Written by: Kyle Gilham
Images by: Anthony Grote
Shongweni – Idyllic weather, a spectacular setting, pristine views and a magical festive season atmosphere complimented the red-hot action that the record field enjoyed out on the trails as the 2016 STIHL Sharks Trail Adventure on Sunday, 4 December at Summerveld Estate in Shongweni made for a memorable day for all in attendance.
Up front, Andrew Hill and Debrah Thomas together with Nomore Mandivengerei and Zoe Papadakis claimed the men’s and women’s titles in the event’s feature races, the 40km mountain bike race and 18km trail run, respectively while further back in the field it was smiles aplenty.
Having won the event’s first three MTB titles from 2012-2014, TIB Insurance’s Hill of Hillcrest overcame the off-season challenges to make clinch his fourth crown in five years in his own back yard.
“Today was one of those days where everything was just perfect!” enthused Hill afterwards. “I think going from base training to high intensity race mode meant the body experienced a bit of shock but otherwise it was just such a wonderful ride and a great event! Conditions were just perfect regardless of whether you were cycling or running.”
Hill charged home ahead of Computershare Change a Life Academy’s ecstatic Mboneni Ngcobo while fittingly former Sharks rugby player, Jeremy Thomson (Thule/PYGA Industries) raced home to finish on the bottom step of the podium.
The women’s race – void of many of the province’s top elite racers – saw some of KZN’s hardy annuals enjoy their share of the limelight as Debrah Thomas finished nearly five minutes ahead of Linda Maphanga and Linda Potts.
In the 20km MTB clash, emerging talents Nkululeko Pewa raced home ahead of Mntomuhle Mgeyane and Nicholas de Bruin in the men’s contest while young stars Sarah Ryan, Hannah Elliott and Riley Smith made it a one-two-three for ROAG Racing.
The day’s proceedings got underway in a cloud of trail running action as the 18km and 9km competitors took to the Shongweni region’s spectacular trails and soaked up the magnificent views of the surrounding valleys and mountains.
In the men’s encounter, Old Mutual running team member Nomore Mandivengerei of Zimbabwe made a late charge to edge out Maxed Elite athlete, Kwenza Ngubane while Jonathan Edwards finished third. Pietermaritzburg based Mandivengerei started slowly but worked his way to the front of the field by the halfway stage and then put in a late charge with just 500m to go to clinch the honours, his second victory of the weekend.
“Yesterday I ran the KZN Trail Running 22km race at Hilton College where I came first and now today I came first as well, so I’m very happy!” said Mandivengerei who used the weekend’s clashes to prepare for his upcoming trip to the Western Cape for the 65km event of the 2016 Ultra-Trail Cape Town.
“Last year I was leading this race when myself and two others took a wrong turn, so this year I made sure I ran with my eyes wide open and followed all the markers very carefully,” he laughed.
“This race is not too technical and it’s quite fast but we’re also able to enjoy the nice views while we’re running so I really like this race.”
The women’s 18km contest was a richly competitive one that saw former STIHL Sharks Trail Adventure winners and several podium finishers of recent KZN events all looking to make the title their own. In the end though it was Papadakis who showed a clean pair of heels to her fellow title hopefuls, charging home to make amends for her disappointment at the same event last year.
“Last year we arrived late for the start and so I tried my hardest but only managed to finish fourth, so there was a lot of unfinished business for me coming into this year’s race,” chuckled Papadakis.
“I’m not the fastest runner and the hills here are a bit tough but I went well today and it was great to get the win,” she added as she now looks to start her preparations for next year’s SkyRun.
Madida is a familiar surname to the STIHL Sharks Trail Adventure with Xoli Madida having won the women’s 18km trail run title in 2013 and 2014 and finished second last year.
This time around it was Madida’s fellow Newcastle based sister, Hlobisile, who claimed the runner’s up spoils, edging out event newcomers Robyn Mare and Kirsty Allen while Xoli had to settle for fifth place.
“Yoh, (Zoe) was so strong today; she ran very well!” explained Hlobisile Madida. “I really enjoyed this race though and I’m happy with second place!”
The day’s busy programme also included a 10km and 2km Kiddies Ride while local artist Cheryl Engel’s acoustic melodies had spectators and race finishers foot-tapping and head-bopping throughout the morning and the Cell C Sharks’ squad manned the water tables, handed out finishers’ medals and posed for photographs with adoring fans.