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Strauss and Buys are SA’s top finishers in PMB

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Austrian national champion Gregor Raggl (Haibike Otzal Pro Team) and South Africa’s Mariske Strauss (Novus OMX Pro Team) claimed top honours in the Elite races at the rain-soaked second annual Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival at Cascades MTB Park in KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday.
German Alexander Bunn (Team Firebike Drossiger) and Danielle Strydom (Swiss Cycles) claimed top honours in the Junior races, raking in the highest UCI points on offer .
Temperatures plummeted into the single digits as lycra-clad cyclists bravely took to the start line of the UCI HC (Hors Categorie) event, which carries a heavier UCI-point rating than the Category 1 and 2 events held in the Stihl 2016 SA National XCO Cup Series.

ELITE MEN

Conditions began to improve from the delayed 2.30pm start of the Elite Men’s race and the course became more rideable as the reduced four-lap race progressed. Austrians Raggl and Karl Markt commanded the race and displayed their skill in muddy conditions with an assertive victory and second place, beating Philip Buys (Scott Factory Racing powered by LCB) into third place. Raggl took the lead from the end of lap one and held quite a lengthy lead and his compatriot, Markt, slowly reeled him in towards the end but it was not enough to catch Raggl.
‘We are used to these conditions because the weather is actually similar to this in Austria and Europe,’ said Raggl. ‘For the first one-and-a-half laps we were just running up the hills but from then on the track dried up a bit and got better and better. From the second lap it was possible to ride everything. We came here directly from the first World Cup in Australia two days ago, so we raced with a bit of jet lag. But all has gone well for us with a first and second place. Tomorrow we continue traveling back home and rest for a few days before the next World Cup in Europe.’

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Buys (pictured above) said: ‘I think it was more crazy out there than everyone said. Going up the first climb I think everyone realised it was a race of survival. It’s the same for everyone though and we have to give it the best that we can. Today we made the right calls with our equipment choices and tyres and it helps to have a good, sound team behind us. It was an important race today and coming third is not a win but has given me some valuable UCI points today.’

ELITE WOMEN

Starting earlier in the day as the rains came down were the Elite Women, then the Junior Women’s classes. Strauss, who was ranked 70th in the UCI Individual Elite Women’s rankings before the start of the race, displayed her strong form with a solid victory in her race, crossing the finish line after four laps in a time of 1hr 26min and 40sec.
‘At the start, the legs were feeling wobbly, it was probably a mental thing for me because of the cold weather,’ said Strauss (in the  main picture). ‘I didn’t know what to expect at the start, I’ve obviously been putting in the training but my legs warmed up. I had a nice start and took it conservatively up the Red-Lipped Herald climb. I put my head down and got into a rhythm and I’m thankful to see that my training is clearly paying off.’
Finishing in second place, more than three minutes behind Strauss, was Cherie Redecker (Novus OMX Pro Team), who was the highest ranked South African on the UCI World Rankings in 37th place and was hoping to have had a home ground advantage but admits that her legs were not playing ball today. ‘I was really excited and had the lines dialled and my husband really helped me on the technical side, so I was pleased to ride some sections that I couldn’t do here two years ago.
I was fine starting the race but couldn’t get into a good rhythm and tried to close the gap to Mariske but after I crashed the gap was too big to close. I just felt flat the whole race so hoping the next SA Cup in Port Elizabeth next weekend will be better.
Representing Lesotho was Likeleli Masitise (Sufferfest Lesotho MTB Team), who only started cycling in 2014. The 23-year-old said that the riding was tough today. ‘The weather wasn’t good and it was very slippery out there, but I really enjoy racing.’

JUNIOR MEN

Racing in abysmal conditions on a muddy route, the Junior Men bore the brunt of the worst conditions of the day when they set off on their four-lap race (which was reduced to three laps) at 12:30pm. What started as a field of 31 riders ended with less than half the field finishing the race. Clogged up tyres and drivetrains meant that the riders were running and trying to push their heavy mud-caked bikes along the majority of the 5.4-kilometre lap.
As the racing unfolded, there was a good dice between Jarrod van den Heever (Team Contego) and Pieter du Toit (Kargo Pro MTB Team) with German rider Alexander Bunn (Team Firebike Drossiger) and Reinhard Zellhuber (Merida/32Gi), but well into the second lap, the 17-year-old German went into the lead, which he held until the end of the three-lap race, finishing with a margin of 10 minutes.
Bunn came from Germany just to compete in this race. ‘It was really good, we had to run up the climbs but the downhills were really good. It was an unbelievable race and the whole time I needed to clear the chain of the mud, which made it difficult. It was a good race for me because we have snow at home at the moment, and I prefer this type of riding much more than the 30-degrees we experienced here yesterday.’
Zellhuber said: ‘This was literally one of the hardest races I’ve ever done in my life. We were literally running 90% of the route. The conditions were really hectic today and we could barely cycle it. I had a great race and was very happy with it.’
Some of the riders were issued with a DNF (Did Not Finish) after they removed their wheels from their bicycles and finished the race carrying just the frame. The UCI rule states that a rider needs to finish the race on the same bicycle that he/she started the race with, a front wheel to cross the finish line from which the finish time is recorded. The Commissaire Panel referred to the explanation of the rules: 1.2.100′ 1.2.109′ 1.3.006.

JUNIOR WOMEN
The Junior Women’s race saw South African national noad nhampion and South African MTB Marathon Champion Danielle Strydom (Swiss Cycles) take a clear victory in the three lap race, with a gap of over four minutes to her closest rival. Ranked seventh in the UCI Junior World Rankings, Strydom made her early break on the very big start climb and the 17-year-old relished the big climbs, which worked to her strength.
‘The weather definitely had a big effect on the race as the very low temperature saw the legs take a while to get going and warm up. In the end it was to my advantage because I realised that I performed better in the wet weather. The rain on the roots was not a great combination and it was very slippery – I took a tumble twice. All in all it was a great race and one of the more technical and advanced tracks that I have ridden on.’
An extra brave appearance on the start line was from young Kristen Louw (Kargo Pro MTB Team) in the Junior Women’s race who only two days ago crashed heavily during training, which required surgery in her mouth and stitches to her lip. Louw’s objective was to simply finish the race in order to gather all-important UCI points to limit the losses on her high UCI Junior World Ranking of second place.

DEVELOPMENT CLINIC
The KwaZulu-Natal Cycling Development Clinic was held for the first time to teach new learners how to ride a bike. Some of the learners had never ridden a bicycle before and took a little longer to grasp the process, while other first timers pedalled away with glee.
KwaZulu-Natal Cycling’s Development Officer, Tyrone Johns, explained the purpose of the clinic and how important the development is for these learners. ‘We introduced some new learners to show them the basics of cycling and taught them some new skills’ so we taught them how to brake, how to balance, pedal position and body position.’
Speaking about the project and how it started, Johns said: ‘We went to Lions River Primary Schools, which is based just outside Howick. The teachers love it that we’ve brought cycling to the school and it is a pleasure to work with them because they’ve really embraced the learners being active and learning to ride.’
Teacher at Lions River Primary School, Welcome Siphiwe Mbanza, explained the importance of new sporting activities for their learners, ‘It is essential that our learners engage in new experiences. We have 12 learners that are cycling at the school, but only 10 came here today. We started this projected at the school in 2015. I think they have big dreams when they ride their bicycles. It is still new to them but if we start coming back each year then they will start to realise how important it is for them to keep on cycling and to grow in the sport.’
Sunday’s District Development Series Finale is the pinnacle of the year and represents all of the KwaZulu-Natal Districts. ‘It is our biggest event and represents the whole of KwaZulu-Natal,’ said Johns. ‘We’ll have about 125 learners here to do full-on racing on singlespeed mountain bikes or BMX bikes, depending on their age class. And then we determine our KwaZulu-Natal Champion for our District Development Series.

Pictures courtesy of Darren Goddard

Summary of results

Elite Men
1 Gregor Raggl 1hr 34min 26sec
2 Karl Markt 1:34:34
3 Philip Buys 1:38:52

Elite Women
1 Mariske Strauss 1:26:46
2 Cherie Redecker 1:29:59
3 Frances du Toit 1:35:46

Junior Men
1 Alexander Bunn 1:31:32
2 Reinhard Zellhuber 1:41:28
3 Antonie Joubert 1:50:33

Junior Women
1 Danielle Strydom 1:14:45
2. Chriestie-Leigh Hearder 1:19:08
3 Sabrina van Wyk 1:27:33


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