Consistent performances throughout the season on all types of terrain earned Nico Bell the coveted MTN National Marathon Mountain Bike Series title in October.
Bell rang the changes when he finally claimed the spoils in the eight-race series after finishing just off the podium last year.
“I’ve been racing ultra marathons for the last four years, so it was a goal I set out to reach,” says Bell.
“It’s our best national series comprising some of the hardest and longest one-day races in South Africa.”
Unlike the once-off national marathon championship, where he finished second, the MTN series comprises eight energy-sapping events across the country.
“The person with the best average result wins, so you can say he is a true marathon rider and the best of the best for the current year.”
Bell competed in all eight events, winning the Rooiberg race and finishing second in Sabie, Clarens, Hilton and the Crater Cruise.
He currently also tops the Kia rankings, which he says provides added rewards for riders who may not necessarily get the big wins but finish regularly at the sharp end of the field in the country’s top races.
“Our sponsors expect us to produce consistent results throughout the year and the Kia ranking system gives us something else to race for.”
Bell also added to his impressive victories when he teamed up with his MTN series nemesis, defending champ Max Knox, for the three-day Nedbank sani2c in May.
He says knowing each other’s riding styles made them unstoppable in their first stage race together.
“We could race without having to talk on the bike – we both knew how the other rider was feeling and we took advantage of every opportunity to get the leap on our competitors.”
The 30-year-old’s consistent performances, which include a third place in the Jock Cycle Classic, have certainly grabbed the cycling fraternity’s attention, culminating in the recent announcement that he will be joining pro team RE:CM next season.
“I have been racing seriously for three years now on the mountain biking scene and all the results I’ve achieved have been while I was working and without a salaried sponsorship,” says Bell.
“This will be my first professional opportunity.”
The Mpumalanga-based rider, who lives in Mbombela (Nelspruit), will pair up with new teammate Erik Kleinhans for long stage races like the Absa Cape Epic and with young talent Lourens Luus for the shorter events.
Bell hopes his current team, Westvaal-Bell’s Cycling, will continue to give promising youngsters the opportunity to reach the top level in cycling.
As for long-time “partner” Gawie Combrinck, Bell says he will hopefully also be moving to a new team in 2014.
In the meantime, the two will be putting their feet up for some well-deserved rest and recovery after their swansong at the seven-day Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek.
“We finished fourth overall after some bad luck and I’m also still riding with a torn muscle in my foot.”
That however seems to be the only downside to an otherwise sure-footed season.
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