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Durban-based Elmore Sibanda's gutsy front running tactics set up Hendrick Ramaala's victory in the opening leg of the 2009 Nedbank Matha Series in Tshwane on Saturday.
The 23-year-old Zimbabwean initiated the breakaway as the massive lead bunch went through 6km at the Union Buildings in 18min:7sec, and then proceeded to be the driving force for the group that was whittled down to four by 15km.
Ramaala kept a watchful eye on Sibanda, rarely leaving his shoulder. Ramaala opened the taps to cross the line in 1hr:4min:11sec, taking 19 seconds off Shadrack Hoff's 2007 time for the Tshwane event and improving his own 2008 time by 30 seconds.
Even from being 30m adrift in third spot, Sibanda was hungry for a major share of the R200 000 prize money, unleashing a final sprint that just failed to reclaim second place from Wirimai Juwawo in the final run to the line.
The neck-and-neck finish was awarded to Juwawo in 1hr:4min:23sec, one second ahead of Sibanda.
Mamoroalo Tjoka, Sharon Tavengwa, Samukeliso Moyo and Tabitha Tsatsa remained in tight competition over the first half of the women's race with the lead swapping a few times before the diminutive Tjoka from Lesotho made her break near the 12km mark as the course climbed out of the Sunnyside suburb.
While Tjoka looked to dominate the race, Tavengwa was forced to back off her pace, dropping over 20m adrift before clawing back the lead on the downhill at 18km.
Going into the final climb it was Tjoka's turn to face a bad patch and Tavengwa, who is based at the Lorna Kiplogat High Altitude Camp, secured her win in 1hr:15min:54sec almost a minute faster than Tjoka's 2008 winning time.
Moyo completed the distance in 1:17:34 to cross the line in third position with Rene Kalmer the first South African finisher taking fifth place behind Thabita Tsatsa in 1:20:10 - 19 seconds faster than last year.
Two thousand athletes lined up for the half-marathon.
The next event in the Nedbank Series is the Durban City marathon and SA Championships, which doubles as one of the few IAAF World Championship qualifiers, on February 8. - Sapa