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Swiss mountain bike racing legend, Christoph Sauser didn’t only mark his return from retirement at the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge in South Africa on Saturday, he won the gruelling 121km race after the most incredible comeback following a mechanical delay early on.
The 40-year-old Investec-Songo-Specialized rider clocked a winning time of 04 hours 50 minutes 09 seconds to capture his third title in what is widely considered to be South Africa’s premier one-day race. Sauser narrowly beat Attakwas novice and former Cape Epic winner, Kristian Hynek (Topeak Ergon) into second place in late dash for the line, with defending champion, Karl Platt (Team Bulls) rolling home a minute-and-a-half later in third place.
Sauser cut his rear tyre badly at the 27km mark and lost the lead group while repairing it. He was over five minutes behind the lead group at the 30km mark but was committed to limiting the damage as best he could, pedalling powerfully up the steep climbs and aero-tucking on every fast descent. He didn’t only limit the damage though, he undid it, steadily moving through the field and eventually catching leaders Hynek and Platt with 22km remaining.
A clearly spent Platt capitulated on the final long climb where Sauser made the catch and resigned himself to riding for third place, leaving Hynek and Sauser to wage a two-way battle for the title. Sauser’s knowledge of the course, which has a tricky, fast descent to the finish straight, was in his favour, but in doubt was how much he had left after his phenomenal effort to close a more than five-minute gap.
“I felt very good from the start. But unfortunately I double-flatted and it took four or five minutes to fix it because I ran out of CO2 Bombs and had to pump it. I decided not to change wheels when I got to the tech zone. The spare wheels I had there were quite heavy and I felt too risky for a one-day race, so I just kept going, with the small bit of hope of catching up to fight for the podium,” explained Sauser afterwards.
“And yep, the guys came closer and closer until I could see them. That was motivating. The finish suits me because it’s technical. It helped that I know the finish. The sprint for the finish is always the most exciting part of the five hours of racing,” smiled the champion.
“Christoph had an impressive ride today. He knew the finish which was a big advantage for him at the end. I’m happy with my second place though. It was a great race and great preparation for the Cape Epic,” said Hynek.
Erik Kleinhans (Topeak Ergon), riding solo for most of the second half of the race, kept his pace steady to finish fourth and the first South African, with HB Kruger (Telkom BCX) rounding out the top five.
The 121km race from Chandelier Game Lodge, Oudtshoorn to Pine Creek Resort, Groot Brak includes 2900 metres of vertical ascent. For the first time this year it holds International Cycling Union status, which allows top finishers to earn UCI rankings points.
2017 Fairview Attakwas Extreme Challenge | Leading results:
- Christoph Sauser (SUI) Investec-Songo-Specialized 04:50:09
- Kristian Hynek (CZE) Topeak Ergon 04:50:11
- Karl Platt (GER) Team Bulls 04:51:47
- Erik Kleinhans (RSA) Topeak Ergon 05:05:49
- HB Kruger (RSA) Telkom BCX 05:07:08
- 6 Dominic Calitz (RSA) 05:16:11
- Justin Tuck (RSA) 05:16:26
- Ben Melt Swanepoel (RSA) Garmin 05:19:21
- Dylan Rebello (RSA) 05:20:25
- Waylon Woolcock (RSA) Telkom BCX 05:20:28
Christoph Sauser (1st) and Kristian Hynek (2nd) in action.
Photo by Ewald Sadie.