Last Saturday, the 4th leg of the National XCO series was held at Mankele Bike Park in the Lowveld.The track is a treat for the technically skilled with tricky rock gardens, switchback turns and a few hair raising drops. Maintaining focus is key, race costing mistakes are easy to make, making cross country racing an exciting and unpredictable fight of attrition.
The main race of the day, the Pro Elite men, was riveting. It was arguably the closest fight with the biggest and strongest field we have seen this year. Arno du Toit consistently stayed in the chase group of about 9 riders to start with who were a few seconds behind Phillip Buys and James Reid. He fought his way through the ranks into 5th, and finally finished 4th Pro Elite and 2nd U23. “I dug deep to stay in contact with a solid group chasing Phil around for the first 3 laps. Fatigue, mistakes and mechanicals split up the field, but I felt good and as always, the equipment was perfect.” Stephan Reyneke raced hard and finished 10th pro elite and 6th U23 an impressive result!
In the ladies race, Yolande Speedy had some bad luck when she clipped a rock with her pedal and crashed, making her saddle skew. Speedy lost valuable time fixing her saddle but managed to fight her way through the field finishing 4th Pro Elite and 2nd Elite. “I chased back to finish 4th after a crash and resulting technical in my 2nd lap. It was a bit frustrating but I am happy to feel my form coming back.” Amy McDougall came 6th Pro Elite and 3rd Elite “I pushed my hardest but had no legs on the day. I am unhappy with my result but on a positive note, I thoroughly enjoyed the trails at Mankele, my Pinarello floated through the course. It was amazing! ”
The Sub Vet men’s race was also an exciting race, Paul Cordes earned himself top spot. “It was tough and close racing on another great course. Like always on race weekend, it was nice for me to get out and do some racing but also to see my teammates continuously improving and racing at the very sharp end of the sport.”
Francois Ebersohn cleaned up the field in the Vets category coming 1st by a huge margin! “Mankele is such an awesome event. Even my bicycle high fived me doing the jumps!!”
The junior men’s race was another exciting battle in an increasingly skilled and talented field of young men. Nicholas Popich came 9th with Joel Hieber just behind him in 10th place. Says Popich: “It was my first time racing at Mankele. It was definitely way out of my comfort zone, but a great experience and something to build on!”
Michelle Benson came 5th in the Junior ladies race.
Cross country is one of the toughest disciplines of racing, a combination of mental toughness, skill, fitness and fight is essential. To have the Academy members consistently performing at the high end of this type of racing as well as in marathons, is rare and admirable.