Aloft his Merida 96 Team issue, the 18 year-old Kokstad based rider overcame both his fellow competitors and the day’s hot and sandy conditions as he charged to victory in the Half-Marathon event of the seven-race series’ Rooiberg leg on Saturday, narrowly edging out junior national marathon champion Wessel Botha and Jean-Pierre Lloyd.
“I was caught a little off-guard by the pace that the other guys set early on and they managed to open a two hundred metre gap over me quite quickly,” explains Zellhuber. “Once I caught them I looked to save as much energy as possible, especially as I knew there weren’t any climbs or other opportunities to try attack and get away from the others.”
“Towards the end of the race I started feeling a bit stronger and so I looked to try do as little work as possible and then fortunately managed to make my move stick right at the end and take the win.”
The triumph came as Zellhuber’s fifth race win in this year’s series, having also finished on the top step of the podium at the Sabie, Van Gaalen, Ballito and Dullstroom clashes, handing him the series’ Junior Boys’ spoils for a second year running and adding to the Youth crown he claimed in 2014.
“Winning the National MTB Series, especially for a third time, really means a lot to me!” says the 32Gi/Garrun Group/The Bicycle Company rider.
“The series has done a lot for me as a young rider and I’ve been working really hard for the title this year.
“Retaining the Junior title has definitely been harder than winning it in my first year as a junior because the racing has been really tough this year and the competition has been very strong,” says Zellhuber.
Over and above his National MTB Series title, the versatile competitor performed with aplomb at cross country, marathon and stage race events the country over throughout 2016.
Despite missing two STIHL SA Cup Series legs, as well as the SA National Marathon Championships and African Continental Championships, due to illness, victories at the first and fifth SA Cup Series events in Nelspruit and Bloemfontein respectively as well as two second places at the Pietermaritzburg and Port Elizabeth legs, saw Zellhuber finish fourth overall.
The emerging young talent also claimed the spoils at the two-day Fedauto Sani Dragon stage race in the Southern Drakensberg with team mate Marc Fourie.
“I’m really chuffed with how the season went for me this year,” says Zellhuber.
“I tried to do as well as I could across all three disciplines as I looked to see which of the three I enjoyed the most.
“I also put in a lot of hard work this year, so it was great to see how it all paid off in the end.”
2016’s noteworthy success has come at the perfect time for Zellhuber, who will take good confidence from his successes in 2016 with him as he starts the next chapter of his racing career next year – the Under-23 Men’s division.
Stepping up an age group in 2017 will see Zellhuber tasked with a number of fresh challenges however the exciting youngster is keen to tackle all that comes his way with the same determination and vigour as he has done throughout his Junior years.
“The competition is insanely strong in the Under-23 age group.
“At the moment I’m just focusing on putting in a really good base phase during the off- and pre-season though, and then I’ll look to take things as they come and learn as much as I can next year.
“In 2017 I’ll focus mainly on cross country racing as I look to take part in five of the World Cup circuit’s events, including the opening two legs in Czech Republic and Germany, while the Ashburton National MTB Series will be another focus of mine for the year.
“I’ve never raced overseas before; the furthest I’ve competed outside of South Africa is the African Continental Champs in Lesotho.
“I’m very excited to compete abroad and to race at World Cup level and winning the National MTB Series has done a lot for my confidence too!”