Rourke Croeser and Cherie Vale took the main titles in the fourth and final round of the Stihl SA MTB Cup Series at Cascades Park in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday.
The sun broke through at the beginning of the Elite Men’s seven-lap race at 1pm, five minutes before the Junior Men took off to race their five. The Elite race was a neck-and-neck battle to the end between Full Dynamix Pro Team’s Croeser and Kargo Pro MTB Team rider and African Youth Games team member, Alan Hatherly.
Croeser surprised the crowds with his entry, as he arrived from Europe to race and then proceeded to take the Elite Men’s victory ahead of Hatherly, who topped the series’ points log. ‘I arrived on Thursday evening – it was a late decision. KZN MTB managed to help me out to get me here,’ said Croeser.
With his focus purely on Rio 2016, Croeser is doing all he can to prepare well. ‘I really wanted to win, I need the points. I knew I had good form, but it was all about time management and racing properly and pacing myself well throughout the event,’ he said.
Setting the tone for the day, the women’s races delivered fast paced action in very cold conditions at 10am. With Mariske Strauss watching from the sidelines wearing a moon boot, her Novus OMX Pro Team teammate Cherie Vale leapt out of the start gates and comfortably stretched her lead as the six-lap race progressed.
Chasing hard was Bianca Haw (Red Bull/Specialized) and Hayley Smith (Bell) but Junior rider Frankie du Toit (Time Freight eTeam and like Hatherly part of the African Youth Games team last year) also found herself in the mix, despite her category starting the race 2 minutes later than the Elite Women. Vale claimed the victory with Haw finishing second, six-and-a-half minutes back with a rampant Smith only 13-seconds back in third.
‘I was a bit worried in the beginning, the legs felt a bit tight but I thought if I just push it on the climbs and descents that I could just recover a little,’ said Vale. ‘I took it easy – I rode the rock garden well in the practice but I had an uneasy feeling in the race so I decided to take the B-line and it paid off because I was able to get the speed out of the rock garden with no hesitance. Once I opened the gap I just tried to drive for more time.
‘But the support out there was fantastic and it is amazing what Nick (Floros) can do out there with the track, making it so different to what we’re used to. It had a great flow and was well balanced and offers us great help in preparing to go and race overseas.’
Du Toit’s remarkable lap times over four laps show immense promise for this young lady, and her solid victory placed her four minutes ahead of second placed Genevieve van Coller with Sabrina van Wyk collecting third.
‘I had a fast start and my aim was to get into the top singletrack first and I just put my head down and I went for it,’ said Du Toit. ‘I managed to keep my lead until the very end, which was great. I caught some of the elite ladies and when I started seeing them, I just pushed harder. I’ve been training hard and I’m very happy to see it paying off.’
Local lass Tiffany Keep (Pure Adventure Wear) took control of the Youth race from the onset, finishing with a five-minute lead over Danielle Strydom with Allison Morton third in the four-lap race.
‘It was a very hard race, definitely very intense,’ said Keep. ‘This track was lots of fun and I really enjoyed it. It was very different to the normal courses that we have at Cascades. It was switched around and there was a section through the pump track, which was lots of fun. I really enjoyed it as a whole, and I’m happy with the win.’
Specialized Concept Cyclery rider, Julian Jessop, claimed the Junior Men’s title and was thrilled with his result, but mentioned that it was far from easy. ‘I had a good start – being first into the single track and then Matthew (Lombardi) passed me for a little bit. We finished the first lap with five people altogether in the lead group.
On the main climb on the second lap, Jessop managed to break away from the group and keep a consistent gap of close to 30 seconds ahead of the second place position, which was claimed by Namibian rider Tristan de Lange. ‘It was tough and full of pain, but I’m so happy to win,’ Jessop said.
The Youth Men’s category win was claimed by firecracker, Pieter du Toit (Kargo Pro MTB Team). Du Toit said: ‘It was a very nice race. I didn’t have the best start but the climbs were really nice, and the technical sections were wonderful. One of the boys unfortunately fell just after the corkscrew section, which is where I managed to get away from the pack. The new pump track was wonderful to ride as well. A very big thanks to Team Kargo for the kit and all of the support.’
The four-lap sub junior boys race showed immense talent from the youngsters with an ultra fierce battle that unfolded. Luke Moir and Daniel van der Walt raced neck-and-neck for the first two laps and opened a sizeable gap from the rest of the field. Moir snapped the elastic band on the third lap and placed a 50-second gap against Van Der Walt by the end of the race. Third place finisher Adriaan Duminy closed the gap and finished a minute behind.
Andrea de Waal rode a solid race in the Sub Junior Girls category with Sabine Thies and Megan Bircher making excellent ground after both recovering well from early crashes to finish second and third respectively.
From the young little Nippers categories right through to the Veteran age groups, the 2015 Stihl SA MTB Cup Series cross-country races closed out today with top-notch racing and great crowd support for our talented athletes.
Sunday sees see the downhill competitors battle it out on the championship track to close out the four-part series of events. Racing starts at 10am at Cascades MTB Park and spectators are welcome.
Picture of Croeser in action on Saturday courtesy of Gavin Ryan, Quick Pix
Summary of main results
1 Rourke Croeser 01:29:54
2 Alan Hatherly 01:30:06
3 Philip Buys 01:31:44
4 Brendon Davids 01:32:09
5 Gert Heyns 01:32:23
6 Stuart Marais 01:32:39
7 Arno du Toit 01:34:28
8 Matthys Beukes 01:35:08
9 Marc Fourie 01:38:10
10 Jan Withaar 01:38:49
1 Cherie Vale 01:35:05
2 Bianca Haw 01:41:30
3 Hayley Smith 01:41:44
1 Julian Jessop 01:05:55
2 Tristan de Lange 01:06:15
3 Matthew Lombardi 01:07:06
1 Frankie du Toit 01:00:45
2 Genevieve van Coller 01:04:46
3 Sabrina van Wyk 01:10:40
1 Pieter Du Toit 00:55:36
2 Chris du Plessis 00:56:37
3 Sharjah Jonsson 00:58:27
1 Tiffany Keep 01:04:29
2 Danielle Strydom 01:09:36
3 Allison Morton 01:11:01