Join James at the PMB MTB Festival Schools Challenge

The race for Olympic qualification is reaching a crescendo, with an all-important three-way qualifying showdown at the Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival on Saturday, 30 April. Our James Reid is bringing his A-game to ensure he can proudly wear the Green and Gold jersey in Rio de Janeiro in August!

If you’d like to catch up with the super-quick XCO Champion and get some pointers on how to tackle the Spur Schools MTB League, which starts in May, join us on Sunday and Monday this long weekend.

James will be taking the young and hungry future MTB stars on a lap of his old hometown track at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg.

For details on when and where, check out our events page.

James’s Long and Winding Road (to Rio!)

Whoa! Before you go quietly into a(nother) long weekend of beers and braais we thought you should know what’s happening with Team Spur’s James Reid tomorrow. Truth is, if you’re a local mountain biker with dreams of wearing South African colours at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August, this is not a relaxing long weekend. In fact, you’re probably not getting much sleep tonight.

At 2pm tomorrow (Saturday, 30 April) the bell rings for the start of the penultimate round of what has been a year-long brawl for Olympic selection. Appropriately, the fight takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg, a world-class venue famous for hosting the 2013 UCI MTB World Championships and a number of UCI World Cups. Although the Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival taking place this weekend is a Cycling South Africa sanctioned event, it is not part of the Stihl SA XCO Cup Series.

However, it is a UCI HC (Hors Categorie) event, carrying plenty of valuable UCI points. More importantly, it is one of the last chances South African mountain bikers get to impress our Olympic selectors. Essentially it’s do-or-die for any Olympic hopefuls. The team will be chosen after Round 4 of the SA XCO Cup in Port Elizabeth on 14 May.

In the heavyweight category (UCI Pro Elite Men) our James Reid is locked in a tight three-way tussle for (what will hopefully be) two spots to Rio. It’s a long and complex algorithm that has James, veteran Phil Buys and youngster Alan Hatherly pitted against each other. All you need to know is it boils down to tomorrow’s XCO event in Pietermaritzburg with one last-ditch chance in PE in mid-May.

With so much to race for the tension is already palpable and race day will feature no-holds-barred action of the highest quality over five laps of the punchy 5.4km route. The technical course will suit James’s explosive riding style and although he now trains in Stellenbosch, he can claim a hometown advantage as he was raised on the loamy Pietermaritzburg trails.

James holds a strong position in the eyes of selectors, with his 2015 Elite South African XCO title and two wins from three rounds at the 2016 SA XCO Cup Series. Unfortunately, he relinquished his 2015 Elite African Continental Championship title to rival Phil Buys in Lesotho in early April, falling victim to a late crash and the negative effects of racing at altitude (the African Continental Championships was hosted at a staggering 3000m).

So, if you want a ringside seat for all the action tomorrow, head to www.streamit360.tv at 2pm.

C’mon, James!

 

South African Marathon Championships, Clarence, Free State

South African Marathon Championships, 16 April
Clarence, Free State

James: DNF

The harsh and unforgiving terrain around Clarence in the Free State played host to the South African XCM Championships in April. With our marathon specialist Ariane Kleinhans already in Europe it was left to James Reid to fly the Team Spur banner at the high-profile event. The country’s top marathon mountain bike talent were all rearing to go. James was focused on using the event as part of his XCO building block, with an idea to sneak off the front and steal the national marathon jersey he has held twice times before if the opportunity arose…

James started well and was in the lead bunch as the field traded blows. He remained in the mix till the first major loop at 70km, until a lapse in concentration caused him to slide out in a corner and crash hard onto his knee. Knowing crucial Olympic-qualifying XCO races were on the horizon, James chose to play it safe and attend to his injury properly and didn’t complete the race.

Not the day James was hoping for but valuable race intensity in the bag. Let’s hope he can put it to solid use at the PMB MTB Festival, a HC mountain bike race with lots of critical UCI points on offer.

 

African Continental MTB Championships

African Continental MTB Championships, 2 April
Afriski Resort, Lesotho

James: 2nd place

When you commit to racing above 3000m there’s only one certainty – you’re going to hurt! The African Continental Championships, held in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho was an important selection race for both South Africa’s UCI XCO World Championship team to travel to the Czech Republic in July as well as the Olympics in August.

Going into African Conti Champs as the reigning champion and with a win from the previous weekend’s SA XCO Cup race at Wolwespruit, outside Pretoria, James Reid felt he had the form to make a decisive play for one of the national spots available. Unfortunately, the altitude and terrain had other ideas…

“African Continental Champs was a big disappointment for me after winning in Wolwespruit. I felt I had good shape going into it. But I miscalculated the effect the altitude would have on me, and went for a big training session mid-week, which didn’t pay off in the race.”

James started off well and felt strong enough to lead the race for the first four laps. He maintained a 15 to 30-second lead over Philip Buys for the majority of the event. Then James crashed and struggled to regain his rhythm: “Phil managed to work his way up on the fifth lap and I took a small tumble on one of the corners. He then pushed the pace. I caught back up to him but I had spent a little bit too much earlier on. He got a 20-second lead and reversed the roles when it counted. I respect him, he rode incredibly well and was very strong. In a title race no one remembers the ifs and buts.”

James remains positive his season and Olympic goals are on track: “The selection races are heating up. We have two more to go and I’m feeling confident. But, at the same time, I need to digest what happened at AfriSki and work on my weaknesses.”

“Hats off to the organisers. To everyone at AfriSki and Lesotho Cycling for everything that they did – I look forward to going back in the future,” James said.

 

An Epic Retrospective

Mountain-bike racing is very much like life – you have good days and bad days. To be happy, you have to know how to deal with the bad ones. In bike racing, it’s easy to handle a good day, because it’s all smiles, high fives and hugs, the true test however is how you manage the bad days.

Now that the dust has settled on one of the most exciting women’s races in Absa Cape Epic history, Team Spur-Specialized’s Ariane Kleinhans reflects on what was a far tougher race for her than most know. In fact, it very nearly ended after Stage 1 in Tulbagh.

Broken

“Crossing the finish line after Stage 1 I just didn’t know how I was going to manage another six days like that,” Kleinhans says, explaining how on the longest stage of the 2016 race – a 108km loop around the Tulbagh Valley from Saronsberg Wine Estate – she and partner Annika Langvad got away early and were working hard to claim back the women’s orange jersey Team Ascendis Health had won on the Prologue. “Then a little crash happened, I kind of felt that my brakes weren’t working as well as before but I didn’t think about it too much and just tried to get on with it and get to the finish,” she says.

Langvad tried to keep the pace up to cross the finish with a good time buffer, but Kleinhans simply couldn’t hold her wheel, something that was hugely frustrating for both. “Annika was just riding away from me and I could feel she was also frustrated because she couldn’t understand how I could be so slow, even on the flat sections,” she says.

“It was absolutely horrible, I tried my hardest and then when Jennie [Stenerhag] and Robyn [de Groot] caught us with 2km to go it was like a hammer in my head. We were leading the whole way. The entire stage… How could I be so useless?”

Photo by JB Badenhorst/Specialized

A dejected Ariane Kleinhans at the finish line of Stage 1 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic. Saronsberg Wine Estate, Tulbagh, South Africa. 14 March 2016
Photo by JB Badenhorst/Specialized

Prelude to a Breakdown

Kleinhans took the defeat as confirmation that her build-up had not been what it should’ve been, that she had not done enough. “It was like: you’re not going to win this race,” she says of the demons in her head.

If the physical part was tough for her to deal with, the mental aspect was nearly impossible. It was a symptom of a trying, emotional time for Ariane during the crucial training months leading up to the Epic. Ariane was wrestling with a painful divorce from her pro mountain biker husband Erik Kleinhans.

“In December and January I really struggled with motivation,” she says. “Something which is really hard to admit, because it’s a privilege to do what I do. You know, you feel like you should be happy and enjoy it, but I just struggled with myself. I was depressed for a long time there and just a normal day was quite difficult to manage sometimes. Despite the ups and downs, I knew I just had to do the training, so I got it done and never missed an important training session,” Kleinhans says.

“I just wanted to train alone and be by myself because I always compare myself to others and feel bad if I can’t keep up and that puts me down,” she says, admitting that she’d often be crying on the bike.

In later February – a crucial stage in her build-up to the Epic – there were two big hiccups. “I couldn’t do Tankwa because of a fever,” Kleinhans says. “That was quite a knock mentally because part of Tankwa went through the [Cape Epic] route… and all that sand and stuff… it would’ve been good just getting into stage race mode again. So missing out on that was quite difficult,” she says.

A week later Kleinhans finished second behind Robyn de Groot at the Ashburton Investments National MTB Series event at Sabie, a race she’d won for the previous three years and had always used as a gauge of her fitness. By her exceptionally high standards, she took the loss as further confirmation that her form was poor. “It was a really hard day for me,” Kleinhans wrote on her Facebook page after the race. “I was suffering horribly trying to chase her down and was only left with disappointment after crossing the line. Coming second is just not good enough for me at this race. It hurt.”

There was another factor at play that Ariane didn’t properly examine at the time, as she was locked in her own self-doubt. Both Robyn de Groot and her Acendis Health teammate Jennie Stenerhag had done the hard work to reach Ariane’s level, and even surpass it. In 2016 the South African women’s marathon race scene was transformed into a genuine world-class showdown.

Perspective

“Something really helped me to not spiral into the dark hole of depression that time,” she says. That something, was adoring fan little Emma Charlotteaux. “With Team Spur we planned a question and answer session for the kids at the race venue on Sunday, the day after the race. As ambassadors for the Spur School Mountain Bike League, our team is trying to inspire kids and young adults to follow their own passion and motivate them to live an active healthy lifestyle,” she says.

Emma came up to Ariane at the Q&A and asked how she could be like her. “It’s very humbling that people would find me inspiring. Kids like Emma make you want to be a better person, it took me back to when I was a swimming coach [in Switzerland]. They really copy you if you are a role model for them, they look at what you are doing and then do the same,” she says.

“It was challenging for me because I was suffering in my heart a lot. Obviously then you get frustrated and you appear grumpy and it is difficult to be nice and be a good person. But when you think of those kids who look up to you, you get some perspective.”

If the serendipitous meeting with Emma had been the mental catalyst she needed to kick into Epic race mode, then the arrival of Ariane’s Team Spur Specialized partner Annika served as the physical bullet. The pair teamed up at the five-day Tour of Good Hope road race in early March.

“To really go into the hurt zone and to know that I can still do it, I would have never trained that hard on my own – [former British road champion] Sharon Laws pushed us really hard and that was good,” she says, reflecting on her third place overall. “It was very good racing it with Annika because she is kind of the benchmark. Although I couldn’t keep up with her, I knew I was feeling strong and ready to race the Epic and that did a lot for my confidence.”

That self-confidence all but evaporated at the Stage 1 finish line in Saronsberg, until Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs examined her Specialized S-Works Era.

Bouncing back

“After the stage, we first had interviews and press to do, I didn’t know about the brakes until much later.” Ariane’s support team rallied around her when she crawled across the line. Team Spur soigneur Brent Botha and Specialized team manager Kandice Venter wiped away the tears and dirt etched into her face and readied her for the podium presentation. Ariane was broken and it was a tense 15 minutes just getting her ready to receive the bouquet for their second-place finish.

Photo by JB Badenhorst/Specialized

Slipping through her fingers. Ariane Kleinhans at the finish line of Stage 1.
Photo by JB Badenhorst/Specialized

JP had picked up the problem in the wash bay, hosing Ariane’s bike down: a high-pressure washer applied directly to the rear wheel wouldn’t turn it. When Ariane had crashed roughly 15km from the end of Stage 1 she had bent her rear disc brake rotor, effectively jamming her brakes for the remainder of the stage.

It was an insignificant crash, something that happens countless times over eight days of challenging terrain. In her rush to get moving again Ariane didn’t check the rear wheel was spinning freely, and in her end-of-stage fatigue she just assumed her legs had given up. Ariane had been dishing out huge power just to keep her bike upright and edging along on Annika’s wheel…

Photo by JB Badenhorst/Specialized

Ariane’s bent rotor at the finish line of Stage 1.
Photo by JB Badenhorst/Specialized

“When JP showed me how bad it was, I thought, okay, it’s not your training and preparation, you still have something in the legs,” she says. The feeling of dread was starting to lift.

The following day Kleinhans and Langvad won the women’s category of the 100th stage of the Absa Cape Epic. And they did it in fine style. Playing a classic tactical game, the pair bided their time in third place behind Team Sport for Good’s Sabine Spitz and Yana Belomoina and Sally Bigham and Adel Morath of Team Topeak Ergon for much of the stage as it explored the rugged Witzenberg Valley. They were closely marking erstwhile race leaders, Team Ascendis Health. Then, on the final steep and technical singletrack descent back into the Tulbagh Valley, they let rip. Ariane led a wild charge down the mountainside and caught both Sport for Good and, towards the bottom, Topeak Ergon. They dispatched Bigham and Morath on the flat run into the finish line and turned their 58-second deficit to Ascendis Health into a three-minute, 17-second lead.

Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Bouncing back: Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans of Team Spur-Specialized win stage 2 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic at Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh, South Africa. 15 March 2016
Photo by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

The Stage 2 win saw them slip into the women’s orange jersey. “I had a lot of doubt in the build-up,” Ariane admits. “It came in waves – sometimes they were huge and I felt like I couldn’t even do a two-hour training ride. But Tour of Good Hope helped with confidence and I got more positive then. So in the week leading up to the Epic and round about the press conference I started getting that feeling again, you know, we had done it the past two years so maybe we could do it again,” she says.

“After the Prologue and Stage 1 that feeling was gone… so to win Stage 2 was really special, it was the turning point.” The win ultimately set up an emotional third straight overall victory when the world’s most prestigious stage race finished at Meerendal Wine Estate some five days later.

Yet the racing was far from over and Team Spur-Specialized had to cross swords with the powerful and highly-motivated Ascendis Health as well as Topeak Ergon and the late-charging Sport for Good. The new separate start batch for women had transformed the battle for supremacy and the honour of wearing the orange jersey. The stages were fought at close quarters and the margins were tight. It was undoubtedly the most exciting women’s racing ever at the Cape Epic.

Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

The ladies bunch charges up an early climb outside Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh. 16 March 2016
Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Stage 3 saw a monumental battle with the top three women’s teams hitting the final singletrack together and arriving at the finish line in Wellington within just over a minute of each other. Sadly it also saw the sudden withdrawal of form team Ascendis Health’s Jennie Stenerhag, with heart complications on the finish line.

“Stage 3 was another long one. We were hanging with Topeak all the way and that’s when I knew it was possible to take the overall, but that it would be a fierce fight toward the end,” she says.

“I was very sad to hear of Jennie’s withdrawal. Robyn and Jennie are up there. South African racing is tough. I hope people appreciate that you have to be world-class to race with Yana and Sabine. It would have been very interesting to take on Ascendis all week.”

Pushed to the Line

Ariane and Annika claimed Stage 3 and 4, before veteran German multiple World Champion Sabine Spitz and Ukrainian U23 World Champ Yana Belomoina took the race by the scruff of the neck and won the final three stages.

“I didn’t quite expect Sabine and Yana to come so strong towards the end. I thought our battle would be with Ascendis and then Topeak, but there were a few surprises and we were racing all the way to Meerendal!”

Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

The ladies peloton during the final stage (stage 7) of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Boschendal in Stellenbosch to Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville, South Africa on 20 March 2016
Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

According to Kleinhans, her and Langvad kept having to change their mindset and were forced to adjust their race strategy every stage. “That made the racing really interesting,” she says. “By the last two days I thought I could pull through in a relatively okay time. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough for a stage victory anymore but I knew we could hang in there and not lose too much time,” she says.

Kleinhans believes it was her and Langvad’s race experience and teamwork which were the deciding factors in the overall win. That, and Langvad’s sheer strength. “Annika was an absolute champ! She was by far the strongest woman in the field,” says Kleinhans. “Through all eight days she was always thinking how she could improve and help me – where she could push me and pull me or just let me slipstream. She kept encouraging me. The entire time she was just trying to figure out how she can make me a little bit faster.”

Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans being congratulated after the final stage (stage 7) of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic. The stage took riders from Boschendal in Stellenbosch to Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville. 20 March 2016
Photo by Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

But it wasn’t all down to physical prowess. Ariane received a mental boost on the penultimate stage of the race. A gift from young Emma – a picture of her in a bike helmet wishing her good luck with the Epic. The circle was complete – perspective gained, challenges faced head-on, adversity overcome with the end result a third-straight Absa Cape Epic victory.

From Ariane Kleinhans' facebook page

A good luck wish from Emma on Stage 6…