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JMC 23 race review

The 12th edition of the highly anticipated Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge took place on Sat May 20, 2023, showcasing some of the most breathtaking alpine-like mountain scenery of the Western Cape, with its towering grey quartzite cliffs and spires reaching up into the clouds.

As usual this event provided a true test of strength and endurance. Runners could choose from three challenging race distances: the 38km Classic, the 21.5km Lite, and the 12.5km Aspire.

The 38km Classic (known for its extreme toughness) participants faced a grueling 1,900+m of vertical height gain. The race reached its highest point at 1,250m above sea level, deep within the Jonkershoek Mountain Nature Reserve, a World Heritage site managed by Cape Nature. The trail itself was a wilderness mountain route, featuring highly technical rocky sections. A notable section of the course was the descent from the 24km mark, where runners had to navigate a steep 900m drop in just over 2km.

The 21.5km Lite distance showcased the best of the MTO Jonkershoek MTB trails. The route included a remarkable descent down the renowned 'Never Ending Story' trail. The Lite still presented a significant challenge, with a vertical height gain of over 600m, mainly concentrated within the first 6km.

The 12.5km Aspire race captures the essence of the Jonkershoek Valley, providing runners with a taste of its wild mountain beauty and rugged terrain without the mammoth vertical height gain found in the two longer distances.

Over 800 runners gathered to take on these impressive challenges, each aiming to conquer the mountain trails by taming their endurance minds to emerge victorious. Let's dive into the intense battles that unfolded at the front of the pack in all three distances, based on the results from FinishTime:

Lourens controls the 38km

At the 9km mark, Leo Sorensen owned a slender 4 second lead over Piet Lourens, with Stephan Mare a further 3 seconds back in 3rd. Cornel Smuts and Nichol Jordaan made up the top five. Sorensen's clock-in time was 53:43. A decent start given the 600m, or so, of climb to this point.

From 9km to the next timing point at 16km however, Lourens made his move and clocked in at 1:39:32, putting 3 minutes and 6 seconds of daylight between him and Sorensen. Mare was hot on Sorensen's heels, just 5 seconds back. Smuts was lying 4th at this stage, 17 seconds behind Mare.

24km in, at the top of Swartboskloof, Lourens was proving his mountain-metal having extended his lead to over 5 minutes. The big mover on this segment was Cornel Smuts though, who had overtaken Stephan Mare and moved to within 4 seconds of second placed Sorensen. Mare was clearly taking strain, dropping 6 minutes on the leading pack.

The descent down Swartboskloof and the Sossyskloof traverse made its mark, and anyone who had left something in the legs for this mammoth segment was going to make some big moves up the ranks. And so it was at the next split time at 33km, Piet Lourens had further extended his now unassailable lead to over six minutes. The battle for second was real, with only 6 seconds between Sorensen and Smuts. The big mover here was UTCT's own Stuart McConnacchie, who cruised from 6th to 4th in this segment, overtaking Mare and Travis Green.

And so at the line, Piet Lourens was rewarded for a dominant display in all segments, showing no weaknesses. Lourens broke the tape in 3:52:21 and secured a 5 minute winning margin. Leo Sorensen held on to a 10 second margin to take second from Cornel Smuts.

Minette Naude owns the ladies 38km Championship

To the 9km mark three names stood out. Virone Grobler led the charge in 59:54, with Minette Naude 10 seconds behind and Kate Mapham a further minute back.

From the 9km to 16km mark at Bergriviernek, Minette Naude put the hammer down, overtaking Grobler and establishing a 2 and a half minute lead. Similarly, Grobler extended her lead over Mapham to 3 minutes.

From this point until the finish, Minette extended her time at every timing point, clocking in at the finish in 4:37:52 - taking the trophy and completing a top-20 finish, clear ahead of second placed Grobler by just shy of 10 minutes. Similarly, Grobler extended to hold a seven minute gap on Mapham.

Morris, Buckley and Cronje go to battle in the 21.5km Lite

Just two seconds separated the top two in the 21.5km Lite race. Oli Morris owned the first 9km by a whisker. Just 6 seconds behind was Kyle Bucklow, biding his time to the apex of the route. A minute and five seconds back, Charl Cronje was chasing hard, but probably realising that with mostly downhill to come, it was going to be a tough ask reeling the two leaders in.

Despite throwing everything at Morris in the remaining 11.5km, Bucklow could only reel in 4 of the six seconds to the line, proving that Morris is the whole package - owning both the ups and the downs. Cronje took third place, a minute and sixteen seconds back. Morriss' winning time was 1:32:37. Llewellyn Groeneveld's record remains intact at 1:27:56.

van Niekerk dominates the 21.5km ladies race

Fresh from her second place in the Noordhoek Superbowl, Marguerite van Niekerk led from start to finish in the ladies 21.5km race, breaking the tape in 1:57:36 and securing a top 20 finish. Second place was Ute Lehmann in 1:58:59, and 3rd Joanne Golding in 2:01:28.

van den Heever and Nel dominate the 12.5km

Christiaan van den Heever smashed the 12.5km in 48:56, clear ahead by over three minutes. Similarly, Lanah Nel totally nailed the ladies race, winning in 59:20 and safely ahead by over 6 minutes!

Special mention needs to be made for Junior athlete Jenna-Timae du Preez, who ran a superb 1:26:55, finishing 101st!

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