There was certainly nothing neutral about the Swiss attack when compatriots Christoph Sauser and Ariane Kleinhans swept to victory in the 121km Attakwas Extreme Challenge between Oudtshoorn and Great Brak River last month.

While a series of technical problems could have poked more holes in his chances than the national cheese, Sauser overcame them with a gutsy, emotional performance that saw the multiple world mountain bike champion win in 4:56:29 to smash the course record.

Fellow countrywoman, Kleinhans, rode away from British road champion Sharon Laws to take the women’s title for the third straight year in another record-breaking time of 5:42:29.

“I knew Attakwas was a troublesome race and I packed some extra spares,” says Sauser.

“Unfortunately, it hit me just half an hour into the race and I cut the sidewall on my rear tyre.”

After losing two and a half valuable minutes to repairs, the 36ONE-Songo-Specialized rider quickly got back into the lead group.

“I was just starting to feel comfortable and confident again when I lost the plug from the tyre, about two hours in. This time it took ages since I had no more CO2 bombs and had to hand pump it.”

He made good time on the technical descent and caught up to Max Knox (Specialized) and Lourens Luus (RE-CM), who were a minute behind race leader Erik Kleinhans (RE-CM).

When Knox dropped out of contention due to a leaking tyre and Kleinhans punctured at the fourth water point, hope surged anew.

“I always stay positive but I never expected to race for the win. When I attacked Lourens on the second last climb, I was full of emotion and it gave me wings!”

Luus and Kleinhans chased hard to the finish, coming in second and third in 4:58:06 and 5:02:49 respectively.

For Sauser, the win is all the more special following the tragic loss of his friend and riding partner Burry Stander, with whom he scored a brace of Absa Cape Epic wins.

“The two weeks leading up to Attakwas were a mess. But my problems are small compared with Burry who lost the one and only life he had and loved.

“I really raced myself free during those five hours and it felt great. I was thinking a lot about him and how we raced together, especially on the last open gravel roads in the headwind – I missed his draft!”

Sauser, who will ride this year’s Absa Cape Epic with Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy, says the Attakwas was a “great reset and shape test”.

“It was nice to see I’m in good form. Normally, I never do well until the start of the Absa Cape Epic, so I surprised myself a little.”

Fellow Epic winner Ariane, who triumphed in the mixed category with husband Erik last year, is also pleased with her current form ahead of their title defence for their new team RE-CM.

“The Attakwas is, regarding distance and rough terrain, very similar to an Epic stage and is therefore a great test for the legs and equipment.

“Because the ladies start with the men, we also get the opportunity to practice riding in a bunch as well as the fast starts, which is very important.”

Kleinhans says Laws set a high pace from the outset and opened up a gap on the first hills but the Swiss rider caught her after 20km.

“Coming up to the Queen of the Mountains at the 55km mark, I got a gap on her and managed to increase it on the technical downhill after the peak . . . I was pretty much on my own to the finish.”

Laws (Momentum-Toyota) followed her home in 5:50:46, with Yolande de Villiers (Toyota-Supercycling) rounding out the podium in 6:09:03.

Kleinhans says the great team spirit and professionalism of her new outfit has given her “an extra portion of power and motivation” for the new season.

When asked whether she considers this a win for her home nation, Kleinhans seems torn.

“That’s a difficult question. Deep down in my heart I’m still a farmer’s daughter from Switzerland.

“But the South Africans are such great people; they’ve adopted and supported me so well that I really feel at home here.

“Let’s call it a double win for the ‘Suiffas’.”

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Coetzee Gouws
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