After a good result at World's View, it was time for me to focus on the big one, the fight for the stripes and the title of South African Champion. Being first year u/23 in a really competitive field of riders, I set myself a realistic but still very challenging goal at the beginning of the season. I wanted to be on that podium!
PYCycling arranged a training camp for us at Mankele two weeks before the big day to get ourselves comfortable on the course and to all round improve and gain confidence in our technical riding ability.
Seeing that this was during a solid training block we also worked in a couple of hard efforts on the track, which took its toll on most of us...
Edwill after a little interval session
Paul showing the "girls" how its done
Marcel and Edwill not convinced by the statement it's like riding of a pavement
Back to Pretoria and it was time for the second Nissan Trailseeker at Cullinan. The wind blew us apart and I managed 7th overall in the marathon. All and all it wasn't my best day on the bike, but none the less good legs stretch before the war.
During the week Epic Sports sorted out my Cannondale and Dimension Sports took care of my legs. Everything was ready and early Friday morning we hit the road with the wolf pack.
As we arrived at Mankele Bike Park, I did my final prep on the course and then it was chill time. Even though the stress levels were through the roof, the atmosphere in the squad was filled with jokes and laughs. No better way to calm the nerves!
Paul and I felt this was a good opportunity to try some new things on race day, so after breakfast I did a light roller spin. With the Elite u/23 men only starting at 13:30 I stayed at the guest house, trying to relax as much as possible during the morning. Well that was the plan... The Twitter feeds from the ladies' race had me jumping up and down for about 90 minutes. Thanks Yolande!
Warming up the engin
As I started warming up I felt fresh and awake! Even though I had the outside line on the start shoot, I got away nicely and was happy with my position heading into the first single track.
As we came through after lap 1, I was feeling pretty comfortable in the leading group of six or seven riders with the two Olympians Burry and Phil setting the pace. Small gaps started to open as we hit the gruelling tar climb on lap 2. Soon Rourke was out of sight for me, but I could still see Luke on the longer open straights. The mentorship of Paul kicked in and I kept telling myself what he told me to remember: "Just keep it smooth and keep flowing, you know you can".
The BIG drop
Halfway through lap 5 I noticed Luke was fading a little, and once again I heard Paul's voice: "They will fade, just keep it smooth". I took a few risks to get back and managed to catch him and Max just as we started the final lap. Game on! I considered attacking straight away, but I knew my legs wouldn't have survived such an effort. I was also confident in my ability to sprint, so I was happy to take it to the line with a skinny oke.
However, Max picked up the pace and I must say I was impressed with his technical riding for someone who hasn't raced XCO in a few years. He had me fighting to stay on the train through the twisty single track, but once we came out onto the BMX track and into the crowd the sprint was on between the youngsters.
POWER!! Trying to sprint while cramping
Somehow Luke opened a solid gap in the first corner, but then made it easy for me to get back when he made a slight mistake going into the second corner a bit too hot! I was right on his wheel over the jumps and bridges and it came down to a kick on the final stretch towards the line. Unfortunately for me that line came too soon and I finished 3rd u/23 less than half a wheel behind Luke Roberts with Rourke Croeser taking the win.
I must say I am happy with the way my XCO season ended. Thanks to everyone for the support, especially Paul. Not only did his coaching make a big difference, but also from a motivation point of view he is a great guy to be around.
2012 SA Champs for U/23 Men
Luke Roberts, Rourke Croeser, Arno du Toit
2012 SA Cup Series Podium for U/23 Men
Jason Meaton, Arno du Toit, Shaun Silver