Downhiller Johann Potgieter and cross-country racer Burry Stander stormed to victory in the MTN South African Mountain Bike Championships in George at the weekend.
Johann Potgieter took first place on a course where he has won every major race since 2006. With two of his main rivals not racing – world champion Greg Minaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) skipped the race to train for the World Cup and last year's national champion Andrew Neethling (Trek) was in Europe – the 22-year-old Capetonian was once again impossible to beat on a track that’s one of the most physically demanding in the country, with plenty of berms, jumps and a high percentage of pedalling required.
He clocked a first run time of 03:25:02 on the challenging 2km course, giving him the early lead by more than two seconds over Jonty Neethling (Fox/Morewood). But his second run was more than a second slower than his first and a motivated Neethling improved his time by just under a second, making it a tight finish between two of the pre-race favourites, with Potgieter ultimately taking the gold by 1.5 seconds.
Top junior Pierre van der Merwe (Morewood/Monster Energy) impressed by clocking 3:32:16 in his second run, the third best time of the day. Gary Barnard (Fox/Morewood) and Louis-Bresler Knipe completed the top five overall.
“After I clocked the best time for the first run, I was a bit more confident going into the second run, but with Jonty only two seconds down, I knew it would be close," said Potgieter. "Last year, at the National Cup event here, he improved on his first run by five seconds. If there was anyone I was nervous of today it was Jonty."
Potgieter was nervous after a slow second run
Potgieter, who has part sponsorship from Red Bull and Von Zipper, also won the national title in 2006, but he said Sunday’s result was the highlight of his career. “When I won in 2006, it wasn’t nearly as special," he said. "Downhill racing wasn’t nearly as organised back then and hardly noticed by the media. The depth of the competition is also so much greater now than it was three years ago. Standing on that podium and receiving my national champion’s jersey today was amazing!
“I really would love to have a full-time racing career, but at the moment it’s part-time as I don’t have the resources to race all the important events overseas. I'm excited that I’ll be able to race the Pietermaritzburg round of the World Cup in the national champion’s jersey. I hope to have a smooth run there and maybe a top 30 finish.”
In the women’s event, Austrian racer Lene Fruhwurth (Morewood), ranked 18th in the world, captured the overall victory with a time of 4:12.38. However, it was runner-up Anka Martin who was the fastest of the South Africans in 4:14:16 and was awarded the national title. Gina Nixon, Tayla Brown and Victoria Phillips rounded out the top five.
The national championships, which took place in the forests at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountain range in temperatures over 35 degrees Celsius, doubled as Round 3 of the MTN National Cup. Round 4 will be in Pietermaritzburg on 5 April.
South Africa's new champions: Johann Potgieter, Anka Martin and Pierre van der Merwe
Burry Stander (Mr Price Specialized) lived up to his pre-race favourite status and won his seventh successive national title when he dominated the pro-elite men’s race at the South African cross-country championships on Saturday.
The current under-23 World Cup champion not only retained his national under-23 title, but beat the elite men convincingly, coming home more than seven minutes ahead of runner-up Marc Bassingthwaighte (Garmin Adidas) with a time of 02:03:40 for the eight-lap race.
Stander regularly records such large winning margins in South Africa, and says the difference between him and his African rivals isn’t as much physical as it is mental. “Physically, these guys are superb athletes, but I just have better conditioning and confidence from focusing my career on cross-country racing and not racing so often,” he said.
Burry Stander was in a class of his own as he won his seventh consecutive national title
Bassingthwaighte, a Namibian, clocked 2:11:18 with Matthys Beukes (MTN Energade) claiming third place overall and the silver medal in the under-23 category. Philip Buys (Garmin Adidas), was fourth overall and third under-23.
The first elite South African rider home was Erik Kleinhans in sixth overall (behind fifth-placed Mannie Heymans of Namibia) giving him the elite national title.
Rourke Croeser (DCM Chrome) retained his national junior title. Ruan du Toit claimed the silver medal and Adriaan Louw (DCM Chrome) secured the bronze.
Overcast, cool conditions greeted the participants – welcome relief after a week of searing heat. National titles were contested at the Saasveld Campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Under-23 bronze medalist Philip Buys finished a respectable fourth overall
Women's cross-country: Speedy wins battle of the eras
Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing Momentum) won the battle of the eras as well as the national elite women’s title when she beat former multiple national champion Erica Green to the gold medal.
Speedy, a Beijing Olympian, scored a commanding victory over Green, a former double Olympian (Atlanta and Sydney), who at 38, has made a return to competition, largely in preparation for next week’s Absa Cape Epic.
Speedy shot off the start line and reached the first piece of singletrack in front. She completed her first of six laps in 17:44, a minute clear of her rivals, and was then a model of consistency, clocking subsequent lap times of 18:13, 18:14, 18:14, 18:19 and 18:02.
Yolande Speedy was a model of consistency on her way to the elite women’s title
“It was a very smooth, steady race. Everything went well. There weren’t really any climbs on the course but the rough terrain made for a challenge. I’m glad I chose to race a dual-suspension,” said Speedy.
It was her second elite cross-country title, having won it for the first time in 2006. Her final time was a fast 1:48:46. Green was the only other rider to break two hours, clocking 1:58:59. Heletjie van Staden (Schwinn) was third overall and first under-23 in 2:01:23. Janneke Leask (Rocky Mountain) and Sara Muhl (Jeep) round out the top five.
In the junior women’s race over four laps, Mariske Strauss (MTN) proved the strongest, claiming the gold medal ahead of Candice Neethling (Jeep) and Caitlin de Wet (Mr Price Scott), who were second and third respectively.
For full results for all the MTN South African Mountain Bike Championships races, visit www.cyclesport.co.za.
Olympian Erica Green made a strong return, finishing second in the elite women’s race