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.