fell on a sandy patch about five kilometres in. A quad went over my back wheel, but fortunately there was no damage.”
Stopforth had to give it her all to make up lost ground on early leaders Du Toit and Specialized-Mr Price’s Caitlin de Wet.
“I could see them in front for ages, but I struggled to close the gap. I eventually caught up with them at the first water point.”
Disaster struck for De Wet when she punctured shortly afterwards and her challenge was over when she “blew up” in the subsequent chase to fade to fifth.
Du Toit and Stopforth entered the reserve with its rocky single-track shoulder to shoulder, but mistakes by the latter saw Du Toit getting away once more and winning the Queen of the Mountains prime after about 45 kilometres.
“When I caught up with Yolandi I was really coming into my own and it looked like she was starting to go through a bad patch. So I decided to give it everything to the finish.”
Traditionally a strong finisher, the MTN Series champion said her pre-race plan was to stick with the frontrunners for at least the first half of the race and then look for an opportunity to get away. “Evidently everything didn’t go according to plan.”
Stopforth said she was now looking forward to a full racing programme, which would commence with the three-day Marrick MTB Challenge near Kimberley in late September.
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