Hatherly crossed the line after six laps of racing in a time of one hour 34 minutes and 50 seconds. The most impressive rider on the day however was second placed Jan Withaar who rode fast and hard to finish in 01:38:42, with Stuart Marais crossing the line in third place (01:39:16).

Alan Hatherly (right) took the Elite Men's title at the third round of the SA National MTB Series XCO at the Happy Valley Conservancy in Bloemfontein on Saturday 6 May. Photo: Reblex Photography

For Withaar, the first two laps were a struggle to find a constant rhythm. “It was more of a matter of finding the concentration than it was physical,” he said. “I hadn’t cleated in properly either at the beginning which also isn’t too helpful,” he added.

When chatting about the course, Withaar said: “It’s a very natural track, and it was a little bit blown out – which by no means detracted for the quality of it. It’s an excellent track, we just all had to be very careful and concentrate hard to not hit too many obstacles that could lead us to punctures.”

Withaar was very happy with his second place and has said that this result has only given him even more of a confidence boost. “Seeing the repeatability after Pretoria means so much to me, and it’s very reassuring,” he added.

Strauss crossed the finish line first in the five-lap Elite Women’s race in a time of 01:38:55. Second place went to Swiss Team Spur rider Ariane Luthi in a time of 01:42:20 and third place to Namibian Michelle Vorster (1:45:55).

“Today went really well for me. It was dry and dusty out there but it was a great race – there were lots of obstacles to keep us alert and on our toes,” Strauss said.

Strauss heads off to KwaZulu-Natal soon to take part in the 2017 Sani2c next week with Robyn de Groot for Team Ascendis Health. “I’ve have wanted to do ’Sani for a long time and I am really looking forward to it,” she added.

Mariske Strauss was the fastest Elite Women at the third round of the SA National MTB Series XCO at the Happy Valley Conservancy in Bloemfontein on Saturday 6 May. Photo: Reblex Photography.

The following week Strauss heads off to kick off her UCI MTB World Cup campaign, with the Nove Mesto (CZE) and Albstadt (GER) races on 20/21 and 27/28 May respectively. “I’m excited to get the World Cup season going, and I am going to take it one race at a time,” she said.

All the top riders from all of the race categories were present to solidify their standings on the series log, with one remaining event to be held in Pietermaritzburg mid-June. Solid racing was seen especially in the Junior and Youth categories. The countries that were represented were South Africa, USA, Switzerland, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana.

In the Junior race, which formed part of the UCI Junior World Series, the Men’s title went to Pieter du Toit after four laps in a time of 01:08:53. Johann Trotzky and Namibian Alex Miller diced for the second and third places with both riders recording the same finish time of 01:10:55, but Trotzky’s wheel was inches ahead of Miller’s to take the second place.

Tiffany Keep won the three-lap Junior Women’s race in a time of 01:04:13 against second-placed rider Danielle Strydom (01:05:19), who finished just over a minute off the winning time. Azulde Britz finished in third place in a time of 01:11:03.

“Today went really well,” said Keep. Although looking as though she had breezed through the course, she assured that it wasn’t an easy one. “It was very tough, but mostly the conditions that made it so. There was also a lot climbing as well. There hasn’t been rain here either so it was very sandy and dusty. The races before us also then made the track quite blown out by the time that we raced.

“A few of the lines had changed on the climbs and there were a lot of loose rocks. The downhill sections were really fun. There were quite a few spectators watching that as well. The climbs took a lot out of me because they were very hard. I am happy with my win.”

The fourth and final round of the 2017 SA National MTB Cup Series XCO takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday 17 June.

The event also carries a UCI Category 1 rating and also forms part of the UCI Junior World Series. For more information about the Series, visit: https://www.cyclingsa.com/2017-sa- mtb-cup- series/.

The Elite Men's Podium (from left) Stuart Marais, Alan Hatherly and Jan Withaar at the third round of the SA National MTB Series XCO at the Happy Valley Conservancy in Bloemfontein on Saturday 6 May. Photo: Reblex Photography