South Africa’s Stuart Marais and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy won the 12th annual Xterra South Africa Champs last weekend, grinding out convincing wins in cold and blustery conditions that sent athletes scrambling for the neoprene early on Sunday.
There was drama before the race got underway with news that four-time Xterra world champion Conrad Stoltz had pulled out of proceedings with a severe cold. With the 2014 champion Dan Hugo retiring recently, this left the men’s race wide open.
An unseasonable cold front and blustery winds rolled in the night before race day and dropped the water temps in the small lake by more than two degrees, turning a non-wetsuit swim into a wetsuit optional affair and sending unprepared elites scrambling to find some rubber to swim in.
After borrowing a wetsuit from a friend racing in the age-group waves earlier in the day, Marais covered the 1.5km swim strongly enough to leave the water just 30secs behind the lead group of Bradley Weiss, Roger Serrano, and Theo Blignaut.
He then biked hard to overtake all three in the first 5km and create an unbeatable lead over the remainder of the 27km bike and 12.5km trail run, crossing the line in 2:32:47. Weiss and Serrano came in second and third respectively.
“I spent a lot of time out here on this course getting to know every little rock and turn and bit of sand and I suppose that makes the difference between winning and losing,” said Marais afterwards. “I did my homework and the plan worked out pretty good.”
In the women’s race, Duffy led everyone – men included – out of the water, then rode and ran impeccably to take the tape in 10th place overall with nearly 20 minutes to spare over her nearest rival Mari Rabie, crossing the line in 2:45:27.
“Everything seemed to work out today. It’s a very technical, challenging bike course so my biggest fear was flatting or having a mechanical so I was concentrating on keeping it smooth in the single track,” said Duffy, who has won nine of the 10 Xterra Championships she has raced since capturing the SA title last February.
Runner-up Mari Rabie, Olympian and Xterra SA Champion in 2005 and 2010, also had a very special day but for much different reasons – having been diagnosed with myocarditis chronic heart disease last year, and only receiving the all-clear to race three weeks ago.
“[I’m] just happy to be back racing and I haven’t ridden technical in more than a year so my main aim was just to stay on the bike,” said Rabie. “It was a tough couple months, you know, when a doctor tells you that you can’t do what you want to do because you might die. I think you appreciate this so much more when it’s taken away from you.”
Rabie said she now plans to chase the Rio Olympics dream before getting back into the dirt. “If I don’t get it I’ll swap over to Xterra to race. I’m naturally better suited to this type of racing, and definitely after Rio I’ll be racing Xterra.”
Top 10 men
1. Stuart Marais, 2:32:47 2. Bradley Weiss, 2:35:42 3. Roger Serrano, 2:37:20 4. Theo Blignaut, 2:37:35 5. Antoine Van Heerden, 2:38:34 6. Michael Szymoniuk, 2:41:13 7. Nico Sterk, 2:42:35 8. Jan Pyott, 2:43:55 9. Aidan Nugent, 2:44:51 10. Raoulde Jongh, 2:46:48
Top 10 women
1. Flora Duffy, 2:45:27 2. Mari Rabie, 3:04:06 3. Carina Wasle, 3:06:38 4. Nicolette Griffioen, 3:08:22 5. Sandra Koblmueller, 3:08:43 6. Ladina Buss, 3:12:25 7. Susan Sloan, 3:19:26 8. Louise Fox, 3:19:30 9. Adrienne Moolman, 3:21:08 10. Natia Van Heerden, 3:21:47