Disappointment turned to delight for Nico Bell as he won the South African National MTB Marathon Championships in Pietermaritzburg yesterday.
Near misses at the Cape Epic, joberg2c and most recently, sani2c culminated into what Bell termed a “disappointing” year so far.
After failing to secure titles at the calendar highlights, Bell said the national title had been a welcome change of luck for him.
“I’ve had a disappointing season so far as my form has been there but things haven’t been going my way,” said Bell.
“For this race everything finally seemed to be in my favour.
“In previous years I’ve come second here but I’ve never had a first, so it was nice to show that I can win the SA champs.”
With luck on Bell’s side, there was little left for defending champion Max Knox, who was forced to withdraw with a broken wheel after just 20km.
It was Philip Buys and Gert Heyns who flanked Bell on the podium as they followed almost three minutes behind the Nelspruit local.
Bell competed at the Cascades MTB Park when he took part in the national and world championships in previous years and said this helped him plan his approach for the event.
“I studied the route profile the previous week and, having ridden the course before, I knew between 30km and 40km was the best place to make my move because that’s the hardest climb of the whole race,” he said.
“I thought that by the time we hit 60km, the race would basically be made already and the last 20km would be a formality more than anything.
“For me this was definitely the case, but for the other guys there was still a lot of change on the second loop so they had a chance to really make up some ground.”
The NAD Pro rider successfully pulled away from the lead group, which included Knox, Buys, Heyns, Matthew Beers, Gawie Combrink and Julian Jessop after the major climb 35km in.
He was then able to keep a steady pace and maintain the sizeable lead over the rest of the field.
“When I came for the second 20km loop and reached the top, I looked back but couldn’t see any of the others so I knew I probably had about two-minute gap.
“Knowing that, I just made sure to keep a steady pace to the finish and not take any risks,” said the 34-year-old.