By Larry Lombaard

Mluleki Nobanda, a police sergeant from the rural areas of the Eastern Cape, stunned a quality field to capture the Old Mutual/Nike Two Oceans 56km ultra marathon title in Cape Town on Saturday.

Nobanda, racing his first race beyond the standard marathon (42,2km), attacked a large bunch in thick mist that blanketed the Peninsula for a 3hrs 09min 21sec win that earned him a prize of R150 000.

He beat Sita Kaserai (3:10:58) and Brian Zondi (3:11:58) after surging ahead of a large bunch with 15km to the finish.

The women's race was also won by a novice with Hungary's Simone Staicu proving to be in a class of her own with her 3:37:32 victory against defending champion Natalia Volgina of Russia who ran 3:40:54.

Farwa Mentoor of Harmony Gold was the first South African at third in 3:43:34.

Nobanda was grinning from ear to ear after his win. "I'm going to use that money to replace my old bakkie with a nice BMW," laughed an ecstatic Nobanda.

Nobanda's time was the fastest for the course over Ou Kaapseweg which has substituted the route over Chapman's Peak which should be repaired from rock falls by next year's race.

Nobanda has a personal best standard marathon (42,2km) of 2hrs 12min 13sec, when he finished third at the Rheims Marathon in France in 1999.

"The Ou Kaapseweg climb did not bother me much," said Nobanda who trains an extraordinary short distance of 30 kilometres a week. "I train in the mountains of the Transkei near Port St Johns, so this course was easy."

He also won the Soweto Marathon in 2001 in 2:19:17.

"I'm very happy because this was my first ultra marathon," said the father of three.

Kasirai, winner of the Loskop Dam 56km last year said: "I took strain on the downhills."

"Today I had nice shoes, better than the old shoes I ran in when I won the Loskop Marathon last year.

"When Mluleki pulled away, he was too strong over the Ou Kaapseweg climb. But maybe I went too hard up the climb, so I didn't have the speed over the last 15km to challenge him," said the 24-year-old Zimbabwean from Bulawayo.

Zondi, 28, from KZN is now a full-time runner for Liberty RC in Soweto. "My race was okay," he said. "I planned to win this race after finishing seventh last year. But I think my training at a camp in Mpumalanga finished too late last week. I'm just glad to have held out for third."

"I want to buy a house with my R75 000 winnings."

Staicu, studying for her masters degree in sports science at Budapest, said that she ran the first half of the race with Volgina. "I was scared of the distance," said Staicu who has a 2:29:00 personal best standard marathon with the world championships in Paris as well as the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens in her sights.

"I didn't know my pace. When I run the marathon it is at 3min 32sec per km. This was 3:50 per kay and fortunately the hill climb was easy for me. Maybe it's because I am strong from racing and training over cross country in the forests outside Budapest."

"I'll go for the world championships in Paris this year. Maybe I'll also go for the Berlin Marathon course record of 2:28:50,

"But I enjoyed this race. I'll come back next year."

Volgina was unhappy with her 3:40:54 for second. "Simone ran very well. I'm not surprised, despite the fact that she is a novice. My race went badly - I was disappointed."

Mentoor held pace with Staicu and Volgina over the mountain, but lost contact on the downhill. I felt strong over the top. I came back on Volgina over the flats with 15km to go, but she got away again." - Sapa