Megan Bircher (Pure Adventure VELOlife) produced another strong performance at the Illovo Eston MTB Challenge today (Sunday).
The Port Edward youngster has been in great form all year and claimed another top result in the 18km Tala/aQuellé Family Ride through Tala Game Reserve, finishing second in the women’s race behind Tiffany Keep.
Jett Bradshaw was the fastest male home in this hugely popular race.
Croeser does it again
The 60km Illovo Marathon, the feature race of the Illovo Eston MTB Challenge, ended in a dramatic three-way sprint finish for the second year running which defending champion Rourke Croeser clinched again.
In 2013, Croeser narrowly edged out Trek South Africa’s James Reid and Brendon Davids and while it may not have been quite as tight as last year’s dice, it came down to the final few hundred meters for the Kargo Pro MTB Team rider once more as he again pipped Davids and FedGroup ITEC’s Max Knox to the post.
“It was great to come here and win again,” said Croeser.
“As a team came here looking for a win for the team and not necessarily the individual so the fact that we were able to do that and then I was able to retain my title at the same time is really awesome!”
Hot, dry and dusty conditions greeted the riders on Sunday morning and the writing was on the wall from as early as the first four kilometers as Davids and Croeser went head to head for the King of the Mountains hotspot prize, Croeser eventually clinching the early accolades by a matter of centimeters.
“Eston always brings a really good field. Brendon (Davids) rode well, Max (Knox) rode well and a couple of the youngsters also really rode well so it was a really tough race all the way through,” said Croeser.
“Myself and Brendon took the race up to the King of the Mountains and we got a little gap which ultimately caused the field to split.
“It soon became a group of five of us at the front and then it was a three horse race.
“Brendon and I threw a couple of attacks at Max which gave us a slight gap at one stage but he managed to ride himself back up to us and so it was then all about getting the end sprint right which I’m stoked to have been able to do,” he added.
After Davids lead proceedings into the final few hundred meters before making a crucial mistake which saw him finish third last year, the under-23 athlete was pleased with his effort this time around.
“One place better than last year and while it is still a little disappointing having not won, it’s still nice to have got a really good result,” said Davids.
“Rourke and I took the bull by the horns and made racing as hard as possible right from the King of the Mountains and then I knew that if it came down to a sprint I’d have to try take it from a long way out so I went with about two kilometers to go but Rourke managed to ride back onto me with about five hundred meters to go and hats off to him on taking the win.”
Knox rounded out the podium ahead of TIB Insurance’s Andrew Hill before Travis Walker and Stuart Marias finished fifth and sixth respectively to make it three out of the top six for the Kargo outfit.
Dreyer overcomes adversity to retain her title
The women’s race was one of attrition for Jeannie Dreyer who almost didn’t make it to Sunday’s start line after having been struck down by a nasty stomach bug however the USN/Hi-TEC rider dug deep and bravely fought her way to a rare back-to-back Illovo Eston title.
“It really is a very special win for me today!” said a drained Dreyer afterwards.
“I have had a bit of an upset tummy and nearly didn’t race but when I heard there were almost 3000 entries, I thought ‘Flip, it would be so good to be the best girl on the day here!’ and it’s great to have done just that!”
“I wasn’t sure if any of the girls were on my tail at any stage of the race so I just put my head down and tried to stick with the guys coming past me and keep my momentum going which really seemed to help me and pulled me to the finish!
“It really is such a phenomenal event with a phenomenal route. The course is opposite to what we did last year so there were parts I did recognize as well as some great new sections of single track and it was just a phenomenal day to be riding here,” she added.
It soon became apparent that her own demons would be her biggest obstacle on the day with Dryer eventually crossing the line ten minutes ahead of second place finisher, Coffeeberry/VELOlife’s Natalie Bergstrom, while Time Freight VELOlife’s junior rider Frankie du Toit finished third to claim a memorable senior podium.
The day’s festivities also included the action of the 40km aQuellé Half Marathon where Joshua Nelson and Julieann Hampson walked away with the men’s and women’s spoils respectively while scores of young cycling enthusiasts tackled the 10km STIHL Kids Ride.
60km Illovo Marathon
1.Rourke Croeser 2:24.01
2.Brendon Davids 2:24.03
3.Max Knox 2:24.17
4.Andrew Hill 2:28.39
5.Travis Walker 2:30.03
6.Stuart Marais 2:30.04
7.Derrin Smith 2:36.09
8.Ryan Piercey 2:36.23
9.John Ntuli 2:37.54
10.James Burne 2:38.04
1.Jeannie Dreyer 2:51.02
2.Natalie Bergstrom 3:01.30
3.Frankie du Toit 3:05.22
4.Desiree Verwey 3:07.36
5.Isabel Moolman 3:10.13
1.Alan Hatherly 2:46.04
2.Murray Church 2:53.20
3.Kelvin Green 2:54.20
1.Frankie du Toit 3:05.22
40km aQuellé Half Marathon
1.Joshua Nelson 1:36.32
2.Phillip Marais 1:43.12
3.Gareth Cook 1:43.21
1.Julieann Hampson 1:58.02
2.Catherine Pellow-Jarman 2:00.29
3.Tanya Ortlepp 2:02.56
18km Tala/aQuellé Family Ride
1.Jett Bradshaw 47.10
2.Torin Mecklenborg 48.48
3.Mark Fourie 50.29
1.Tiffany Keep 48.42
2.Megan Bircher 53.16
3.Sabine Thies 53.55