New Comrades Marathon champion Edward Mothibi never imagined winning the 94th edition of the race on Sunday, saying his aim was to finish in the top 10.

The 34-year-old produced a strong finish to oust defending champion Bongmusa Mthembu and clinch a maiden title in Pietermaritzburg.

The Mahikeng mine worker won the up-run in a time of five hours, 31 minutes and 33 seconds, brilliantly following up his fourth-place on debut last year with the top prize in 2019. He says he never expected it.

Mothibi and Mthembu were together almost the entire race. But they began to isolate themselves from the main pack from around Camperdown, which was two-thirds into the 86,83 kilometre race.

They continued to progress together until they reached the back end of the famous Polly Shorts climb, where the reigning champ first pulled away and was then hauled back by his pretender.

Mothibi then sensed that he was stronger, putting the hammed down in the final eight kilometres to eventually finish 25 seconds ahead of Mthembu.

For Mthembu, finishing second represented a degree of disappointment as he sought to become the first South African to win three successive title since Bruce Fordyce in the late 1980s.

Having comfortably won the previous two titles, Mthembu looked like he would complete his hat-trick, especially at that gruelling final climb.

But he admitted that Mothibi’s bravery surprised him, ultimately leading to him losing ground and with it the title on a day he described was not his.

The top two finished over seven minutes ahead of third-placed man Nao Kazami, a Japanese athlete who was debuting in the Comrades.

Mothibi’s coach Nick Bester, meanwhile, praised his athlete for the victory, saying it came after a lot of hard work when he took time off from his job to spend time with former champion David Gatebe in Lesotho.

Bester says victory was just reward for his sacrifice, which also included six weeks away from his wife and three young children. – Report by Thahir Asmal