Team bizhub’s MTN Series champion Ischen Stopforth and colleague Yolandi du Toit paired up for the first time to dominate the four-day Marrick Mountain Bike Challenge on the outskirts of Kimberley over the Heritage long weekend.
The experienced twosome, who won all four stages convincingly for a combined time of 15 hours 16 minutes and 52 seconds, were pencilled in to ride the inaugural Fairbairn Capital-Old Mutual joBerg2c in April, but Stopforth was replaced by team-mate Lise Olivier when she fell ill at the eleventh hour.
Stopforth and Du Toit’s victory in the second edition of the 345-kilometre event – ahead of Team Sludge’s Stellenbosch pairing of Hannele Steyn-Kotze and Leana de Jager – marked Team bizhub’s third major success in endurance team events this season.
After placing third at the Subaru sani2c in March, Olivier and Du Toit went on to win joBerg2c and last month Stopforth and Olivier took top honours at the Trans Baviaans.
Stopforth, who hails from George in the Southern Cape, described the Marrick as “harsh”, with the prevailing conditions tough on both body and machinery.
She was however more complimentary of her partner, who is based in Heidelberg, Gauteng. “I enjoyed teaming up with Yolandi. Due to crashes and other circumstances, it’s the first time that we’ve been able to do so.”
The tour started off with a 36km night stage, covering mostly jeep track. “It was fast and furious, but a fun stage to start off with,” said Stopforth. “The real challenge was in not knowing where the opposition was or the distance covered.”
The organisers dished up gravel roads with lots of corrugations for the second stage (126km). “It was very flat and one could see the road ahead for miles,” said Stopforth. “I found it mentally very tough.”
The race wound its way back to the Marrick Safari Game Farm on stage three (115km), with long stretches of sand and thorns the major obstacles.
The final stage (68km) took place on the game farm itself and consisted solely of jeep and single track. “It was a real mountain bike stage and I have to praise the organisers for the effort that went into preparing the single track.
“It was challenging and technical with lots of rocks and sand, but the view was out of this world,” said Stopforth, who rubbed shoulders with springbok, wildebeest and zebra.
Marshall World of Sport’s Shaun Peschl and Wayne Jellyman, both from Durban, won the men’s section in 13:24:01.
The members of the winning teams each received a diamond valued in the region of R15 000. “It’s amazing what a girl would endure for one of these,” smiled Stopforth, alluding to the adage that diamonds were a girl’s best friend.
Meanwhile, Team bizhub’s Lise Olivier (Pretoria) showed that she was developing into one of the country’s finest climbers by finishing runner-up to Biogen Toyota’s Joanna van de Winkel in the four-day, five-stage Clover Lowveld Cycle Tour that finished in Graskop, Mpumalanga, on Sunday.
Van de Winkel won the first two stages of the 396km event to establish a two-and-a-half minute lead over Olivier. The latter however turned the tables on day three to win the tough 7.3km hill climb time-trial up Kowyn’s Pass, gnawing back 41 seconds.
“I had a bad start, but felt better each day and there wasn’t much to choose between us on the last two days,” said Olivier. “After the time-trial I thought I had a chance, but Joanna was well-supported by her team.”
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