Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Riding a rainy running race and winning a mountain bike race: cold, wet, muddy fun! - Amy McDougall

I was prepared and strangely excited for a rainy day at the Cradle Mountain Trophy, I love the riding out there and the rain and mud would just add to the challenge! However, waking up to the sound of torrential rain, I poked a toe out from under the blanket and quickly retracted it. It was freezing!! I would be lying if I said that curling back up into bed didn't cross my mind a couple of times. But no, I said I would do the race and I knew I would enjoy it once I was out there, so I dragged myself out of bed and phoned my friend Michelle awake. We were going to do this! The drive along the N14 was treacherous, we had to leave at 5 30am and it was pitch dark for the entire drive, the rain was still pelting down and the roads were full of aqua planes that couldn't be seen. Eventually we arrived at Maropeng, the sun had come up and rain died down, but it was still freezing cold. I heard that the start had been postponed ‘till 8, maybe the rain would clear up by then. A lot of people who made it to the race changed their mind and went back home, what ever happened to HTFU?

Day 1 was cancelled anyway due to overflowing rivers, not even the support vehicles could cross them. I was really disappointed that it we weren't going to race, I was all psyched!! Chatting to Rob Jackson from Leverage Corporation and the other race organisers, they were getting ready for the trail run and needed a lead mountain biker. “Amy will do it! She’s crazy enough.” Couldn’t argue with them there. I’ll do it! May as well, I was all dressed with nowhere to go and this would be fun, something out of the ordinary and at least I’d get to ride!

Michelle volunteered to ride as the sweeper for the 8km, soon after we agreed to this the rain started full force again and we were shaking with cold. An impressive die hard bunch of 50 runners gathered under the start gazebo. There were two distances, 8km and 16km (2 laps). All I had to do was ride ahead of the leader and follow the blue arrows, easy enough! Luckily the leading guy was so fast, he won by miles and even had some breath to chat, we finished in 1:10 minutes but they needed a sweeper for the rest of the 16km runners, so off I went again, lap 3, caught up to the last runner / walker and kept him company till the end, turns out he is an Epic Sports club member and keen mtber. I must say, I haven’t been that cold in ages and a hot shower, lunch at Papachinos and nap was the best thing ever!
Leverage Corporation made the best compromise they could for us, postponed the 75km for the 2 day riders till Sunday and kept the 45km for the 1 day racers. I was happy we at least got to do the 75km.

Sunday morning was nippy and shrouded in mist but soon cleared up and turned out to be a stunner of a day! The neutral zone was a long stretch of tar road, finally we turned onto a dirt district road where the pace went up and the small lead group consisting of Lourens Luus, Henry Uys and a few other guys disappeared into the distance. I kept a comfortable pace, 75km in Magaliesberg is not to be underestimated! I made sure to start eating and drinking my High 5 early on to avoid bonking. After a super fast start on the district road, we headed into some awesome single track with river crossings and a portage section over a bridge crossing a river. My Sidi cycling shoes were wet and muddy, so I had to tread carefully carrying my Pinarello Dogma XC over the slippery bridge and onto a cement wall which had a massive gap in it, most people could probably step over it but short legs me had to hold my breath and jump across, bike in hand. Phew, made it! I scrambled up the muddy rocky uphill that followed and got back into a rhythm through some more single track and had to portage up a section of another rocky climb as my muddy tyres slipped out from under me.

At about 49km in, I saw an arrow pointing down a small road off the district road we were on , it didn’t seem right but I went down anyway. I carried on for a km or 2 and when I saw no one behind or ahead of me I turned back, uphill the whole way. At the split, there was another confused cyclist, not sure what to do, we waited and got passed by a guy who told us not to go left but carry on straight. I was super frustrated at all the time I had lost but I was still winning luckily. After the race I heard that loads of people made the same wrong turn, due to a badly placed arrow. That was comforting; I wasn’t going completely mad ;).

I was happy to cross the line in 1st place. The route had a great mixture of single track, river crossing, challenging technical sections, rocks, mud and fast district roads. My Pinarello is looking forward to a good TLC session with the trusty mechanics at Epic Sports!
Overall I really enjoyed the weekend, the Leverage Corporation sure know how to run an event! The running race was an interesting experience and, if anything, makes for a good story J. The mountain bike race was just amazing, riding the Pinarello is dreamy :D.  

Next up is Clarens, yiesh! Until then, later!

Monday, 22 April 2013

My First XCO National - Nicholas Popich

The week before the National XCO cup #2, I found myself glued to Youtube, studying GoPro footage of every corner, rock and tree root to be found at Cascades MTB park in Pietermaritsburg. Without noticing I would stop breathing for easily 30 seconds… visualising myself riding the treacherous rock gardens and drop offs. I was prepared! 

Arriving in PMB on Thursday gave us a good two days to practice a few laps. Angie and I were dead scared! Never before have I seen such a track… Gap jumps, rock gardens dropping into burms, steep switch back climbs and tight corners around gigantic pine trees. Elements ONLY to be found in Pretoria’s DOWNHILL tracks. I decided (it took me two hours of gazing down), it was DO or DIE… or rather, do AND die! By the end of Friday I had finally concurred every obstacle after hurting Mother Earth with my Rudy Wingspan helmet, taking a tumble or two. That evening “Lights out” came early – we had no electricity!

Rise and shine, it was a perfect day for climbing tree (blue and sunny skies) and… RACING! I watched my team mates push their Pinarellos past the limit, Amy and Paul both finishing with a spot on the box and Arno compete upfront with the Pro Elite riders. Time for me to show what I was made of, excited! Then the disappointment of having to start way back of the pack seeded almost last L. Yolande got me cheered up: “It is just another race, relax and give it your best. You will be fine.” A last HIGH5 Gel for the kick in the start! 

The shot had me sprinting ballistic. Cutting corners and giving all I had moved me up from 20th into the top 10 within the first 1,5km. The switch back climbs helped me on my mission fighting my way into the top 5. Approaching the Rock Monster’s mouth (rock garden) my arms started shaking, not just on the first approach, every single time! Lap 1: Phew, success... Lap 2: Bail (running down in my SIDI’s – tough stuff)... Lap 3: Bail... Lap 4: BbbbbMADE IT! Halfway through the third lap I was flattened from all the fighting to stay in range of a spot on the podium and simply gave up.

Coming through the tech zone I was honoured to have Yolande hand me my second bottle (“Relax and give it your best. You will be fine.” – running through my head).  The Badger decided to bite back! Using a HIGH5 gel on every lap finally came into play and after zoning the rock garden my confidence was back. One lap left to catch up. In the last km I made my way up to 5th, right behind 3rd and 4th. Tactics came into play making timing crucial. With the last opportunity I zipped past them on my super responsive Pinarello DogmaXC and had a hard sprint in the final few meters of the race to claim the third position trailing second by 30 seconds and Alan Hatherly winning by quite a few minutes. 

Cascades “claimed many victims” in crashes, mechanicals and climbs BUT it was fun. Something out of the ordinary for me and an incredible experience learning from experts and mentors such as Paul Cordes and Yolande Speedy! 

Thank you to a[s]g for supporting and sponsoring our team. Thank you to the team for making it possible and all my team mates for the enjoyable weekend and all the tips and cheers! A last thanks to Angie for the accommodation.

I am looking forward to the next leg of the National XCO series at Thaba trails.

Nicholas Popich   #TheBadger

Monday, 15 April 2013


STAGE 1  -  LYDENBURG – MANKELE   : 83km- 1814m ascent

The weather was great, the 164 riders were enthusiastic!! With all the adrenaline rushing through our bodies Marcel and I were anxious to get going.  As a team we decided that Stage 1 will be an observation stage just to see who the strong teams were.  We left Lydenburg High School in front of a huge cheering crowd of school kids. Our legs warmed up on the tar neutral zone. The leading motorbike moved out of the way giving us the sign to start racing. 3km into the stage it was clear who the strong teams were, among them were myself and Marcel (TEAM - asg py-cycling), Hennie Kriek and Taygan Robson and Max Knox and Ben Melt Swanepoel. The first 10km was fun with a lot of single track, as soon as we hit the first district road the legs of the more experienced riders kicked in and they started opening up a gap on us and each other. We kept our own pace steady not trying to use up any unnecessary energy as it was the first of 4 days.  We knew we were being chased by the other teams, we went a little bit harder towards the end, taking turns to pull each other, we flew up the last short climb. We finished in Mankhele with a 2 minute gap over the 4th place team.  We were stocked with our 3rd overall on the day.

STAGE 2  -  MANKELE - SABIE  : 70.7km -2059m ascent : 

The rain had started at about 2am and our worst nightmare had been realised. The 4:30 wake up was cold, wet and dark. But after a good breakfast we were ready to take on day 2.  According to the route profile day 2 was to be the toughest day and it sure was for us. We started with the intention to increase our lead of 2 minutes. 2km into the stage we got our first taste of blood, sweat and tears, we hit a climb named “the sting” we put our heads down and kept pedalling hard up the hill, we were in 3rd again behind Hennie and Taygan. The 2059 ascent was really draining and was eating away the last of our energy reserves. The climbing ended at 45km, at this stage we were soaking wet and full of mud. The down hills were slippery and very doggy and being wet and very cold didn’t make the last 20km very easy. We entered the last single track heading to Marry Pebbles. We had no choice but to take it easy through the slippery narrow tracks. We managed to increase our lead by a small 40 seconds on the 4th and 5th  teams. Marcel tweeted that afternoon, “ Today was definitely among my top 5 of one of the toughest days I’ve ever had on the bike”.   
Nature had the last laugh!


STAGE 3  -  SABIE – GRASKOP  :  58,2km  – 2106 ascent

Because stage 2 was tough and we felt a bit tender we made the decision not to go as hard as the previous day.  According to the route profile day 3 was made up out of steep climbs.
 It was cold and misty when we rolled out of Marry Pebbles. Once the lead vehicle pulled off the racing commenced furiously. Marcel and I stayed with the chasing group up the first long climb. The group started to lean out and before we knew it was us and the team of Lourens Beeslaar and Juan Gibson sticking together at a comfortable speed.  Trying to save my legs for the last bit of the stage I reckoned it was a good idea to spin a bit, I shifted down on the front derailleur but nothing happened, this made me worry because the short steep climbs were still to come. We finally reached the top of the first climb. We went down for a bit and Marcel took the opportunity to take a HIGH 5 gel, with both hands off the handle bar a wet rock caused him to lose his front wheel and take a tumble!!!!!! He was back on the bike in a flash with the gel still in his mouth………  Then the steep climbs started, I was suffering because of my gear problem. It was tricky single track climbs and my legs were starting to get tired of muscle tensioning up every steep climb and I started to fall off from the group. I was going into hurt locker. Marcel waited for me on one of the last steep climbs. I got to rest a bit and finally started to feel better.  We caught up to Lourens and Juan and decided to put in a hard effort 5km from the end to get away and opened a gap of 1 minute. We descended into the finish at Graskop, 4th overall and 3rd  senior men. On the bright side we managed to increase our gap and SURVIVE day 3.

STAGE 4  -  GRASKOP – HAZYVIEW  :  45,2km -  1006 ascent

The final day, on paper this was going to be a downhill race to the finish. We started fast trying to get into the first single track in a decent position. We hit the first of the very short climbs, we found ourselves in second place and feeling strong. Flying through the awesome single track we got to the first compulsory portage section, here the trouble started, we soon found out that running with our bikes is not our fortè. The chasing teams caught up with us because running with our bikes was a whole new ball game. We tried to decrease the damage done by the portage section by trying to “klap it” down the slippery down hills. This was easier said than done.  Our legs started to feel flat after 3 days of racing, this was not applicable to Lourens and Juan that made mice of the 45km route. We knew we had a decent lead all we had to do was get to Hazyview in one piece and that was exactly what we did.
Very pleased with our 3rd place overall and 2nd senior men over the 4 days of hard racing and suffering at Lowveld Quest.

We have learnt a lot in this stage race,  it was an absolute brilliant experience and a great privilege racing with the big boys. We made many good friends during these 4 days. A huge thank you to all involved who made our trip to the Lowveld possible. 

Marcel was an unbelievable team mate, together we did it!!! 


Press Release: Academy members on the box, from National XCO to stage racing to one day classics.

Last weekend the ASG Academy members performed in a variety of mountain bike racing disciplines across the country.
The National XCO series #2 took place in Cascades, Pietermaritzburg. The course was significantly different to the one built for African Champs a month ago; providing riders with new challenges. This time around, the course was dry which made for very fast and exciting racing!
In the Elite men’s race, Arno du Toit finished fourth overall and third U23. The Sub Vet men’s race,

Paul Cordes came second in the Sub Vet category, it was an exciting battle between him and Jan Withaar! They were neck and neck for their five laps, but in the end it was Jan Withaar to took the victory by a mere 4 seconds.

In the Junior men’s race, Nicholas Popich came 3rd against a strong and experienced field. This would be an admirable result under normal conditions, but considering this was the youngster’s   first national XCO race on a course far beyond his experience, it is a milestone. “My first Cross Country National. Proper opponents, a proper track, with proper obstacles, bringing you down properly! It was an amazing experience and an unforgettable weekend with my teammates.”

In the ladies race, Amy McDougall came fourth Pro Elite and second Elite Lady. “It was an amazing experience, the Pinarello floated through the course! I learned a lot, conquered the rock garden and a gap jump, there is still much work to be done, but I am looking forward to it.
Francois Ebersohn blitz his field in the Vets category winning by almost four minutes for the 5 lap race.
On the opposite end of the MTB racing spectrum, two Academy youngsters, Edwill O’Niell and Marcel Marais attempted their first stage race, the Lowveld Quest. It was a rocky road for them, per se, but despite this being a new experience and one of the hardest things they have done, they pushed through and came third overall and second senior men. A brilliant result and an experience that they will take with them as they move forward as aspiring athletes.

Another race in which the Academy was prominent was the Emperors Palace 40km MTB challenge that took place on Saturday. JP Joubert came second overall and was the first Junior home. Danielle Rheeder was the first Junior and came 8th overall in the ladies race.
The Redstone MTB race took place on Sunday, where Academy member Tracey de Jonge took the overall ladies win in the 25km!

It is great to see enthusiastic Academy members from across the age and experience board excel in all types of races from cross country lap racing, to multi day stage racing.
Until next time,

Happy cycling

Monday, 8 April 2013

My ASG MTB Academy Family - Kyle Wood

I have always been a keen cyclist, but mostly loved “fooling around purposefully” on my bicycle.  Just being fit enough to kill some fast flowing singly track with a fewor many wheelies, and a couple of little jumps in between.  Cycling has always been my biggest passion, and the thing that my world revolves around.
Marcel and Edwill had convinced me to join them for a coffee ride with Paul and Arno.  It seemed to me,that the more frequently they trained and the more frequently they drank coffee, the stronger and more focused they became.....  Things like a distinct cycling tan would indicate how much you had been training.  It seemed as if I had been living on my bike as a result of the contrast of my awesome cycling tan on my pale skin!!  I was intrigued! I asked myself.… Was getting hooked on cycling even more than ever before, at all possible?   

I have become fitter and love my riding! This was an ideal situation.Suffering whilst doing what you love with the coolest “ouens”!  I remember having a good laugh when telling Paul and the Thursday race bunch, that after that amazing single track I need to admit to my “Sheep” (Girlfriend) that she is no longer the only thing that gives me butterflies!!  I love the riding on a more focused level, be it at a level to keep up with the “BIG BOYS” with an occasional rocket sprint with Arno!
On 7 April 2013, for the first time in a long time I was really nervous standing in the start shoot!  This was a good sign to me, because I realised that I cared about the outcome and the result at the end!  This was not just about me; this was also about the team!! 10 min, 5 min, 2 min, 30 sec, 15 sec, and BOOM, we were off!  Not the best start and I ended up about 20th going up the first climb amongst the under 23’s and the other Elite riders.  I told myself ‘What will count now is determination!’

I worked hard during the 1st and 2nd laps and was on average in 6th place.  I decided that more work was required!  Trap jou fiets Woody!!  I could now settle into a strong rhythm and try to reel the other riders in.  But then… as I crossed the river during the 4th lap, I hit the rim of my bike on a rock and found myself nursing my bike back to the Tech Zone!

Once I had had my tyre pumped and made sure that the ever-friendly Tiaan had pumped it to a solid 2.5 bar, I now wanted to sprint the last 2 laps, but instead listened to Paul’s wise words.... “Keep it steady!”  I fortunately took his advice otherwise it would have been up to my mom to scrape my remains from the track! 

It was a toughrace and I feel thatI could have done better.  At the same time I am extremely happy with my progress.  The motivation I have found is huge.  I am now motivated to train harder, drink even more coffee and take my cycling to new heights.  The ASG Academy is my cycling family, not only myteammates, but supporting friends who don’t hesitate to push me to my limits.  I now have a new focus, want to become more competitive and be the best I can be.
The build up to the race was great. My appreciation to Paul for making me part of the Academy, and to my teammates for accepting me. I am now a proud part of the ASG MTB family. 

Cycling greetings, Kyle “Woody” Wood.

Provincials XCO #2 - Nicholas Popich

It has been quite a while since a race was held at Fountain XCO track. They surprised us all with some new, challenging single tracks. The whole a[s]g MTB outfit was there, some riding and others just coming to support creating a great team atmosphere.

My blood was boiling at the start of the second Burry Stander Memorial Provincial XCO. The start was a bit of a mix up with many of the Youth riders standing in front of some of the faster Junior riders and so I sprinted off in anger in the second row making up as many position possible before entering the single track.
Within the first lap I made my way up to fourth position finding the leaders’ pace a little slow and took over the lead just as we passed through to start the second lap. The legs were feeling fresh and the DogmaXC felt light going up climb one of the second lap. I found myself reaching the summit alone… it was time to commit! A High5 ISO Gel every lap kept me on edge for all 5 laps having to concentrate through the tight, dusty corners and sprint up the power climbs. Hard and Hot describes every aspect of the race. The sun was cooking! Still every corner and climb was a pleasure on the Dogma, she did the handling – all I had to do was to pedal hard. All ended well with no technical issues (Shimano XTR – reliable as always), no punctures (Continental X-King gripping like mad) and a solid minute lead and 1st position for me. 

Well done to Dylan Rebello and Neil Robinson respectively coming in second and third, and to Jacques Pretorius (team mate) riding well after winning the USN cup half marathon on Saturday. 

Great racing done by the team this weekend with quite a few podiums stashed away. Thanks for all the love and support and a big thanks to Paul Cordes and Tiaan Botha (MTBmadness) for taking care of us! I’m looking forward to the trip this coming weekend to PMB for the XCO Nationals. 

 Nicholas Popich  #TheBadger

USN Cup #3 - Jacques Pretorius

I really wanted to win the USN Cup #3 because of the badluck I had at the previous two events. It was a very chilly morning, but by the time we lined up for the start it was already turning into a hot day. This time, unlike the first two USN Cup races there was a big time gap between the 50 km riders and the 30 km riders I was very happy about it ‘cause it meant fast and fair racing for us. We started with a 1 km neutral zone, after the neutral zone I put in a hard effort to split the field. About 2 km later it was just me and Raymond Wagener. I did not know him and did not know how strong he is. I soon realised that he was very strong on the climbs and it was hard for me to hold on. This is when I knew that I was going to need all the help I could get and reached for my high5 energy gel to keep the legs turning hard. 

We were taking turns to ride on the front, and managed tomake a huge time gap on the rest of the field. After the 5 km to go mark the pace got harder I took the lead to insure that I had control over the pace. The single track to the finish was very fast and plenty of fun! When I saw the cars and tents I put in an attack with little success but I kept pushing hard at the front. I managed to take the win in a sprint finish. I am very happy with my win! Well done to my teammates who got their podium spots despite all of the chaos in the 50 km finish