UNDERBERG, 25 March – Ultra-distance trail running star Ryan Sandes underscored his globally-respected pedigree on Saturday by winning the Ultra Trail® Drakensberg UTD160 hundred miler, covering the new course at a pace never before seen at the event.
It was the 39-year-old Capetonian’s first hundred miler run in his home country and he didn’t disappoint his fans as he ran away alone in brutally tough conditions in the Southern Drakensberg.
From the start at the top of Sani Pass at 10am on Friday morning the runners ran into thick mist and cold weather in Lesotho as they battled through the loop to the top of Thabana Ntlenyana, the highest peak in Southern Africa.
Sandes took the lead early on with Kennedy Sekhuthe and Andrew Erasmus in hot pursuit, but by early afternoon both of the Erasmus brothers were forced to withdraw, Andrew falling and injuring his hip and Steven unable to shake of the effects of his bout of Covid-19 three months ago.
Unique to the race the runners were escorted through the Lesotho highlands by locals on horseback to ensure they stayed safely on the trails in the thick mist.
While Sandes powered away lone, taking care not to make a mistake on the misty 19km descent to Khanti Ridge, Grobler Basson moved closer to Sekhute with 2018 winner Jock Green, who was battling with the sub-zero night temperatures and eventually withdrew at the Sani Waterfall.
Sandes opted not to take his pacing runner with him as he powered away well clear at the front, and the Red Bull/Salomon star reached the finish at the Premier Hotel Sani Pass just after 9am to post a race time of 22:30:38 for the 164 kilometre route.
Running his first hundred miller in his home country, Sandes was emotional, and told supporters along the route that the entire experience had been special.
“There are not many races you get to where you get to cruise with locals on horseback,” he said. “It has been an epic day.”
“I am super happy with the way things went. The overall experience of the Ultra Trail® Drakensberg has been phenomenal.
“Like any hundred miler you go through ups and down, and for me it was the time just before sunrise. I had a low patch, feeling tired and the temperature got quite cold.
“There was a lot of low-lying cloud and mist and it was really hard to see because your headlamp light would go straight into the mist,” he added.
Grobler Basson had the legs to drive past the tiring but impressive Sekhuhe to claim second, with Sekhuthe happy to make the podium in third.
In the women’s race Jo Keppler and Annalise Scholtz set the early pace in the icy and misty conditions, but the grit and class of former SAS soldier Amri Williamson came to the fore as she moved steadily through the field to race into the top five overall. Keppler wrapped up second in the women’s race, in a solid ninth place overall.
UTD100 was led to the turn at the top of Sani Pass by Rory Scheffer from Christiaan Greyling and Admire Muzopambwa and local Phillip Shezi, with Comrades winner Ann Ashworth leading the women’s race.
Then Greyling and Muzopambwa took charge of the middle section of the 100km race, as Sheffer fell back five minutes off the pace at the Cobham Road checkpoint. But the tables were turned in the return sector as Sheffer used his accumulated skills and form to power back to the front to win by ten minutes from Greyling.
Ashworth ran with her husband Dave and made a superb transition to ultra-trail running from her marathon road base, as she finished seventh overall in UTD100.
Nkosikhona Mhlakwana took the honours in GCU62, four minutes ahead of Daniel Claassen, while Comrades ace Prodigal Khumalo won SDR32 with Bianca Tarboton excelling in third overall.
Andrea Bellingan was full value for his win in DRJ21, with Julia Bickel in sixth taking the women’s title.
Picture: Marzelle van der Merwe/Gameplan Media