It must be dubbed as one of the most electrifying races when Team Spur’s James Reid fought back a 45-second deficit behind Scott LCB’s Philip Buys to claw his way back and take the Elite Men’s victory at the STIHL 2016 South African National Mountain bike Championships at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday 16 July.
Reid finished in a time of one hour 32 minutes and 56 seconds – 14 seconds ahead of Buys. Buys’ teammate Gert Heyns rounded out the podium in 01:36:53.
After an explosive start from Buys, Reid and Alan Hatherly (Kargo Pro MTB Team) settled into an early pace as Buys continued to lay down the hammer. By the third lap, Hatherly was dropping back and Reid realised that he had to pick up his pace to close down the gap to the dominant Buys.
“I slowly worked my way up – I didn’t feel bad at all during the race,” said Reid. “When I realised that the gap was quite big, I knew I had to work harder to catch Philip. It was a seven-lap race and I could always see him.”
Even though Reid picked up his pace, it felt like he wasn't able to reach the race leader. “The gap between me and Philip kept on getting bigger. I managed to catch him early on the last lap, and on an open climb I managed to pass him.”
Speaking on how his race panned out, Reid said: “We’ve had such a big racing block with the World Champs and then World Cup in the last few weeks. Today I was watching Alan because we ran similar splits last weekend. This was a super tight and a super competitive race.
“Winning SA Champs means a lot for me. It’s been a hectic year. National Champs is one of those events where you have only one chance to perform well. It doesn’t matter how well you have performed during the season.”
The seven-lap race on the dry and dusty 4.6-kilometre circuit had some brutal climbs and a new rock garden section named “The Graveyard” which claimed a few “OTB” (over the bars) crashes. Despite this, Reid’s first words across the finish line were “simply awesome – it was the best version of Cascades we’ve ever had!”
A disappointed Buys commented on his performance: “I was maybe a bit too motivated and went our super hard and didn't really back off, and on the last two laps I started cramping a little bit and had to nurture that. James caught up and halfway through the last lap he got past me, and well done to him. It was a hard race and maybe I should’ve gone out a little easier, but I just went all out and left no margin.”
The under-23s raced six laps and Julian Jessop (Concept Cyclery Ballito) took top honours in 01:27:21 against Franco Pelser (01:28:09) with Wade Prinsloo (01:31:56) finishing third.
Jessop said: “I’m very stoked to have won the U23 National Championship title. I’m a first year U23 and it was a really big goal of mine, so I’m happy to be ticking the box. We had six laps of this very demanding course and the climbs were really brutal and I tried to keep the downhills smooth, making sure not to crash and making sure my bike was in the right places and not taking any unnecessary risks. I gave it my all – in the first laps I tried to make a gap and I got a slight gap and managed to keep building it. I had a small crash, but I’m happy that all the hard work has paid off.”
Jarrod van den Heever (Contego) planned his attack well in the Junior Men’s race to move from second place into the lead at the Treehouse section of the route, passing Matthew Keyser and extending his lead from there. Van den Heever finished in 01:13:00 with Henry Liebenberg finishing second (01:14:40) and Keyser third (01:15:11).
“I tried to conserve myself after realising that I had a 40-second gap on the rest of the field and managed to maintain that until the end of the race. I’m very happy and I’ve waited for this moment for five years, and now I’ve finally got it!”
The Sub Veteran, Veteran and Masters races also took to the loose and dusty course ahead of the Elite, U23 and Junior races. Brand du Plessis claimed a gold medal in the Sub Veteran race in a time of 01:12:53, with Renay Groustra finishing second (01:13:12) and Dion Froneman in third place (01:16:28). The Western Cape’s Nico Pfitzenmaier won the Veteran Men’s five-lap race in 01:16:56, while local rider Warren Price claimed second (01:18:38) and Hendrik Bester third (01:21:20). Robert Sim put in a dominant performance in the four-lap Masters Men race to claim the National Championship title in a time of 01:03:43. Dirk Maarsingh claimed silver while Paul Cannon claimed Bronze.
Veteran Ewan Cochran described how tough the course was. “Racing was very tough out there today with the course getting very loose and sandy on a lot of the corners. What was a firm course a few weeks ago was very loose today. Traction was a big part of today’s race and perhaps tyre selection would’ve been crucial for some of the guys to make the most of the loose conditions.
“The Graveyard was okay for me, I only got it wrong once,” he laughed. “It is all about controlling your speed and not going in too fast and trying to stick with the line that you choose to go.”
Tomorrow, the Downhill Championships take place on the much talked about new track, which is guaranteed to test the riders’ best abilities!
For the STIHL 2016 SA MTB Championships – Programme of events, click here: http://www.cyclingsa.com/s/20160707_SA-MTB-Champs-2016-Program-1.pdf.
For more information, click here: http://www.cyclingsa.com/2016-sa-mtb-champs/
Elite Men (7 laps)
1.James Reid 01:32:56
2.Philip Buys 01:33:10
3.Gert Heyns 01:36:53
4.Max Knox 01:38:00
5.Matthys Beukes 01:40:19
6.Jan Withaar 01:40:28
7.Alan Hatherly 01:41:45
8.Arno du Toit 01:41:58
9.Stuart Marais 01:44:26
10.Andrew Warr 01:47:29
Under 23 Men (6 laps)
1.Julian Jessop 01:27:21
2.Franco Pelser 01:28:09
3.Wade Prinsloo 01:31:56
Junior Men (5 laps)
1.Jarrod van den Heever 01:13:00
2.Henry Liebenberg 01:14:40
3.Matthew Keyser 01:15:11
Sub Veteran Men (5 laps)
1.Brand du Plessis 01:12:53
2.Renay Groustra 01:13:12
3.Dion Froneman 01:16:28
Veteran Men (5 laps)
1.Nico Pfitzenmaier 01:16:56
2.Warren Price 01:18:38
3.Hendrik Bester 01:21:20
Master Men (4 laps)
1.Robert Sim 01:03:43
2.Dirk Maarsingh 01:10:40
3.Paul Cannon 01:10:55