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Olympic hopefuls in PE chasing last-minute spots for Rio
- Updated: May 14, 2016
Top-notch racing is expected from South Africa’s biggest cross-country racing stars as we go into the penultimate round of the STIHL 2016 SA XCO Cup Series, which shifts across to the Eastern Cape at Settler’s Park in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The Pro-elite race carries a UCI Category 1 rating, which offers some good points for South Africa’s top finishers towards their World and Olympic rankings. The Junior riders have the opportunity to compete in the third and final event on South African soil that counts towards the UCI Junior World Series, and guns will surely be blazing after the second event in South Africa saw the elements challenge the Junior riders in every possible way on a muddy track in Pietermaritzburg.
Competing on a slightly revamped course compared to last year’s hit route, riders are guaranteed to be challenged in this gruelling discipline of mountain bike racing. The 4.2-kilometre laps will have an elevation of 170 metres.
In terms of the Series Points Log, the top three positions in the Pro-Elite Men’s race are closely contested with James Reid leading the way on 525 points, Alan Hatherly second (475) and Philip Buys third with 450 points. Marc Fourie and Stuart Marais hold fourth and fifth place on the log with 331 and 325 points respectively. Reid has two victories and a fifth place so far this season, while Hatherly has two second places and a fourth place and Buys has consistently finished third in three races.
After Buys’ solid performance at the Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival (which is excluded from this series), he will be looking to scoop his first victory of the season, but not without a tough challenge from a host of other Pro-Elite Men who are capable of standing atop the podium.
Said Cape Town’s Reid: ‘The Port Elizabeth course has got something for everyone. There’s a mixture of terrain, different speeds and all sorts of challenging elements thrown in to keep things interesting.
‘I think it’s a complete course yet it suits the more explosive riders. The longest climb at race speed was just over two minutes, which is relatively short.
‘It’s like the technical sections of the course are really technical. You have to do everything right or you can end your race prematurely. I’m excited for this coming weekend – hopefully it will be a bit more dry! Every lap I went through the river it got deeper and deeper.’
In terms of the race for Rio Olympics selection, Reid said: ‘I had a mechanical at the last selection race and didn’t manage to complete the race, so the selection hangs in the balance truth be told.’
The Pro-Elite women’s race log is equally exciting, with Cherie Redecker (above) holding the lead on 495 points, followed by Frankie du Toit (440), Candice Neethling and Genevieve van Coller (both 380) and Hayley Smith fifth with 355 points.
Redecker has one victory to her name this season, at the third round at Wolwespruit, and finished second to Swiss rider Esther Suss in Helderberg and fifth at Mankele
Du Toit placed second to Annie Last (GBR) at Mankele earlier in the season, and has also finished with two fourth places in the previous two events.
She told Road to Rio 2016’s Mark Etheridge: ‘I think we’rein for some exciting racing this weekend. The level and commitment of women’s cycling in Southern Africa is growing, which is so exciting.
‘Despite my nerves and the pressure to perform I’m feeling rather inspired.
‘I’ve had a quick look at the track in PE and it has a bit of everything. But one will need to find a balance of taking risks and being cautious.
‘This weekend is a great lead up before some racing overseas where I’ll be traveling with my team to race two World Cups and one Swiss Cup.
‘Its great to be the series leader but ultimately my goal is to be a top cross-country rider on the world circuit. So I’m taking it one pedal stroke at a time.’
Commonwealth Games rider Mariske Strauss is currently in sixth place on the log, made up of only two races entered where she finished second and third. Strauss will be looking to bring her A-game to Port Elizabeth as she did at the Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival.
Pieter du Toit leads the Junior Men’s race with two second places and a sixth place, leading the race with 460 points after the first three events.
He is closely followed by Jarrod van den Heever (446) and Henry Liebenberg (435) with Andrew Sparks in fourth place on the log (390) and Matthew Keyser fifth (385). Van den Heever scored top points in the second race at Helderberg, while Liebenberg won the third round race at Wolwespruit. Currently out of the top five was the winner at Mankele, Reinhard Zullhuber, who will no doubt be looking to topple the top-five points ladder from his current seventh place on the log.
In the Junior Women’s local points race, Kristen Louw leads the way after three events with 520 points, followed by Chriestie-Leigh Hearder (490) with Nicolene Marais third (410), then Danielle Strydom fourth (400) and Saffron Vosloo fifth (395). Louw has one victory to her name and a second and third place, whereas Strydom (currently fourth) has two wins to her name out of two events entered.
Pictures of Reid and Redecker courtesy of Darren Goddard