Wessel Botha and Danielle Strydom claimed the respective men’s and women’s SA MTB Marathon Championship titles at the 85km Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival on Sunday.

On a cloudless, late autumn day with the mercury hovering in the mid-to-high twenties, the 25-year-old Botha, riding for the Imbuko Pro Cycling team, claimed his maiden SA title, finishing in 4:04:29, ahead of Tristan Nortje (4:06:19) and Jaedon Terlouw (4:08:32).

Hailing from Wellington in the Western Cape, Botha enjoyed a day where it all worked out as planned.

“When you are on the start line of any SA Champs event, there is always a belief that you could win and today that dream fell into place for me,” he said.

Despite the scorching sun, Botha was happy with the conditions. “The weather was awesome but riding at altitude is a test for riders like me coming from sea level,” he said. “It was a technical route which played to my advantage and it was on the downhills where I made up ground and stayed with the early leaders.”

Danielle Strydom added the SA Marathon title to the national Gravel title for 2024. | Photo: Gavin Ryan/Gameplan Media

Conserving and managing his energy to perfection, Botha’s game plan saw him do enough to stay in contention on the testing hills and make his move on the speedy descents. “It was crucial to use the ups and downs of the course to my advantage if I wanted to win. The guys drilled it in the early parts of the race, opening up some gaps, but I caught up and stuck with them on the downhills,” he said.

Not knowing the first half of the route, Botha said he “just followed wheels on the singletrack,” but having ridden the second half the previous day, he knew what lay ahead and subsequently planned his victorious attack.

“Tristan launched an attack but on the last downhill, about eight kilometres from the finish, I took the lead and managed to hold on. It’s the team’s first SA Marathon title and I am proud to wear the jersey,” said Botha.

Strydom’s SA MTB Marathon Champs title is the culmination of an unreal couple of weeks as she added a second title to the SA Gravel Champs she won at the Race to the Sun two weeks ago. While admitting she was a little low on confidence as she waited on the start line, Strydom stuck to her guns to claim overall honours ahead of teammate Samantha Sanders (4:59:59) with young, up-and-coming KZN rider Tyler Jacobs (5:08:23) third.

“Despite planning ahead, these events seldom pan out how you would like and it becomes a case of thinking in the saddle and making decisions based on what’s happening at the front of the race,” said the 25-year-old Potchefstroom cyclist, riding for the Efficient Infiniti team.

Wessel Botha claimed his first ever national title on a course that was considered a proper mountain biking test. | Photo: Gavin Ryan/Gameplan Media

Strydom acknowledged a tough, technical and testing route, saying it felt longer than 85km. “It demanded respect and I did struggle at times, but I know I have enjoyed a proper day out,” she said. “I made my break early, after the first major uphill, and maintained my pace, dropping the other women contenders and managing to hold on for the title.”

While it may have sounded easy for Strydom, there were moments when she had to dig deep. “I started cramping near the end from the effort I had to put in to stay ahead. The other women leaders never gave up that easily and were always there and thereabouts, not far off my shoulder, calling for sustained effort and focus from me. I was relieved to finish,” she said.

The SA Champs crowned champions in all age groups from youth up to grand masters with KZN’s Omar Wilson and Jodi Mackinnon claiming the junior titles with contrasting tactics. Wilson cruised away and was never seriously challenged as he beat Free State’s Andre van Rooyen by over six minutes in their 60km race, while Mackinnon beat regular rivals Errin Mackridge and Robyn Chapman for a KZN 1-2-3 in the 40km event.

Eventual runner-up, Sam Sanders, leads Efficient Infinit Insure teammate, Danielle Strydom early on in the 85km race. | Photo: Gavin Ryan/Gameplan Media

Selected Results
Elite Men – 85km
1 Wessel Botha 4:04:29
2 Tristan Nortje 4:06:19
3 Jaedon Terlouw 4:08:32
4 Arno Du Toit 4:09:55
5 Rossouw Bekker 4:10:51
6 Michael Foster 4:16:30
7 Daniel Van Der Watt 4:16:41
8 Jan Withaar 4:16:53
9 Rudi Koen 4:17:42
10 Julian Jessop 4:19:48

Elite Women – 85km
1 Danielle Strydom 4:57:17
2 Samantha Sanders 4:59:59
3 Tyler Jacobs 5:08:23
4 Sarah Hill 5:17:01
5 Bianca Haw 5:24:26
6 Shauna Esmeyer 5:33:09
7 Caitlin Mee 5:42:40
8 Lane Du Plessis 5:49:50
9 Hanli Cilliers 5:49:51
10 Karlise Scheepers 5:50:18

Sub-Vet Men – 85km
1 Thinus Redelinghuys 4:37:49
2 Greig Knox 4:55:43
3 Dutoit Van Den Bergh 4:56:30

Vet Men – 85km
1 Andrew Hill 4:41:34
2 Lyle Poulter 4:42:09
3 Frederick Rossouw 4:59:30

Youth Men – 60km
1 Joshua Johnson 2:55:54
2 Dean Woolley 3:02:40
3 Henro Van Der Walt 3:04:04

Junior Men – 60km
1 Omar Wilson 2:48:00
2 Andre Van Rooyen 2:54:47
3 Beon Van Staden 3:01:19

Master Men – 60km
1 Jean Fourie 3:14:12
2 Franso Steyn 3:14:47
3 Hein Du Toit 3:22:20

Sub-Vet Women – 60km
1 Kristian Slabbert 3:48:50
2 Laiken Smith 3:50:43
3 Mikaela Hagemann 4:03:46

Vet Women – 60km
1 Marisa Van Der Linde 3:50:34
2 Mari Du Toit 3:52:41
3 Chantelle Bosch 4:02:28

Grand-Master Men – 40km
1 Shane Daniel 2:01:28
2 Bruce Viljoen 2:05:34
3 Jimmy Mills 2:08:30

Youth Women – 40km
1 Nika Nortje 2:11:07
2 Nadia Van Wyk 2:11:21
3 Madison Bateson 2:11:25

Junior Women – 40km
1 Jodi Mackinnon 2:10:12
2 Errin Mackridge 2:11:08
3 Robyn Chapman 2:11:12

Master Women – 40km
1 Carli Cooke 2:20:01
2 Kirsten Searle 2:24:15
3 Kerry Campbell 2:30:41

Grand-Master Women – 40km
1 Anet Schoeman 2:41:06
2 Yvonne Conway 3:25:11
3 Charmaine Eleftheriou 3:30:19]

Source: Gameplan Media