Monthly Archives: July 2014

Wildevy MTB Challenge

People rushed to the mining hub of Burgersfort this past weekend, not for platinum but for the annual Wildevy festival. This winter festival includes activities such as a 4×4 show, a flea–market and a mountain bike race to name but a few.

Burgersfort lies on the northern edge of Mpumulanga and enjoys a mild climate during the winter months. This made the event even more attractive for those (myself included) longing for a break from the cold winter temperatures back home on the Highveld.

It would be my first time competing at the event and I always look forward to discovering new races and new places. Race organisers Pieter and Driekie Heyns warmly hosted riders at their lovely guesthouse, Kusile, the evening before the race. This made for a very enjoyable dinner among family, friends and other participants.

The race started and finished just outside of Burgersfort at one of the local schools. The 70km circular route mainly weaved alongside the Watervalsrivier and through the surrounding orange plantations. The highlight of the course was the super fun single track sections – a lot of it running right next to the river itself. I was pleasantly surprised by the finely manicured trails as the Wildevy is the sole mountain bike event held in Burgersfort and the race is only in its 3rd year of existence.

The route was fairly flat and included a mere 690m of climbing. When it comes to terrain the word ‘flat’ might sound easy but it’s actually quite the opposite. It only means you’re going to pedal your heart out from start to finish without those precious moments of respite offered by the downhills.

The short rest period after Marathon World Championships proved to be the right decision
as I had fresh legs on race day. This helped me to take the win at the Wildevy ahead of local star Samantha Saanders and Santie van der Westhuizen in 3rd place. It’s always great to finish on the top step of the podium at any event and even more so if it was one you’ve been looking forward to.Wildevy

I’ve only heard good things about the event but it surpassed all my expectations.
The route was great fun, the event very well organised and the hospitality as warm as its climate. Come next winter, I’ll definitely be migrating to a milder climate again 🙂

 

National Cross-Country Championships, 19 July

The South African Cross-Country (XCO) Championships took place on Saturday at Thaba Trails MTB Park situated in the heart of Alberton, Gauteng.

Although cross-country racing is also a mountain biking discipline, it differs quite a lot from the marathon events which are my main focus.

A cross-country event entails a lap-racing format where riders set out to complete 4-6 laps which should take them around 90min in total. The courses are also a lot more technical, making bike handing skills a key ingredient to achieving success in this discipline. As a rule marathon racing is a lot less technical and you normally complete one big loop of 60 – 120km in distance making for a far longer event.

After the Marathon World Championships I took a small break to rest and rebuild for the second half of the season which is packed with racing. I resumed training the week prior to SA XC Champs so I knew I wasn’t 100% prepared but as race day grew closer and the excitement around the event started to build, I couldn’t help but get captivated by all the action and decided to go check out the course on the Friday prior to the race.

With the course of a XC race being very technical, you get two options to ride a very tricky section which are called the A and the B-line. The A-line is the shorter, more technical line whereas the B-line is slightly longer but less technical.

On my first practise lap I decided to ride all the B-lines so that I could build some confidence and see whether it was even possible for me to complete the race. If I couldn’t even ride the B-lines it would be pointless to compete. I finished my first lap with a smile as I could actually ride the entire course, even if it meant riding the B-line options here and there.

On my second and final training lap I decided to try out some of the A-lines and managed to ride 3 out of the 6 A-line options with the help of fellow mountain bikers who invited me to trail them down the A-lines. Following someone else’s wheel makes it slightly easier as you focus on replicating what they are doing without giving too much thought on how scary it actually isJ. Most of the time it’s a case of mind over matter but believe me some of the technical stuff is quite daunting.

Come Saturday morning I was on the start line for my first XC National Championships. My main goal was to learn from the experience, improve my mountain biking skills and have fun in the process.

The Elite Ladies field set out to complete 5 laps of the 4.5km long course. The Highveld winters are known to be dry and this made for a very dusty and loose course, increasing the already demanding challenges which lie in wait.

Rising star Mariske Strauss took the lead on the first lap and maintained it until the end to win herself an elite national cross country jersey ahead an impressive Cherie Vale and Candice Neethling in 3rd place.

I was very happy with how my race went as I achieved what I set out to achieve and I truly enjoyed every moment of racing. I smiled the entire way, learned a lot, improved where I wanted to improve and learned that there is always room for improvement.

I also want to thank my Merida support team of Brad and Derek Edwards who not only cheered louder than most but also got their hands dirty by providing mechanical assistance on lap 4 and 5 when I struggled with a deflating tyre. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have been able to finish the race. Last but not least thanks to Wendell Bowl and his team atSA XCO Champs Thaba trails for making it possible for us to race on a world class course. I’ll definitely be adding more Thaba Trails events to my calendar.

Final elite results:

1 Mariske Strauss
2 Cherie Vale
3 Candice Neethling
4 Yolande Speedy
5 Yolandi du Toit

 

2014 UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships

The most prestigious marathon MTB event on the international calendar visited African shores for the first time in its eleven year history. South Africa played host to the 2014 Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships which took place at Cascades in Pietermaritzburg on the 29th of June. 136 men and women from 31 nations and 6 continents took to the start, all in search of the coveted UCI rainbow striped world champion jersey.

The weekend’s action got underway with the Rainbow Challenge (age categories) on the Saturday followed by the Elite World Championships on Sunday. This made for a full and fun weekend of MTB racing.

Two weeks before the event was set to take place, Cycling South Africa announced the team which would represent our country at the World Championships. I was honoured to be part of the 6 rider national ladies team alongside Robyn de Groot, Candice Neethling, Jeannie Dreyer, Ashleigh Moffatt and Amy McDougall.

In the past I have participated in 4 World Championships but they were all road racing events so this would be my first time toeing the start of a MTB World Champs. For this reason I didn’t know what to expect, yet I was very excited to line up alongside the best in the World and was determined to make the best of the opportunity.

The event started and finished at Cascade MTB Park and in our race we were to cover a total distance of 74km which included 2159m of climbing.  During SA champs a fortnight ago, I got to see most of the Worlds course only missing out on a ‘new’ 24km loop laid out in the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve.

To sum up the course it basically consisted of 3 long and at times steep ascents followed directly by equally steep, technical descents. This also helped with navigation because if you weren’t going up or down you were definitely going the wrong way.

According to my short route description it might sound simple, but it was far from it. The climbs and downhills had tricky single track stretches to test your technical skills and to make sure your estimated maximum heart rate is correct.

For course designer Nic Floros, portaging is part of mountain biking and therefore he included a 450m portage section down into the Umgeni Valley. This would also be his ‘signature’ on the course, but it was my least favourite part of the route as carrying my bike down a steep rocky trail with wooden stairs to counter the incline, left my hamstrings on the edge of cramping. Luckily it was the same for all the competitors and it made for some good stories afterwards.

During my race I had good company in one of my best friends and my regular stage race partner Aurelie Halbwachs (Mauritius). We have a habit of motivating each other during a race and strangely enough it’s much more bearable to suffer in the company of a good friend rather than suffering alone.

With the event being my first World Championships on fat tyres, I didn’t aim for a specific placing as I didn’t want to set an unrealistic goal for myself. I simply wanted to learn as much as possible from the experience, which I did and placing 15th at the end was a bonus.

Hard to believe but the long anticipated World Championships taking place in our own country has come and gone. It was a great experience, some valuable lessons were learned and a very sore body gained from it. Well done to everyone who participated over the weekend, it was a very demanding (and super muddy for the Rainbow Challenge) course and just suffering through it to reach the finish line was a huge achievement.

Next up is a small break from competition (yeah :)) before building up for the second half of the racing season which will be upon us before we know it.

Until then, keep safe and warm.

World Champs