Two young South African cycling stars are taking full advantage of the numerous races on the American cycling calendar, and are posting some good results while they are at it. Road cyclist Christiaan Kriek and mountain biker Mariske Strauss, both from the Western Cape, are honing their cycling skills and gaining valuable international experience as they continue to improve their results.

Mariske Strauss Competes in US Pro XCT Series

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South African mountain biker Mariske Strauss graces the top step of the podium after winning the short-track event at the US CUP West #2 at Bonelli Park on Sunday 11th March 2012. Photo: supplied.

South African cross-country mountain bike rider and SA representative Mariske Strauss is following on the successes of her early season cyclo-cross race victory when she won the U23 women’s class of the opening round of the US Pro XCT Series in Dripping Springs, Texas, on Saturday 3rd March.

The US Pro XCT Series consists of five events and Strauss intends to race them all.

Strauss faced tough American and Canadian competition in the Mellow Johnny’s Classic cross-country race, including the likes of 2011 Elite World XCO Champion Catharine Pendrel and teammate Georgia Gould (Team Luna Chix), Lea Davison (Specialized Racing), Emily Batty (Subaru-Trek) and Katie Compton (Giant RaboBank Team), with 25 elite women lining up for the start.

For Mariske it was a new competition with new challenges, and she mentioned afterwards that the racing was hard with a lot of women on the start line and she feels positive that her cycling will benefit going forward.

On the day the weather was good, and allowed for perfect racing, and Strauss bit the bullet, trying to stay on the wheel of the Elite group for as long as possible.

The racing was super fun with everything working as planned, and after a good start she slowly worked her way through the field, finishing in 12th position overall, first in the U23 class.

RESULTS - Mellow Johnny's US Pro XCT #1

1 Catharine Pendrel (Team Luna Chix) 01:12:56

2 Judy Freeman (Crankbrothers Race Club) +00:00:44

3 Monique Mata (Sho-Air Specialized) +00:01:16

12 Mariske Strauss (Pepper Palace.Spin Tech Training p/b ABR) +00:08:02

The next weekend, Strauss headed to California for round #2 in California, with the hope of repeating her performance and set the target at 10th place. The Bonelli Park race was the 2nd race of the 5-race Pro Cross-country Series, and was also be the 2nd of the 3-race Triple Crown Series.

Unfortunately for Saturday’s XCO event, Strauss battled with a bit of asthma due to the felling of pine trees in the area, yet still finished in 9th position and 2nd in the u23 category. On Sunday, Strauss returned to race in the short-track event, taking top honours.

RESULTS - US CUP West #2 ~ Bonelli Park

1 Allison Mann (Sho-Air Specialized) 01:28:25.31

2 Zephanie Blasi (WXC World Racing) 01:30:50.68

3 Erin Huck (Tokyo Joes) 01:31:43.33

9 Mariske Strauss (Pepper Palace.Spin Tech Training p/b ABR) 01:37:14.56

Christiaan Kriek: Turning frustration into victory

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South African Christiaan Kriek (front) representing Team Simple Green/Bike Religion, sprints to victory in the final stage of the Tour de Murrieta in California on Sunday 11th March 2012. Photo: supplied

For Christiaan Kriek (Team Simple Green/Bike Religion), a frustrating first two days at California’s Tour de Murrieta road cycling tour ended in the best possible way when he won the third and final stage, finishing the tour in third place overall.

Kriek described winning the final stage as one of his most satisfying victories ever, especially after the frustration and disappointment he experienced in the first two stages.

The event was an Omnium; it worked on points for the individual stages rather than a general time classification for the three days. Stage 1 was a 6km hill climb, followed by a criterium and it finished off with a road race.

The last 3km of the 6km hill climb was gravel road. “With my mountain biking background and my knowledge of the area, winning the time trail was a priority.” According to Kriek this tour was used as preparation for next weekend’s San Dimas and the Tour of Redlands in two weeks time.

“I felt pretty good early on. This is a discipline I’m still learning more about seeing that I didn’t do many time trials in South Africa. Right after I got to the gravel section I got a puncture. I was so irritated and frustrated because I was on my way to a good time. I rode the last 2.5km with a flat back wheel.” Kriek still managed a fourth place. He finished 8-seconds behind the winner Devan Dunn (a former South African).

The goal in stage 2 was to beat the riders that had got a better time than him in the time trial, in the sprint. “Our plan to keep everything together didn’t work out. Eight riders got away in a break and I had to settle for 13th place. Once again I was left frustrated and disappointed. I knew I was in a reasonably good position to win the tour, but it didn’t work out for us on the day.”

Stefano Barberi won the stage and David Santos was the new overall leader – both riders from Team Cashcall Cycling.

The final stage was a road race on a 5km circuit, which was pretty flat. Cashcall took the responsibility of controlling the race. “We had a team talk before the stage about what went wrong the previous day and how we can be more cohesive and effective as a team. Jos le Roux, Connor McCutcheon and Austin Carroll looked after me the whole day and made my life really easy. With about 5km to go Jos and Connor came to fetch me right from the back to the front of the bunch to set me up for the sprint.”

The last kilometre was a long stretch with a strong wind from the right and with 150m to go there was a sharp turn to the right. “At 400m to go we started the sprint. I knew beforehand that having the inside line will be my best option. I went hard for the inside line in the turn. Rahsaan Bahati (a former USA criterium champ) went into the turn at the same time. We did bump into each other a bit, but I had the inside line and he knew it. I kicked hard out of the turn and when I got a decent gap I could sit up and really enjoy the victory. It was probably one of the most satisfying thus far!”

The next two weeks are a big step up in terms of racing. The action now moves from regional events to the National and International stage with San Dimas and then Redlands (the only NRC race in USA this year).

RESULTS - Tour de Murrieta - California

Overall Omnium General Classification March 11, 2012 - Pro Men 1

1 David Santos (Cashcall Mortgage)

2 Michael Weicht

3 Christiaan Kriek (Team Simple Green/Bike Religion)