McDougall, who placed fifth overall at the Tankwa Trek with Bianca Haw earlier this month, said she felt good on the bike, which was a relief for her.
“I had a rocky start to the season but it’s great feeling that things are coming together,” she said.
This year’s route featured an extra 250m climb in the first 7km, which started before riders move out to the Maritzbos Hut and the infamous Mamba Switchbacks (350m of ascent in 3,5km).
“I was feeling really good up the first big climb, so I capitalised and managed to get a decent gap – taking the queen of the mountains at the same time,” said McDougall.
“After that I raced my own race and focused on doing my best.”
She felt the Sabie Classic was a race that demanded respect, especially in wet conditions.
“I had a high-speed crash when another rider went down in front of me when he rode down a slippery district road descent. I had nowhere to go except down.
“I didn’t let that perturb me and quickly got back into the rhythm.”
McDougall, whose goal was simply to do her best, said the descents were extremely slippery and treacherous so she adopted a much more conservative riding style than usual.
“In order to finish first, you need to first finish. With almost 3 000m of climbing and the technical singletrack, it was a hard day for everyone and I have much respect for all those who finished,” she said.
McDougall felt the route suited her perfectly, with all the climbing and technical descents.
“I always thrive in technical terrain with more climbing than long district road drags. This, along with slippery descents, was a bit of a test – but I love a challenge; the harder the better.”
With regard to the field, McDougall said it was small and the only other two elite ladies were Sanders and Strydom.
“It was great having a youngster like Danielle move up in the ranks. It was her first marathon and she actually ended up breaking her patella and still finishing third.
“Mental fortitude like that is not common and I see a bright future for her, which is exciting,” said McDougall.
She added that Sanders was one of the country’s classiest professionals and it was always great to battle it out with her.
“She unfortunately had a bad day while I had a good one, so it wasn’t the usual tussle but I have no doubt she’ll be back as soon as possible.”
The Sabie Classic winner said she knew she still had a long way to go and would focus on building on the form she felt this weekend.
“There is a saying: whether you win or you lose, it doesn’t last. Getting caught up in one victory is pointless.”