Croeser ends Under-23 career, now for the Olympic dream | SASCOC - SASCOC

Croeser ends Under-23 career, now for the Olympic dream

KwaZulu-Natal mountain biking star Rourke Croeser (Kargo Mountain Bike Team) recently returned home after victory in China and a career highlight podium stage finish in Malaysia, bringing down the curtain on his final year as an Under-23 rider and heralding in his elite career in confidence boosting fashion.

His fine form also bodes well for the build-up to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, in 2016.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿Having claimed a commendable 14th place overall and first Under-23 finish ÔÇô despite a second lap mechanical ÔÇô at the Guiyang Invitational MTB Festival in China, a UCI World Cup test event for the region, Croeser then went on to produce an impressive top 10 performance at the six day long Langkawi International MTB Challenge stage race in Malaysia as well.

As if his ninth place finish on the General Classification standings wasn’t enough, Croeser, right, capped off the memorable trip to the East with a career defining third place finish on the fifth and final stage in Langkawi and proudly took to the bottom step of the podium alongside cross-country idols Fabian Giger of Switzerland and Emil Lindgren of Sweden.

ÔÇ£The entire trip was just such a good experience and really was a massive breakthrough on the international scene for me,ÔÇØ explained a proud and excited Croeser. ÔÇ£I’ve always known I’ve had what it takes to do well internationally but I’ve had some really bad luck with mechanicals, etc. at World Cups and other events overseas over the past couple of years so it was really pleasing to be able to do well over there, especially in Langkawi.

ÔÇ£I went to Langkawi with the goal of a top 10 finish overall and maybe a top five stage result at best. I never ever thought I’d get a podium! There were just so many quality riders there.ÔÇ¿ÔÇ¿ÔÇ£In my eyes Fabian (Giger) and Emil (Lindgren) are two of the best cross-country riders of our time, they’re such down to earth and guys I’ve looked up to for a while so to be on the podium with them was an unbelievable feeling and they were just as happy about my result for me as I was for myself!ÔÇØ he added.

Having got off to a perfect start with a fourth place finish in the prologue, Croeser’s top 10 hopes seemed to have been shattered on the opening stage when a double puncture saw him fall 27 minutes off the pace having been battling it out with the lead group for much of the first half of the race.

ÔÇ£I was just a second and a half of a podium in the prologue so I was pretty happy and this really brought back my confidence for the five stages that lay ahead of me,ÔÇØ explained Croeser.

ÔÇ£Then on the opening stage I’d done all the hard work and made the front split but I thought my top 10 goal was over when I got a double puncture. The rear wheel was punctured so badly that after six bombs, eight plugs and 2 tubes, I had to use three gel wrappers to block the hole as best I could to get me home!

ÔÇ£The second stage was a lot shorter and the pace was unbelievable! I managed to get away with the front guys and was really happy with my fifth on the day.

ÔÇ£Stage three was the marathon stage and on the second climb my shifter broke which left me riding single speed for the rest of the three 27km laps. To make things worse it also wasn’t a gear that was easy enough to climb well in nor hard enough to chase the guys in front of me so it really was terrible!

ÔÇ£This was also the hardest stage of the tour with the amount of mud being absolutely unbelievable ÔÇô every lap we had to run up a climb for 25 minutes because the mud was so deep and then hop back on our bikes and ride for an hour!

A determined and hard-fought ninth on the third stage kept Croeser’s top 10 hopes alive however left him exhausted ahead of the penultimate fourth stage. ÔÇ£I was really tired at the start of the fourth stage and knew I wanted to really give the last stage a good go so I decided to just look to try just play things safe and have a solid ride.

ÔÇ£I got a seventh there, which kept me ninth overall ÔÇô where I finished on the GC in the end as well, and felt really good going into the last day but I never could have ever dreamed to have finished on the podium on that final stage! It really was an amazing feeling!

An U-23 first and 14th overall in China, together with his ninth overall and stage results of 33rd, fifth, ninth, seventh and third against some of the world’s best in Langkawi, meant Croeser returned from his Asian journey a satisfied man and is now raring to go in the build up to his first season as an elite competitor next year.

With African Continental Champs already looming on the horizon, Croeser is relishing a strong pre-season build-up, not before a much needed three week complete break though.

ÔÇ£Mentally I was still feeling pretty fresh but I know physically it is so important to let the body completely recover so after getting back from Langkawi I’ve been enjoying a bit of time off. I’ve been surfing and just enjoying a bit of a different lifestyle to the one I’m usually used to but I’m looking forward to getting things going for next year too.

Making the jump from Under-23 to the elite category is a big step for any young competitor and one which Croeser realizes the importance off however his recent top performances against some of the globe’s best will ensure he enters this new era filled with confidence and self-belief.

ÔÇ£The cross over from Under-23 to elite is a very difficult time. Its then that you get to see whether you’re actually good enough or not,ÔÇØ said Croeser.

ÔÇ£I’m quietly confident I can do it ÔÇô I’ve got good support structures in place and great backing from Kargo so next year is all about grabbing the opportunity with both hands and keeping my Olympic dream alive!ÔÇØ he added.

Picture: Gameplan Media

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