With the KIA Krugersdorp Game Reserve MTB Challenge punted as a safari on two wheels for the whole family, it was perhaps fitting that family man Neil MacDonald stole the show.
“I love racing in Gauteng because it keeps me close to my wife and daughter,” he admitted after racing to a seven-minute victory in the 60km event, which is presented by ASG, on the first Saturday in February.
His strategy of toughening up the race early on paid handsome dividends as he comfortably cruised over the finish line ahead of Paul van Zweel and team-mate Brad Stroberg.
The contenders stayed together for the first 10km with Stroberg doing the majority of the early work. But as soon as they hit the first rocky climb, MacDonald put the hammer down to leave the others in his wake.
However, shortly after he had hit the front, his rear derailleur got caught in some grass and he was forced to stop and untangle it.
Once back in the group, he left his winning surge for a tough climb on one of the rare pieces of tar.
“Being the favourite to win is nice to know, but it undoubtedly puts pressure on one to perform,” said MacDonald.
“It was great for Fedgroup-Itec Connect to take first and third,” he said, referring to his new cycling family after leaving RE:CM late last year.
He immediately felt at home in the new environment, he confessed. “I’ve had some good times with Waylon (Woolcock) but, as a group of riders, FedGroup also works really well.
“When things are serious, it’s serious. But there’s also a focus on family and having fun.”
The change seems to have given MacDonald, an established rider with an impressive pedigree, a new lease on life and a different perspective on racing.
“It’s something I wanted to do for myself. I needed to get myself out there and show people that I can also win races.
“Mountain biking gave me that opportunity.”
Although he lists the Old Mutual joBerg2c, Nedbank sani2c and the South China Seas as “special” races and the ones closest to his heart, his next big challenge is this month’s Absa Cape Epic alongside team boss Brandon Stewart.
He was originally penned down to tackle the 10th edition with an international rider, but things changed drastically when Kevin Evans (Stewart’s original partner) was forced to pull out on medical advice.
MacDonald said he looked forward to the partnership after the two had spent most of their mountain biking careers as fierce rivals. “There’s a mutual respect there, he’s a good rider and we’re both really focused.”
In keeping with the family theme, organisers of the KIA Krugersdorp Game Reserve MTB Challenge offered 25km, 40km and 60km choices to cater for every conceivable member of the family. All of these took place almost entirely within the game reserve.
The route itself traversed all corners of the reserve and saw riders negotiate forests, streams and grasslands. They even got up close and personal with the predators’ enclosure.
MacDonald believed the race had the potential to become one of the big ones on the calendar. “The route was nice, well-marked and I’d definitely want to do it again next year.”
Full results are available on www.spectrumsport.co.za.
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