Stuart Marais kept consistently excellent lap times to take the Batch A victory at the second round of the 2017 KZNMTB XCO Provincial Series at St Ives on Saturday 8 April. Photo credit: Gavin Ryan/Quick Pix

The in-form rider posted consistent lap times of 11:30, 10:44, 10:43, 10:44, 10:43, 10:38, 10:39 – the traits of a superb cross-country racer (the first lap featured an extended loop). Matthew Wilkinson and Brennan Anderson finished the seven-lap race in second and third places in 1:18:17 and 1:18:33 respectively.

“I had a goal that I’d like to do an under 11-minute lap, and I achieved that so I’m very happy about it,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a fast course and the only way I could push it without any traffic in front of me was to take the lead. The rain last night and the two batches before we raced really settle the dry track from Friday and made it super fast and it flowed so nicely.”

Taking about his goals for the year, Marais’ focus is on the cross-country races with some World Championships being the ultimate goal. “The African Continental Championships in Mauritius in May is first up, then I’ll be heading to Czech Republic and Germany for the two World Cups. Then, it is a build up towards the SA Champs in July. Hopefully I’ll be able to compete in one or two more World Cups and hopefully make the team selection for the World Champs.”

With his focus currently firmly fixed on the short-course racing format of XCO, Marais will embark on some stage races towards the end of the year after the XCO season is over.

Hilton College pupil and cross-country newbie Jordan Wisdom (17) absolutely dominated the B-Batch race with an emphatic victory over his chasers Sam Moore, Werner Moolman, Piers Morgan and Reece McCallum in 1:29:35. With only one other race under his belt this year, that being the Sugar Rush Classic, Wisdom showed immense promise in his newfound cycle racing discipline.

“I was really chuffed with how I did today,” said Wisdom. “I’ve never raced a cross-country before and didn't know what to expect out here. I took off at the beginning and managed to stay in the lead the whole way. I only started riding properly about six weeks ago with Absolute Motion.”

When talking about the course conditions, Wisdom said, “In the morning when I rode the test lap, it was really muddy and I’m glad that the C-Batch cleared it up a bit. The rock garden was really tough, and I went straight over the big rock – the straightest line possible. I’m motivated now and want to race the next one and maybe the SA Cup in Cascades, I just need to up my training.”

Sam Moore (Youth) finished second in the batch in a time of 1:30:40, while Werner Moolman (Veteran) came third in 1:30:59.

Veteran Women’s racer Natalie Bergstrom is back in action on the XCO circuit, recording the win in a time of 1:31:42 and finishing sixth overall in the batch. Christie-Leigh Hearder finished second, in 1:33:00.

Jonathan Watts (Kloof Senior Primary) and Jordan Bold dominated the C-Batch race, passing through the start/finish area on each lap neck-in-neck and both recording a finish time of 56 minutes 31 seconds. Barring any incidents on the course, it was going to be one or the other that took the victory, and it was the extra “Watts” that counted as his wheel was ahead by a whisker. Watts’ final lunge across the line is what probably sealed the deal.

Speaking about his win, Kloof resident Watts said that it was always going to be a tough race against a rider like Bold. “We both pushed each other the whole way, our racing is always close like this. I felt pretty strong and I wasn’t sure if I would get the win at the end. We both came around the last corner at the same time and it was pretty close. I came to practice this track yesterday and it was quite dry, but it rained last night so it got a bit slippery and muddy. I love this track, especially the rock garden and the lovely singletrack is my favourite part.”

Mark Potgieter, a Master category rider, finished in third place overall in 58:49.
Sabine Thies, hailing from Wartburg, was the strongest female rider on the day, finishing in fourth position overall in a time of 59:53. Thies represents the Youth category, while fellow Youth Megan Bircher and Sub Junior Chloe Bateson finished second and third in 1:01:03 and 1:02:33 respectively.

This season’s new batching format has created added excitement to the XCO races. The participants’ no longer race against their age group, but also race against those with similar strength and riding ability, regardless of age. This format offers fresh new competition to those used to winning their respective age groups in the past.

The next event of the 2017 KZNMTB Provincial XCO Cup Series is round number three, which takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday 3 June. Keep an eye on our Facebook page for details and information closer to the time.