Matt Beers and Sarah Hill won the 2023 Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, in very different ways on Saturday, 21 January. The Toyota Specialized rider beat PYGA Euro Steel’s Alex Miller in a sprint. While Hill broke away from Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius on the climb towards the Queen of the Mountain hotspot and rode the rest of the race solo.

On a hot day – with a rising south, south westerly head wind – the 121 kilometre ultra-marathon departed from Chandelier Game Lodge for Pine Creek Resort, in Great Brak River. The mercury touched 40 degrees Celsius at times, but it remained mercifully cooler than the scorching hot 2022 edition. This fact undoubtedly helped the riders and offset the state of the roads.

“The gravel roads are probably in the worst condition I’ve seen them in,” Tristan Nortje, of Toyota Specialized had warned before the race. Erosion, from summer storms, made the fabled Attakwaskloof tougher too. “The kloof was very, very rough,” Nortje added. “There were ditches which were nearly as deep as a bicycle is tall. You had to be very careful.”

Alex Miller (left) and Tristan Nortje (right) sprinted for the King of the Mountain prize atop the Attakwaskloof, with the Namibian champion emerging victorious. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Nortje’s care began with making sure he was always at or near the front of the group in the opening kilometres through the Klein Karoo. This ensured that he and, his Toyota Specialized teammate, Beers were in the elite selection when it formed. They were joined by Imbuko {type}DEV’s Marco Joubert, Pieter du Toit and Wessel Botha; PYGA Euro Steel Miller and Michael Foster; Insect Science’s Arno du Toit, Keagan Bontekoning and CP van Wyk, as well as Jan Withaar, Gert Hynes and Christiaan Janse van Rensburg.

The big-name early casualty was Phil Buys. On the first climb of the race his freehub broke, leaving his cranks spinning ineffectually. This put the PYGA Euro Steel team leader out of the race.

The 121 kilometre long race started at the Chandelier Game Lodge, before traversing the Klein Karoo and Attakwaskloof on the way to Pine Creek Resort, in Great Brak River. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Barring Buys all the favourites were still in contention passing Water Point 2, at Sonop, after 50 kilometres. On the climb to the King of the Mountain hotspot, at the summit of the Attakwaskloof, Nortje and Miller distanced their rivals and split the group. Miller pipped Nortje to the King of the Mountain prize but the pair did not attempt to drive home their advantage.

“After the KOM Matt [Beers] and Arno [du Toit] bridged back across to us,” Nortje explained. “But then Arno crashed.” The Insect Science rider’s misfortune left the two Toyota Specialized riders with the lone PYGA Euro Steel man.

“Having a numerical advantage didn’t really work in our favour though,” Beers pointed out. “Tristan and I had to do the majority of the riding, which allowed Alex to sit on for a lot of the second half of the course. Once Tristan dropped, Alex [Miller] tried to attack a few times. And I tried to attack him a few times. But nothing came off for either of us.”

Gert Heyns, of Valley Electrical Titan Racing, was among the elite selection which raced the first 50 kilometres of the event together. Photo by Oakpics.com.

“Alex led into the final descent,” Beers continued. “I was happy to follow his wheel and wait for an opportunity because I know the run, it is really tricky. He overcooked a corner and I took the inside line. Once I passed the last sharp left hander, I knew I pretty much had it wrapped up.”

Beers put in a powerful sprint for the line nonetheless, with Miller breathing down his neck. Better positioning and a fast paced drive to the line saw the South African beat the Namibian with half a bike length’s daylight between them. Beers’ winning time was 5 hours and 29 seconds. Miller was awarded the same time, while Nortje finished 2 minutes and 1 second down in third. Withaar, of 24/7 Security, was fourth ahead of Insect Science’s Du Toit.

Mzie Pilime (left), Tlhoriso Moagi (centre) and Sekhonyana Molapo (right) posing with the sign for the Attakwaskloof Nature Reserve. Photo by Oakpics.com.

In the women’s race an early mechanical for the reigning champion Yolande de Villiers put her out of the running for a fifth title. This opened up the opportunity for Hill and Harmzen-Pretorius. “When we passed Yolande on the first climb, I told Elrika [Harmzen-Pretorius] we need to get out of sight. She never came back and we were able to ride our own pace for the first 50 kilometres then. This I think helped me towards the end.”

Sarah Hill won her maiden Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, title on Saturday, 21 January 2023. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Hill and Harmzen-Pretorius passed through the Sonop water point together before the eventual winner distanced her stage race teammate to claim the Queen of the Mountain prize. From the summit Hill never looked back. “It was lonely at times and tough, especially into the headwind, but I’ve worked on my time trialling a lot with my new coach, Barry Austin, in the pre-season. That really helped today!”

“Only after about 80 kilometres did I realise that I could win a Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen,” Hill smiled. “This is a hugely significant race. Not just locally but internationally too. Winning it is massive for me!”

Sarah Hill and Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius rode together for the first 50 kilometres before Hill distanced her 2023 stage race partner to climb to the Queen of the Mountain prize and race away to victory. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Hill’s winning time was 6 hours, 33 minutes and 29 seconds. Harmzen-Pretorius was 7 minutes and 49 seconds down on the race winner, with Catherine Colyn in third. Just over 90 seconds separated Janice Venter, in fourth, from Sarita Louw, in fifth, after 7 hours and 20 minutes of racing.

To recap on the Hell of the South follow @attakwas on Twitter, videos and photo galleries from the seventeenth edition will be posted to the @attakwasmtb Instagram and Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, Facebook pages. Entries to the 2024 edition open on the 28th of February.

2023 Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen

Elite Men:

  1. Matt Beers, Toyota Specialized (5:00:29)
  2. Alex Miller, PYGA Euro Steel (5:00:29 | st)
  3. Tristan Nortje, Toyota Specialized (5:02:30 | +2:01)
  4. Jan Withaar, 24/7 Security (5:05:35 | +5:06)
  5. Arno du Toit, Insect Science (5:05:44 | +5:15)

Elite women:

  1. Sarah Hill (6:33:29)
  2. Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius (6:41:18 | +7:49)
  3. Catherine Colyn (7:07:36 | +33:07)
  4. Janice Venter (7:20:14 | +46:45)
  5. Sarita Louw (7:21:48 | +48:19)

For the full results from the 2023 Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, visit www.atta.co.za.