Linda Zondi powered to his third win in five years in the 21km trail run on the opening day of the Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival at the Marriott Karkloof Country Club on Saturday.
The 2022 defending champion, who also took the title in 2019, was simply too strong for the chasers and kicked off the 2023 jamboree of trail events with a solid 50-second victory over Nomore Mandivengerei, with Sphesihle Zimu claiming third just under a minute further back.
In cool, but dry conditions, Zondi was full of praise for the route, which he said allowed him to concentrate on going fast.
“The route was very good and the marking was 100%,” said the race winner just after crossing the line. “I really enjoyed the marking because it was perfect today. That was why I was able to go so fast – when the marking is good you don’t panic and are able to just go fast.
“I got away from the other guys at about seven kays in. Up until that point there was a group of about five of us and I thought it was going to be a tough race because they are all good runners.”
Zondi has his focus on two weeks time when he will be aiming for a sub-six hour Comrades on June 11.
“Today was good training for other races, especially the Comrades,” he added. “I have run a 6:09 for Comrades, but I am hoping to go under 5:45 this year.”
In the women’s race, Carla van Huyssteen used her trail running experience to claim a convincing two-minute victory over Nokukhanya “Happiness” Memela with Mireia Bruni a distant third.
The former South African Triathlon Champion and South African Cross Champion was comfortable on the trails and used that, and her power on the hills, to secure the win.
“It was really good and so nice to have a strong girl to run with,” said the daughter of former Springbok rugby star Gerrie Germishuys.
“At the moment Happiness is trying hard to get a good road and marathon time, so I knew she was going to go hard in the beginning. I normally go way too hard at the start and so this time I thought:”Let me just stick with her and be a bit more tactical in my running”.
“I managed to just stay with her until I felt strong. We were together for the first ten kays until the loooong climb. I was a little stronger on the climbs and knew that was my strong point, so I managed to get away there.
“The technical stuff is my forté so that was where I knew I had an advantage.”
Sunday sees the mountain bikers take centre stage with the 60km event pulling together two of KZN’s top young guns in what could be a fascinating glimpse into the future of KZN MTB racing.
Daniel van der Watt has been in dominant form in KZN this season, but Michael Foster has been campaigning on a national level and the two could have a fierce struggle through the beautiful Karkloof Forests.
The women’s race will be equally as interesting with a clash of styles.
All rounder Sarah Hill must be the favourite, but roadie Joanna van de Winkel is testing the MTB waters, and while she may struggle on the technical parts of the route, she will be strong on the gravel road sections.
Add in two of the dominant MTB riders for the past two seasons on the local KZN scene, Rouxda Grobler and Hayley Smith, and a four-way battle could make for one of the best local women’s races in a long time.
Karkloof Classic Results 21 km Trail Run
1 Linda Zondi 1:30:23
2 Nomore Mandivengerei 1:31:13
3 Sphesihle Zimu 1:32:12
4 Bongani Hlongwane 1:32:24
5 Bongani Zuma 1:36:45
1 Carla van Huyssteen 1:51:14
2 Nokukhanya Memela 1:53:16
3 Mireia Bruni 2:03:04
Karkloof Classic Results 9 km Trail Run
1 Phaka Zondi 37:05
2 Thulani Skakhane 37:07
3 Mthokozisi Xulu 37:21
1 Lisa McAllister 48:44
2 Meggan Mackenzie 52:31
3 Anje van der Merwe 53:25
More info can be found at https://www.karkloofclub.co.za/events/sappi-karkloof-classic-trail-festival-2023/
Sappi Karkloof Classic Trail Festival 2023
SUNDAY 28th MAY
07h30 – 60km MTB
08h15 – 40km MTB
08h45 – 9km Trail Fun Run
08h50 – 20km MTB
09h15 – 10km MTB