30 August 2013
After three days of extreme heat, cool weather moved over the UCI MTB & Trials World Championships in Pietermaritzburg on Friday afternoon. The conditions clearly suited Italy’s Gerhard Kerschbaumer, who clinched his second gold of the Championships after a victory in the team relay on Wednesday.
The Italian was a convincing winner in 1:28.55. Julian Schelb of Germany was a very happy runner-up in 1:29:53, with The Netherlands’ Michiel van der Heijden finishing in third, a further 20 seconds off the pace, and just ahead of last year’s junior world champion, Anton Cooper of New Zealand.
Rain late in the event made conditions tricky for the competitors, but Kerschbaumer rode within himself to claim the rainbow-striped world champion’s jersey.
‘I’m very happy’
“I’m very happy,” he told the media afterwards. “When it started to rain, I was on the rocks, so it was quite difficult, but the rider behind me was far away from me, so I tried to control the advantage.”
Deep into the race, it appeared as if Italy could grab a stunning 1-2-3 on the podium, but Luca Braidot, who pushed Kerschbaumer all the way suffered a late fall and failed to finish, while his brother Daniele found the going tough over the final two laps and had to settle for ninth place.
Sadly for the home nation, the cooler weather brought with it some bad luck for South Africa’s talented under-23 national champion Rourke Croeser and James Reid, the fourth placer at the UCI MTB World Cup in Pietermaritzburg in 2012.
Croeser had put in extensive time on the Cascades MTB Park cross country course in preparation for the World Championships and was considered a dark horse for a top result. His challenge was, however, effectively over within mere metres of the start when his chain snapped. That left him with a two-kilometre run to a technical area where he could fix his bike, a setback far too great to overcome.
Reid, meanwhile, struggled with slipping gears and lost his saddle near the end of the race.
Brendon Davids, who finished 19th overall, was the leading South African.
Women’s under-23 cross country
Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff, the defending women’s under-23 cross country champion, was on fire and destroyed her opposition in the five-lap race.
She crossed the finishing line in 1:25:44, a whopping two minutes and 26 seconds up on runner-up Pauline Ferrand Prevot of France, with Ukraine’s Yana Belomoyna coming home in third.
The leading South African, Mariska Strauss came home to a chorus of vuvuzelas and cheering in a very encouraging eighth place. Candice Neethling, the second South African finisher on the day, also enjoyed a strong outing, taking out 14th position.
Too much firepower
Prevot threatened Neff for the lead on the second lap of the race, but admitted at the post-race media conference that the Swiss star simply had too much firepower for her on the day. She said she was aiming to attack Neff on a climb, but before that the defending champion made her move.
At the Tree House Rock Garden, Prevot put the pressure on Neff, who admitted she hadn’t planned on making a move at that stage of the race. “I was surprised that Pauline passed me before this section,” she revealed.
“I didn’t expect it and I was so angry and I wanted to pass her again,” she laughed.
“[I decided] if she goes left, I go right, or I take the other line. I had a little gap,” she said of her breathtaking move to the front as she skipped across the challenging terrain. “I just tried to ride with my rhythm throughout the rest of the race. It went well.”
Men’s junior downhill
The USA’s Richard Rude junior blitzed the men’s junior downhill to win by a massive 5.727 seconds over second place finisher Loris Vergier of France. Great Britain’s Michael Jones claimed third place, 7.403 seconds off Rude’s incredible pace.
Rude’s winning time of 4:06.640 was a mere eight seconds slower than Greg Minnaar’s winning time in the elite men’s downhill of the 2012 UCI World Cup, which demonstrated not only how good his run was, but also how much faster the slightly modified course is in the hard, dry conditions.
Gregg Brown, the fastest South African qualifier in 16th place, had his run at glory torpedoed when his chain came loose, leaving him to finish in a very unfortunate 45th place. JP du Plessis was the leading rider from the home nation, picking up 19th place in 4:26.122.
Women’s junior downhill
A very small field contested the women’s junior downhill, with Britain’s Tahnee Seagrave romping to victory by seven-and-a-half seconds over Australia’s Danielle Beecroft in 4:52.001. The third place on the podium went to Tegan Molloy, also of Australia.