Kowalczyk powers to Ultra win as favourites fall by the wayside
TWO NEW ultra-trail stars were born in Cape Town yesterday as German marathoner Janosch Kowalczyk and Zimbabwean Emily Hawgood raced to impressive victories at UItra-trail Cape Town 100km.
The challenging course showed its teeth as many of the favoured athletes were forced to surrender before the finish, leaving Europe-based athletes to bag the podium places in the men’s race with Southern African runners taking the top two places in the women’s competition.
Last year’s top two, Prodigal Kumalo and Ryan Sandes, both quit before half way, as did pre-race favourite Canadian Rob Krar, leaving Kowalczyk, Italian Andreas Reiterer and Swedes Olav Olsson and Johan Lantz to fight it out.
The biggest cheers came as Hawgood broke the tape to claim a remarkable victory and when Cape Town’s own Kerry-Ann Marshall signaled a triumphant return to world-class competition, racing home in second just over three minutes in arrears and four minutes ahead of early leader and race favourite, Mimmi Kotka of Sweden.
Hot, humid conditions in the second half, a slightly longer course and too fast a pace from the start were reasons cited for the carnage and slower times, with Kowalczyk’s 10 hrs 22 min 0 sec half an hour off Kumalo’s record last year and Hawgood’s 11:49:25 over 20 minutes outside Australian Lucy Bartholomew’s 2017 mark.
“This is unbelievable – it’s definitely the best race of my life,” exclaimed a delighted Kowalczyk. “I never thought I could win. I had been ill and only arrived in Cape Town on Thursday. In my wildest dreams a top ten position was all I could have hoped for.”
“Just amazing, incredible… definitely the toughest and best race of my career,” said 24-year old Hawgood. “I had an intense stretch after Hout Bay when I caught Mimmi. She just kept holding on and refusing to surrender. I had to dig deep to break her after the Alphen Trail station (75km). I just hoped that I was not breaking myself in the process!”
2015 winner, Christiaan Greyling, was first South African home in fourth after a nightmare middle section which all but led to his withdrawal. “I was feeling absolutely terrible and had decided to stop at Hout Bay,” admitted Greyling. “But Landie (his wife) would not let me quit.”
Leading Italian mountain runner, Reiterer, set the pace up Platteklip Gorge and was 12 minutes up on a group of athletes at the top of Table Mountain. Sandes broke from the pack, running strongly on the descent to Constantia Nek and along the contour to Llandudno and was just 5 minutes in arrears at the 45km mark along the beach run.
An inexplicable dizzy spell near the top of Suther Peak brought Sandes to a halt and the local ultra star was unable to continue, leaving Kowalczyk to race past him in pursuit of Reiterer.
The Italian still held a 7 minute lead at Hout Bay Harbour at 69km, but was struggling to maintain his mojo up the long climb along Disa River to Constantia Nek, with the German taking the lead shortly after the athletes reached the summit, on the descent to the Constantia greenbelts.
World 100km road silver-medalist, Olsson, came from behind to move into second after Cecilia Forest and at one stage threatened to challenge Kowalczyk’s supremacy, but a difficult final stage left him almost 20 minutes in arrears as he finished in 10:41:49, 5 minutes clear of compatriot Lantz.
Cape Town’s Bernard Rukadza was in a class of his own in winning the 65km in 7:03:18 ahead of German Moritz Auf der Heide, with French athlete Camille Bruyas taking honours in the women’s competition, while Timothy Chambers and Hayley Preen took the 35km titles.