"I’m trying to prepare for the race like it’s just any other race, but really, it’s not! This is the World Champs, it’s huge!” says Cofeebery/Momsen's Natalie Bergstrom of the 2013 UCI MTB Masters World Championships Pietermaritzburg.
Photo: Anthony Grote/ Gameplan Media
Since blasting onto the local mountain biking scene in 2011 Bergstrom has claimed countless overall ladies’ race titles, particularly in her home province KwaZulu-Natal, however August’s event, which precedes the 2013 UCI MTB & Trials World Championships Pietermaritzburg at the same venue, will be the KZN North Coast star’s first showing at the international masters showcase.
“I’ve never ever ridden in a World Champs before so to race at August’s event will be an absolute dream come true and the fact that it is on home soil and at a venue that I know incredibly well is just the cherry on the top for me,” said Bergstrom.
“This is only the third year that I’ve been racing competitively for, which is pretty short in comparison to a lot of others, so this is the first, and probably the last time, I’ll ever get the chance to race at World Champs so I just cannot wait!
With the notorious Tree House rock garden at Cascades having gotten the better of her in the past Bergstrom recalls how on that ill-fated day she decided it was ‘now or never’ to overcome her mental block, a decision which so nearly cost her global debut.
“I was training on the rock garden at Cascades, which isn’t even part of the Masters course for World Champs, but I just decided it was time to conquer my fears of it,” explained Bergstrom. “I had successfully ridden it a couple of times already and on my third or fourth time my foot clipped a rock towards bottom and off I came.
“I bounced down the rest of the way, landing on my ankle and knee on every rock possible, and immediately I knew it wasn’t good. Flip it was sore and my knee swelled up immediately.
“After seeing a physio they were initially worried I had done serious damage to the cartilage in my kneecap and that I may even need surgery.
“Fortunately, after nine days of strapping and physio treatment though the swelling went down and they were able to determine there wasn’t a chip or a break and that a bit of rest should see me back on the bike pretty soon,” she added with a relieved sigh.
Despite the injury impacting on her World Champs preparations having been put out of action entirely for two weeks and a further week of slowly getting back into the swing of things, Bergstrom believes the time off the bike could possibly even have been a good thing, even though it was hugely concerning at the time.
“The injury was obviously a huge scare for me,” explained the Coffeeberry/Momsen rider. “My whole year has been about building towards Worlds so for it to have been pretty close to having been taken away from me was really scary!”
“In the end I guess things actually even worked out for the better though. I’d been on the bike, pushing hard for some time before my injury and you can’t expect to perform at your best against the best in the world if you’re even slightly fatigued.
“The forced rest was probably a good thing for me, even though those who know me know I can’t sit still even for just five minutes and so it was the longest three weeks of my life!
“To miss even one race is not an easy thing for me to do though so after not being able to ride for a while when I got up to Nelspruit recently, I was like a bottle of champagne just ready to pop. I couldn’t wait to get going again!
“It was a bitter pill to swallow at the time but I guess everything happen for a reason and at least it was now and not closer to Worlds or even worse. In situations like these you’ve got to see the bigger picture so I’m just thankful that it wasn’t more serious and I can still compete because World Champs in your own backyard really is a once in a lifetime opportunity!”
Whilst looking forward to the opportunity to compete on a global stage for the first time, the feisty competitor isn’t content with just competing and has her sights firmly set on the top step of the podium and making the highly sought-after rainbow striped world champion’s jersey of her 40-44 age category in the women’s cross country her own.
“These next couple of months before Worlds will be a big phase for me. I’ve got a couple of big events coming up, especially Cross Country Nationals in Port Elizabeth which should be good preparation for Worlds, but now is all about trying to get into a World Champs mind frame,” said Bergstrom.
“To walk away with the jersey is definitely the ultimate goal for me!
“With it being my first time I’m obviously trying to go there with an open mind though, but I’m definitely going to go out there and give it my best come race day. I’ve got nothing to lose!”
“Apart from being part of such a big event I’m also looking forward to seeing some new faces on the start line. We have no idea who from overseas will be there or how strong they are so it will all be very interesting.
“It’s all not quite real for me just yet but I’m sure it will get more and more real the closer we get to August. I’m trying to prepare for the race like it’s just any other race, but really, it’s not! This is the World Champs, it’s huge!”
The UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships takes place at The Cascades MTB park in Pietermaritzburg from 26 August to 1 September 2013, and will be preceded by the UCI MTB Masters World Championships from 21 to 25 August. More information can be found at www.mtbworldchamps.co.za