KZN ultra-distance runner, Prodigal Khumalo, and Cape Town’s Ryan Sandes celebrated South Africa’s first Ultra-trail World Tour event in style by racing to a sensational 1-2 at the Ultra-trail Cape Town 100k on Saturday ahead of a world class field.
Former Zimbabwean, Khumalo, held off a fast finishing Sandes by five minutes to successfully defend his title in record-breaking fashion, crossing the line at the Gardens Tech Rugby Club in Oranjezicht in 9 hrs 51 min 00 sec – almost 50 minutes inside Eric Ngubane’s 2014 record and five minutes ahead of Sandes.
Twenty-one year old Australian athlete, Lucy Bartholomew, raced to an impressive victory over Stellenbosch adventure racer, Robyn Owen, finishing 11th overall in 11 hr 21 min 49 sec to better Kerry-Anne Marshall’s record by 32 minutes.
Cape Town’s entry to the world tour proved a spectacular success, with athletes and organisers singing the praises of the Mother City. Over a thousand athletes from fifty countries completed challenging 35km, 65km and 100km circuits around and over Table Mountain.
But in the end it was the Khumalo Sandes show, and they dismissed the formidable foreign challenge in emphatic style to achieve an unprecedented top two for South Africa in an Ultra-trail World Tour event.
Pretenders to the throne, Comrades champion, Bongmusa Mthembu, New Zealand’s Scotty Hawker and Italian Daniel Jung, fell away in the second half, while one of the pre-race favourites, American Dylan Bowman, called a halt to his race after just 10km, victim of a stomach ailment.
That set up an absorbing contest between two of South Africa’s top ultra-distance athletes, one whose roots are firmly in mountain trails with the other having honed his running talents on tarmac. Ultimately it was Khumalo’s pace on the more runnable sections which proved decisive.
“That was tough, but I’m delighted to have won today,” Khumalo said. “It was so much more intense than last year. To win against a world-class field is great. I knew Ryan would be strong – he is a great trail athlete – and I heard he was closing the gap on me towards the finish. Luckily I got there first!
“Although I’ve raced a lot on the roads, I now consider myself more of a trail athlete, although I will be racing Comrades again next year. I do most of my training off-road and I would love to run other ultra-trail races overseas. Hopefully I will be able to secure sponsorship to do so after this win.”
Bartholomew was effusive in her praise for the race and delighted with her win. “It was an incredible race – you shouldn’t change anything! It was really tough though and I went through patches feeling completely exhausted and dizzy. Apart from the finish line, my favourite part of the race was the first section around Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. My torch light faded, but I was running in the light of the moon – it was beautiful!”
Khumalo went out hard from the start and held a minute lead over Sandes, Hawker and Mthembu climbing Kloof Corner, with Sandes making a charge on the climb up Platteklip and leading the close-knit group into Constantia Nek.
Khumalo used his speed to regain the lead, holding off his rivals into the checkpoint at the Llandudno life-saving club, but surrendered it again through a slow transition, with Mthembu and Hawker out first. The decisive move came as Khumalo overtook Hawker and Mthembu on Sandy Bay, opening a gap over Karbonkelberg to reach Hout Bay Harbour 6 minutes clear of Sandes, who had moved from 4th to 2nd.
Khumalo turned it on along the Hout Bay River, passing Constantia Nek 10 minutes up on Sandes. Despite the Capetonian’s heroics over the final leg from UCT, he was never going to catch Khumalo, who raced to an emphatic victory.
The women’s race exploded into life over Karbonkelberg, when Owen overtook runaway leader, Bartholomew on the descent to Hout Bay Harbour. “I was feeling good at that stage, and felt I had a chance,” explained Owen, “but I think I closed the gap too quickly and paid for it when my legs died running up to Constantia Nek”.
Bartholomew had regained her earlier 10 minute lead and the race was over as a contest, as the slim Melbourne-based athlete raced clear to clinch the gold medal.
French athlete Vincent Viet and Norwegian Kirsten Amundsgaard were the respective winners of the 65km race, with South Africans Raydon Balie and Annamart Laubscher taking line honours in the 35km race.