The race within a race is a 1.3km dash for cash held in the evening after day two’s racing at the Berg & Bush Descent. Beukes winning time was four minutes, 38 seconds, while Lill charged home in a time of five minutes and 55 seconds.
Riders start their engines at the entrance to famous Spionkop battle site and rev all the way into the red zone as the head for the summit. First place in the men’s and ladies race each takes home R20 000.
The Spionkop Summit was first held three years ago and has proven to be popular with riders and spectators alike. The race is open to anyone in the Berg & Bush field, but the challenge is usually accepted by the elite riders - and a few enthusiastic weekend warriors - with the bulk of the field lining the Spionkop climb to support the racing.
Cash per kilometre, it is probably the richest mountain bike race in South Africa and certainly one of the very few times where mountain biking fans can see the efforts of elite riders up close.
Cowbells, raucous cheers and a Drakensberg backdrop dripping in golden light from the sunset make the Spionkop Summit an event to remember. Men’s winner Beukes certainly won’t forget it in a hurry.
“Hard. That’s the only word to describe it,” he puffed at the top. After slightly regaining his composure from the lung-busting effort, he continued, “Hard. Hard. Hard.”
In a field featuring rising star Julian Jessop, Gawie Combrinck, Nico Bell and Phil Buys, Beukes came out on top, on top, thanks to a superior warm up. Ahead of the race he went up Spionkop twice at race pace. “I went up before the race; I went hard for two minutes, relaxed for two minutes, then went really hard again for the last 40 seconds.”
His warm up and subsequent race strategy proved to be a winner. With 100m to go, Beukes was lying fifth in a bunch, but he accelerated when it mattered, crossing the line first while looking over his shoulder for a tiring Bell. In the background, his ecstatic teammates were shouting prize money spending advise, “Nappies! Baby formula! More nappies.”
In the ladies race, Candice Lill was the dominant force. From the halfway mark of the sprint, she was in a bunch with teammate Vera Adrian and Berg & Bush Descent race leaders, Amy Beth McDougall and Sam Sanders.
By the time they reached the last twist in the road to the summit, Lill was in a class of her own, crossing the line comfortably ahead of second-placed McDougall.
“The plan was always to come and win this,” said Lill. “The racing wasn’t too bad until we all saw the spectators, then the guys just went nuts and started hammering it! I did three warm up rides, so I knew exactly when to lay off and when to kick. This is tough, but it’s great to race in front of cheering people.”
Race organiser Gary Green was thrilled with the turnout. “This adds something extra to our event, and I have to say, I’m so impressed with the effort that these guys put in. They are racing during the day, then they still come up here and give it their all. It’s something special and unique for the spectators too; there’s not many opportunities to watch elite riders like this, and I think this race shows everyone how strong these guys are.”
Spionkop Summit results
1. Matthys Beukes 4:38
2. Nico Bell 4:40
3. Phil Buys 4:47
1. Candice Lill 5:55
2. Amy Beth McDougall 6:05
3. Sam Sanders 6:08