28 January 2014
South African competitors dominated the cross-country event at the African Continental MTB Championships in the Western Cape on Saturday, with Mariske Strauss claiming the women’s elite title and Philip Buys taking the men’s honours.
Having made the move up to the elite category this year, Strauss showed her intent from the start, firing to the front right from the get-go and retaining her position until the end of the contest in very hot and dry conditions.
The 23-year-old local put together a calculated race, taking into account the extra lap and time required in her new category, to take the top honours on a technical course.
‘It was a good, hard race’
“It was a good, hard race,” Strauss said afterwards. “The first race of the season is always an interesting one.
“It’s always good to be in control from the start, and I was happy to do that and just keep it together because it was very hot out there. On the second last lap, I just kicked in. I could really feel the last lap, but my training has been good and I’ve been preparing for this beforehand. It was an awesome track and there was a great vibe out there today.”
Samantha Sanders (RSA) finished in second place in 01:30:44, with Cherie Vale completing the podium in third place, in a time of 01:33:56.
Women’s under-23 cross-country
Candice Neethling (RSA) won the women’s under-23 race over five laps in one hour 15 minutes and 23 seconds, with Ashleigh Moffatt (RSA) second in 01:20:26, and Hayley Smith (RSA) third in 01:21:01.
The junior women’s race honours went to Bianca Haw (RSA), who completed the four laps in 01:02:48. She was followed across the finishing line by Frances du Toit (RSA) in a time of 01:04:41, with Mauritian Kimberley Le Court De Billot rounding out the podium in 01:06:22.
Men’s elite race
The tempo was high in the elite men’s race, but it was Philip Buys who packed the final punch to take the victory over eight laps in a time of 01:39:15. His victory came only after a tight tussle with fellow South Africans Rourke Croeser and Lourens Luus.
“It was a hard race today,” Buys commented after securing the title. “I knew I had the shape, and I tried to wear the guys out in the first four laps. I really wanted to play it safe out in front for the final laps, but then I cut my wheel, and had to limp to the tech zone.
“When I rejoined, I was about a minute off the lead pace of Rourke and Lourens, and was lying in third place. It took me a lap to get back to them, but I rode that too quickly and it took me another lap to recover. I just made it difficult for myself, but these things do happen in mountain biking. I am very happy with the win.”
Luus claimed the silver medal in a time of 01:39:20, followed closely by Croeser in 01:40:06.
Men’s under-23 cross-country
In the under-23 men’s category, South Africa’s James Reid took the title over seven laps in a time of 01:23:54. Defending champion Brendon Davids (RSA) finished in second place in 01:26:02, with Arno du Toit (RSA) taking third in 01:26:35.
South African Stephen Senekal captured the top honours in the junior men’s category after completing the six laps in a time of 01:15:56. Local rider Sybrand Strauss (RSA), in second place in 01:16:18 and Alan Hatherly (RSA), in third in 01:17:35, rounded out a South African 1-2-3.
Elite men’s downhill
Western Cape local Andrew Neethling, who competes for the international Giant Factory Racing Team, sped to the elite men’s downhill title at Contermanskloof on Sunday.
Neethling, who clocked 02:06.94, was pushed all the way, with less than four seconds separating the top five finishers.
Tiaan Odendaal, second in 2013, repeated his finish by claiming silver yet again, only 0.42 seconds off the pace, with fellow local rider Johann Potgieter taking the bronze medal a further 1.30 seconds back.
Tim Bentley and Stefan Garlicki finished in fourth and fifth places respectively, clocking 02:09.25 and 02:10.69 respectively in their final runs.
‘I have been working hard’
“My off-season has been good, but good means hard,” said Neethling after his victory. “I’ve been working hard at my fitness and my coach has not been easy on me. It felt good to race again after a long training block.”
Looking back on the Contermanskloof course, Neethling said: The top section of the track makes the racing very close, but it is the second half of the track where it gets really exciting. The trail becomes a lot looser and dustier, with holes developing, and the racing lines changing as the day progresses.
“My seeding run was consistent. It was what I wanted. Tiaan’s result was not a surprise, but he was a lot closer than I expected. He is a great rider. I knew Johann and Stefan would be fast on the local course and that they would be out for blood as usual.”
Neethling’s next big event with his pro team is in early April when the UCI World Cup season kicks off in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal.
Elite women’s downhill
The elite women’s title was claimed by Hayley-Ann Adamson in a time of 4 minutes 38.79 seconds.
Andrew Martin posted the fastest time in the junior men’s category to secure victory in 02:18.60.