After narrowly losing to Stuart Marais a few weeks back, Julian Jessop settled the score when he won in a sprint finish at the Mandela Day MTB Dash, which finished at the Mandela Capture Site in Howick today.
Marais had been seeking his first Mandela Day MTB Dash title but after racing with the young PYGA EuroSteel rider for most of the 42km, he was unable to hold onto his lead.
The Tour de Krantz winner led the race as the group hit the first climb of the race and with Andrew Hill up front on the attack too, Jessop was left chasing. The 20-year-old put the hammer down and fought to get ahead before they hit the first stretch of single track.
“It was quite a vital point because after that it was just me and Stuart. We built on that gap the whole way through and rode together for the rest of the race,” said the U23 national cross-country champion.
He said the second climb of the day, roughly half way through the race, was where he had really put the pressure on Marais but the Howick local continued to respond to his challenges.
“I felt that’s where I put the most pressure on him but I still couldn’t get away from him, he got me everywhere,” said Jessop.
Neither were able to get the upper hand and they continued to battle it out as they made their way to the finish, an effort Jessop said had him putting his training for the UCI MTB World Championships to the test.
“There was one point where I thought I had the upper hand but then Stuart came back really hard. In the last 5km it was all out hell racing against him.”
As it came down to the wire the pressure started to take its toll and Jessop initiated an early sprint after he had been unable to shake the determined Marais.
“I was a little concerned that I’d started too early because I knew he’d come back hard.
“When I looked down, with 50m to go, he was still behind me and I thought ‘I can’t stop now’.
“Just before the finish I realised I was going to win this one, so I was very happy.”
The win, Jessop said, was a good sign ahead of his departure for the world champs in Australia on Tuesday.
“I had really good feelings during the race, I had good power and my heart rate was good so I’m very pleased with that.”
He and Marais were followed home by Hill, who rounded out the men’s podium.
Bianca Haw, also heading to Australia soon, won the women’s race. Tiffany Keep and Jeannie Dreyer followed in second and third respectively.