Stuart Marais has held onto his lead in the BIG5 Sport Challenge following the penultimate event, the Totalsports XTERRA presented by REHIDRAT® SPORT, which took place yesterday at Conrad Pezula’s Field of Dreams. Stuart was the first BIG5 athlete to cross the line in a time of 1 hour 36 minutes 12 seconds, behind the overall winner Bradley Weiss, who clocked an impressive 1 hour 35 minutes 26 seconds.
The result means Marais is still a point ahead of Theo Blignaut who finished 6th overall and second BIG5 contender.
Race Director Gary Marescia said that Marais has “a commanding lead. This is an extremely tough event, and conditions today were brutal. Both runs were incredibly technical with lots of clay and single track. The 22km cycle was incredibly muddy and cyclists were coming back to the transition area caked in mud and barely recognisable. With the challenging route and muddy conditions riders did well not to fall and bike handling skills and being able to conserve equipment were vital for a successful race.
“Saturday’s 21km Forest Marathon is also going to be tough with strong winds predicted in the morning. But Stuart is a good runner and if nothing unforeseen happens he should have the race.”
Winner of today’s XTERRA, PRO triathlete Bradley Weiss, who is not a BIG5 contender, said that Marais “showed lots of fight to race against someone who wasn’t competing in the Big5. He didn’t have to race this hard to stay ahead in the BIG5 Challenge, but he did and that shows the kind of sportsman he is.”
Marais said that he was “a little disappointed but not that disappointed. Brad has done really well over the last couple of months and won some big races overseas. He was the stronger man today and I’ll take second place proudly behind him.
“I’m looking forward to the final BIG5 event on Saturday, the 21 km forest marathon. “I always enjoy the race, there’s a great vibe around it. It’s a bucket list 21.”
Blignaut agreed that it was a very tough race. “The rain came down and made it so much harder and I really suffered out there. But I managed to hold onto second in the BIG5 and top five overall, so I’m really happy. I’m a BI5 rookie and I’ve learned a lot and I’d like to prepare for next year’s event even better.”
In the ladies BIG5 Challenge, Andrea Steyn beat Carla van Huyssteen to put them tied in first place. Van Huyssteen, who had been leading the challenge by a point, put up a great fight but struggled on the bike in the muddy conditions and with stomach cramps. “I kept up with Andrea in the run and I rode my heart out, but I wasn’t feeling great. But you have to take the good with the bad and every race as it comes. I would rather compete against good competition even if it means losing. I think it’s good to have a head to head battle – it makes it more exciting and it’s good for the sponsors and the spectators.”
Steyn said that the bike was tough. “I really struggled about 15 km into the bike, my chain kept slipping off. Carla is really technical on the bike and it was very muddy out there and not being the best mountain biker I struggled a bit and lost a bit of time. But I managed to have a really good second run and I started feeling better.”
Looking towards the final event on Saturday, Steyn acknowledged that she probably has the advantage. “You never know what is going to happen but running is my strongest discipline and I’m really looking forward to the 21. Whoever wins that will win the Big5.”
Today is a rest day for the athletes before the Momentum Cape Times Knysna Forest Marathon Half Marathon.
The BIG5 multi-sport challenge is a highlight on the annual Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival programme, which kicked off on Friday 3 July and ends 12 July. The athletes have already completed the Momentum Weekend Argus Knysna Cycle Tour presented by Rotary 80 km MTB, the Knysna Dragons Lagoon Mile, the 14 km The Salomon Featherbed Trail Run presented by GU and today’s Xterra.
For more information on the BIG5 Sport Challenge: