On Saturday, some of the country’s and world’s best riders descended on Stellenbosch in the depths of winter, to battle it out for the title of SA Cross Country Champion. The course, designed especially for the event which will remain as a permanent feature in the Coetzenberg mountains, offered a battle ground of an international standard for the riders to contend the title on, and yours truly was in the thick of it.
I saw the complete track for the first time on the Wednesday leading into the event, and after not having ridden an international level cross country track, I had to grow some big balls to tackle the A- lines that were laid out for us! After a few laps I came into my own though, and luckily had my lines dialled by the end of my ride, as we all know that Friday’s monumental rain storm would have made practising the track again a useless exercise.
The weather gods smiled on us, and after some rather horrific weather on the Friday, the sun was out shining, which brought the spectators in their 1000’s, and hope to the riders. By the time the 14:30 start time for the elite race rolled around, the track was in a perfect condition for racing, dry with a slight damp in the trail, giving the track some incredible grip! The start line showcased a star studded field, as this year South Africans have proved themselves beautifully on the international scene in a show of force as some of the top riders in the world. James Reid, Rourke Croeser, Travis Walker, Matthys Beukes, Alan Hatherly, Brendon Davids and Philip Buys were all there to fight for the SA Elite title.
Now I was under no illusion that I was in any shape to contend for the title, I was there to have fun and do what I do best; ride my bike. As the race began I found myself getting lost on a perfectly marked course. Lost deep in the pain cave that is! Turns out my body isn’t used to the intensity of XC racing any more, and as I learned my lesson and backed off a bit, my vision un-blurred and I was able to see properly and focus on what I was doing, having fun!
The course designers had done a truly excellent job, and the track was a blast to ride as you flowed through the trails, tackled the technical A-lines with spectators screaming for you while climbing up, down and around the venue with friends, family and fans shouting your name in support as I got further and further into the race.
Despite the pain, the race whizzed by. This is a true testament to the fun I was having out there on my Scalpel, and I finished on the muddy field after 6 laps in 11th place. The race up front had unfolded in a spectacular fashion with James Reid taking a deserved win over 19 year old Alan Hatherly, who has been somewhat of a revelation to the South African XCO scene this year. Travis Walker rode out of his socks to finish up in 3rd place, with Rourke Croeser and Philip Buys rounding off the podium.
According to James; Rourke, Alan and Travis raced aggressively at the start and distanced themselves from him for the first half of the race, while he slipped down to 5th at a stage, but still remained within reachable distance with the race leaders. With his legs getting better as the race unfolded, he bridged across and took the race by the horns. On the last lap James made a move that only Alan could follow. Just managing to get ahead of him onto the field, James was able to out-power the youngster down the finishing straight to take a really well deserved win and claim his first XCO Elite SA Championships title! Epic riding by two really talented young riders.
In the women’s race, Cherie Vale took a convincing win over Candice Neethling. Her ride through the ranks has been exciting to watch, and by the looks of things there is definitely more to come.
Needless to say the event was a resounding success, and a huge thanks must go to Stihl, Novus Holdings, and Subaru Cape Town for putting on this event, as well as Corrie Muller for the hard work that went into the track, which will remain a permanent feature in Coetzenberg.
Next up for me is the Die Burger MTB Challenge, followed by Trans Baviaans.
Keep it rubber side down.