Llewellyn Groenewald and Lijan van Niekerk took the honours at the 18th Old Fisherman’s Trail Challenge (OFTC) run over 24km on the traditional course between Hout Bay and Fish Hoek.
One of the most popular races on the calendar, the “Fishers” sold out in less than 24 hours this year. The lucky two hundred and fifty runners started in batches of twenty to comply with COVID regulations and enjoyed a perfect Cape winter’s day following in the footsteps of the fishermen of yore, who used to trek from Hout Bay Harbour over the mountain to Kalk Bay in search of better fishing conditions.
Today (Saturday 5 June) the runners started at Hout Bay Harbour, ran along Hout Bay Beach and followed a trail from East Fort up the challenging Blackburn Ravine, down to Silvermine Dam, then across Ou Kaapse Weg and up to High Steenberg Peak, before dropping back down to Kalk Bay. A final sharp climb to the Trappieskop saddle preceded a descent into Clovelly before the race ended with a 500m gallop along Fish Hoek Beach to the finish.
Calm, cool and sunny conditions prevailed, presenting runners with stunning panoramic views, pollution-free air and dazzling displays of fynbos biodiversity in a perfect African celebration of “World Environment Day”.
In a near carbon-copy of last year’s race, which was won by Siviwe Nkombi, Robbie Rorich took second place by a whisker after a flat-out sprint to the finish. But for Groenwald, it proved a highlight of his young trail career, marking his first win in a major event after narrowly missing out on a podium finish at the Special Edition 25km two weeks back.
The bio-medical engineer, who manufactures heart valves and other cardiac devices on the UCT medical school campus, had to survive two heart-stopping moments before claiming this place on the top of the podium. First, his substantial 90 second lead over Rorich and Special Edition 50km champion, Kyle Bucklow, at the top of a short climb from Silvermine Dam vanished as Rorich flew down the mountain to Kalk Bay before taking the lead on the Trappieskop Saddle and opening a gap on his rival on the steep descent into Clovelly.
Groenewald’s track-speed came into play along the flat paths in the Silvermine River Estuary and he caught Rorich shortly before the beach crossing, delivering the perfect race climax – a high-speed head-to-head duel along the beach.
The second heart-stopping moment came as Rorich surged into the lead just 400m from the finish, looking every inch a winner. But Groenewald dug deep, using his track-speed to draw level then take the lead in the final 100m as the athletes swung off the beach and across onto the track to the finish line at the Fish Hoek Life Saving Club, where he crossed the line in 1 hr 53 min 06 sec.
“I’m delighted with the win today,” Groenewald said. “I think this course is the perfect equalizer for Robbie and me. He beat me easily on a much more challenging course at the Special Edition two weeks ago and I think I might beat him relatively easily on a flat course. But today was in-between and there was nothing in it at the end. It was a great race.
“I knew I had to build a lead early on, as I was sure Robbie would hit back on the long downhill into Kalk Bay. And that’s just what happened – I’m pleased I had just enough left to snatch the win.”
For Rorich it was another cigar case of ‘almost but not quite’ after missing out in close finishes last year and at the recent Special Edition. “It was amazingly similar to last year’s race (which was run from Fish Hoek to Hout Bay),” reflected Rorich. “Then it was Siviwe Nkombi, who I caught in the final quarter of the race, only to be overtaken on the Hout Bay Beach. This time it was Llewellyn.
“I gave it my all and ran as well as I could, but perhaps that extra something which can make the difference between winning and losing, was lacking today.”
Bucklow did well to hold onto third, about five minutes behind the leading pair, with winner of the Muizenberg Trail last month, Jarryd Dunn, fourth.
For Stellenbosch University education student, Van Niekerk, it was two wins out of two in the Muizenberg, Fisherman’s and Hout Bay Trail Challenge triple crown with just the Hout Bay race to come next month. And as was the case in last month’s Muizenberg Trail, when she beat Samantha Reilly into second place, Reilly again proved her closest rival, taking the runners-up berth ahead of veteran Marna van Deventer.
The top three stayed together for the first kilometres, before Van Niekerk opened a gap on the testing ‘slog’ up the steep ascent of Blackburn Ravine, cresting the summit with a lead she would never surrender, going on to win by ten minutes in 2:21:23. “I enjoyed having the biggest climb first when my legs were still fresh,” said Van Niekerk. “The second climb (to High Steenberg Peak) was the second biggest and the last climb the smallest. But the part I liked best was the long downhill stretch to Kalk Bay.”
Old Fisherman’s Trail Challenge 2021 Provisional Results
Men: 1. Llewellyn Groeneveld 1:53:06; 2. Robert Rorich 1:53:10; 3. Kyle Bucklow 1:57:39; 4 Jarryd Dunn 2:03:10; 5 Jonathan Black 2:07:06; 6 Timothy Chambers 2:11:48; 7 Matthew Kane 2:11:52; 8 Kelton Miller 2:13:43; 9 Mark Winter 2:13:44; 10 Ryan Ball 2:14:20
Veterans: 1 Will Battersby 2:22:24; 2 Nicholas Rupanga 2:33:13; 3 Darryl Cooke 2:33:42
Masters: 1 Brenton Ashby 2:41:05; 2 Robbie de Fleuriot 2:44:43; 3 Ahmed Mahomed 2:49:44
Grandmasters: 1 Scott McIvor 3:38:42; 2 Jeremy Kropman 3:47:12; 3 Ganief Galvaan 3:57:12
Women: 1. Lijan van Niekerk 2:21:23; 2. Samantha Reilly 2:33:55; 3. Marna van Deventer 2:36:39; 4 Alex Eales 2:29:18; 5 Caitlin Snethlage 2:42:25; 6 Stephanie von der Heyde 2:47:44; 7 Jacqui Ras 2:49:44; 8 Jess Meniere 2:49:48; 9 Julie Huckle 2:49:51; 10 Annabelle Hill 2:51:44
Veterans: 1 Marna van Deventer 2:36:39; 2 Laura Miller 3:06:24; 3 Disy Weldon 3:12:06
Masters: 1 Julie Huckle 2:49:51; 2 Charlotte Noble 3:01:43; 3 Suzette McIvor 3:06:34
Grandmasters: 1 Maxine Reilly 3:05:41; 2 Frances Whitehead 4:16:32
Story by Stephen Granger