Multiple world champion and mountain biking legend Christoph Sauser got his racing season off to the perfect start when he claimed victory at the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge on January 17.
The ninth edition of the Western Cape ultra marathon, the first on many a rider’s yearly calendar, sees riders making their way from Chandelier Game Lodge in Oudtshoorn to Pine Creek Resort at the Great Brak River.
After preparing vigorously throughout his off season, Sauser was anxious to shake up his training routine and push himself to the limit.
“Racing out of training is always hard, especially when it is the first race of the season and, on top of it, a race like the Attakwas Extreme which is one of the hardest one-day races in South Africa,” he said.
Securing his second Attakwas victory in three years, the Investec-songo-Specialized rider came home in 4:51:59 – almost four-and-a-half minutes ahead of Team Bulls’ German star Stefan Sahm.
Two of South Africa’s top U23 talents – Scott Factory Racing’s Gert Heyns (third) and Team Jeep SA’s Matthew Beers (fifth) – sandwiched Team Elite’s Swiss star Konny Looser.
Enforcing the Swiss theme, Team RECM’s Ariane Kleinhans defended her title in the women’s race in 5:30:58.
“It’s really important to start the season with a win, it’s a good indication of your form after all the December miles and it’s a big weight off of my shoulders to get another Attakwas win,” she said.
Kleinhans was followed home by South African champion Robyn de Groot and, later, the latter’s Ascendis Health teammate Jennie Stenerhag, who was fighting for the victory until mechanicals brought her title charge to an end.
This year the organisers introduced an incentive prize of R100 000 for any rider breaking the 4:30 barrier. For Sauser, however, this was of no consequence.
“We started super slow for the first two hours – actually more than 10 minutes slower than last year.”
In the end there was no clear effort for a new record (which stands at 4:47:46), much less the proposed incentive time of four-and-a-half hours.
“Achieving this time would only be possible if I were in world championship shape, had five super strong riders pacing for me, plus a whole lot of tail wind,” said Sauser.
Saving energy in the beginning of the race ultimately paid off for Sauser, giving him enough strength to face the second half of the race.
The 38-year-old came emerged from the notoriously difficult Attakwas Valley in as good a shape as one could hope to be.
“The only survivors were Gert and Stefan. Gert did not look good anymore and got dropped at the beginning of the never-ending gravel road towards the finish.
“Stefan also ran out of power later, so it was a long time-trial to the finish. It was then that I knew I was going to win.”
The 121km race includes 2 900 metres of climbing, making it a serious challenge by anyone’s standards. Apart from that, it is the severity of the terrain and extremes of weather that make it an impressive feat to finish within the alotted 11 hours.
“Every finisher can be proud, especially the weekend warrior,” said Sauser.
Winning the race in a personal best time is a good omen for Sauser’s season as he looks at claiming a fifth Cape Epic title.
“I am super happy to win not only my second Attakwas, but my first race of the season. It is always good to start your season with a win,” he said.
When he isn’t scooping up titles or training, Sauser is heavily involved in the sports and social development initiative at songo.info.
Sauser, along with athlete and Kayamandi (near Stellenbosch) community leader Songo Fipaza, created the initiative to provide sporting and educational opportunities to the township’s children and young adults.
The programme, which focuses on sports like BMX, mountain biking and road cycling, sees sportsmen like Sauser spending much time coaching and riding with the children.