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 at 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