UCI XCO World Cup #3, La Bresse, France

UCI XCO World Cup #3, 29 May
La Bresse, France

Ariane: 49th place
James: 40th place

The third round of the UCI XCO World Cup took place in the pristine French town of La Bresse. Both Ariane and James had a point to prove after tough racing at Round 2 in Albstadt, Germany. With showers predicted for race weekend, and an incredibly challenging course, the two moved into town with Team Spur mechanic JP Jacobs early in the week and set about familiarising themselves with the 4.3km test of lung capacity, climbing power and handling skills.

Although race day dawned with pleasant, if overcast, conditions, overnight rain made for some very sketchy sections. Many of the world’s top pro riders came unstuck on the rocky and slippery descents, and knee-deep ruts were quickly carved into the fastest racing lines. This had a capacity French crowd chanting at riders all day. The atmosphere was thick with cheers and charged with energy.

Ariane started at 11.20am in 52nd position on the grid. She had opted for her lightweight S-Works Fate hardtail, and was hot out the start gate as a result. She was in a decent position for the first technical climb as the race strung out. Up front it was her countrywoman Jolanda Neff who, despite crashing heavily and flatting on the final lap, put on a masterclass of technical riding to claim first place. Ariane decided to play it considerably safer on the slick course with two critical marathon title races looming on the horizon.

“It rained during the night on Saturday. Certain sections were very slick. I struggled a bit with it and decided to ride cautiously. I had a really good start but just wasn’t good enough in the technical stuff and got pulled back by other riders. It wasn’t my best result. But I’m learning and figuring this thing out and I’ll get better – we just have to try again.”

Ariane had high expectations for her two World Cup ventures and was disappointed with the outcome. Yet the learning from the high-intensity bar-to-bar racing will stand her in good stead for her Swiss and World XCM Championships later this month.

James had a mental mountain to climb after his underwhelming 88th finish in Albstadt. Although he could take some solace from the fact that it was mechanical bad luck that had pushed him way down the results list. He knew the French round would be a bruising test, as a scrum of highly motivated European athletes were gunning for Olympic selection. A long Olympic qualification period for James in South Africa prior to Europe was starting to take its toll, and he would be asking increasingly tired legs to perform one last time before a scheduled break…

Starting in 41st position James dropped the hammer with a seething mass of 133 riders. The pace through the sleepy town of La Bresse was brutal and electrifying. As with Albstadt, James had a strong start and jumped from 41st on the grid to 32nd in the first lap. The plan was to control his effort though the intensity of the first lap, keeping it steady. James kept to the plan for the most part, passing riders who let the buzz of La Bresse get the better of them.

“I just had to start conservatively up the climb so as to not burn my cards early on. I ended up coming through the start lap in 32nd but was still running a little hot. I lost a few places on the second lap where the cards settled themselves and then just plugged away at it consistently .”

It was a consistent performance, and James is happy, if not ecstatic, with his 40th place. Importantly, it was a technical and mechanical trial that James and his S-Works Epic passed with flying colours. No crashes and no flats!

The first tests of the European challenge are over and Ariane and James have acquitted themselves well. Plenty to learn from as the pieces of the high-performance puzzle come together neatly.

Ariane now switches to marathon-mode for the Swiss XCM Champs on 19 June in Evolène and a (short) week thereafter the UCI XCM World Champs in Laissac, France.

James has time to get the legs fresh again with his next big dance the UCI XCO World Champs in Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic on 3 July, followed by Round 4 of the UCI XCO World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.

UCI XCO World Cup #2, Albstadt, Germany

UCI XCO World Cup #2, 22 May
Albstadt, Germany

Ariane: 53rd place
James: 88th place

The second round of the 2016 UCI World Cup took place in Albstadt, Germany and both Ariane and James were there to pit their form against the best mountain bikers in the world. It was the last opportunity for countries to earn UCI points for Olympic qualification, and thus determine how many riders they would be able to send to Rio.

Sunday’s race day brought blue skies and sun, and with the sublime weather an excited Albstadt crowd. Rain earlier in the week during practice meant part of the technical XCO course remained slick and slippery.

First up was Ariane with the Elite Women’s race kicking off at 11.20am. Ariane had a deep start on the grid, in position 61, so was always going to be picking her way through traffic. Her main motivation in racing select UCI XCO World Cup series races is to build her technical skill level and bunch racing ability, ultimately to help her in the marathon racing format. Albstadt was a rude reminder of the intensity of top level XCO lap racing. Nevertheless, Ariane kept chipping away at her competitors and rode consistent lap times in her first international-level XCO race since Val di Sole in August 2015, where she finished 36th.

“I didn’t manage to perform at my best. Although I actually felt quite good. Leading up to the race the legs were good but I didn’t do well with managing the riders on course and getting around them. I was happy to stay on the bike all the way and I didn’t crash, which sounds crazy, but is a positive. I will learn from the experience. The whole set-up – accommodation, our mechanic JP – was great in Albstadt. It’s  really exciting to race World Cups.”

James was under starter’s orders with a 140-strong bunch of Elite Men at 2.20pm. There is very little room for error in the seething pack of hungry riders and James had a powerful start, jumping from his grid position of 51st to 35th on Lap 1.

Disaster struck on Lap 2, when a Colombian rider rear-ended James’s bike, breaking one of his spokes and causing him to flat. After losing 20-odd positions getting to the next tech zone and changing wheels, James soon experienced another mechanical with a flat tyre on his replacement wheel. James rejoined the race in the mid-90s and fought hard before being pulled from the course while in 88th position.

The mechanicals were unavoidable, but James was eager to talk up the feedback from his disappointing outing: “The positive sensations were that I felt good, I felt strong. The profile of the Albstadt course, it isn’t a track that suits me. This weekend we have a new chance in La Bresse, France where the track is completely different with one long climb and one long enduro-style downhill so we will wait and see.”

Although James’s efforts in Albstadt sadly didn’t add significantly to South Africa’s UCI points tally, he can be proud of his contribution of the most points of any South African rider in the 2015/2016 season. His role has helped South Africa qualify two places on the start line of the Rio Olympic Games in August.

The team is staying a stone’s throw from the La Bresse course in the Squirt athlete house. They have had the week to practice on another tough World Cup course in a variety of weather conditions. We’re confident their preparation will reap rewards on Sunday.

Go to Redbull.tv to follow the racing action live on Sunday, 29 May.

 

 

 

Gauteng set for another great schools mountain biking season

With more than 500 schools expected to compete nationally in the 2016 Spur High Schools Mountain Bike League, Gauteng based schools will give it their all from the outset to secure their spot for the national final in October.

Gauteng is leading the national log in terms of numbers, boasting an impressive 2,498 riders representing 83 schools in the 2015 season and a record 661 riders competing in the biggest regional one day event since the inception of the league. Gauteng also holds the title of Spur Schools Mountain Bike League Interprovincial Champions for the past three consecutive years. In another exciting venture, Cycle Lab, has joined the Gauteng team and will have certified skills instructors present during course practices to assist the learners.

This weekend the 2016 Gauteng season will kick off with the Spur Tour de Vaal – presented by Anatomic on Saturday, 21 May at Phoenix High School in Vereeniging. Online entries can be done via the MTBZA app at a cost of R95. Riders can also enter for all four Gauteng events at a fee of R340. Only learners from grade 8 to 12 from Gauteng High Schools are allowed to enter the league. As the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League is an inter-schools competition, home schoolers can unfortunately not qualify.

Registration will take place on Friday and the full route with all obstacles will be open for practice from 14h00 to 18h00.  Learners need to register and have their number boards on their bikes before they can practice the route.

Coaches, teachers, parents and team managers will be allowed to inspect the route, but need to collect a special number board from registration before entering the course.  ER24 will be present during the course practice on Friday.

 Registration on Saturday will be at 07h00 with the first race for sub-junior boys setting off at 08h30, followed by all four girl categories (Sub Junior Girls; Youth 15 Girls; Youth 16 Girls and Junior Women) at 09h30, youth boys 15 at 10h30, youth boys 16 years at 11h30 and the junior men wrapping up racing at 12h30 with prize giving at 13h30.

 According to league co-ordinator, Meurant Botha of Amarider participation at local events is growing at a steady pace as schools accept mountain biking as a recognized sport – some going as far as building dedicated tracks on school grounds to encourage after school practices and interschool sports days as well as employing coaches and managers to oversee teams.

 “Although there are many kids finding their competitive edge on their bicycles, the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League’s focus is still to encourage more kids on bikes and more schools in action.  It is important for all children to enjoy participating whether only starting out or having participated for a couple seasons,” says Botha.   

 This year has seen the introduction of Team Spur, James Reid and Ariane Kleinhans, who play the important role of encouraging League riders to follow their dreams and showing the reality of becoming sponsored athletes.  Between competing at their various competitions, they have been mingling with keen riders, sharing valuable tips from how to better skills to handling pressure and form a vital part of the Spur Schools MTB League as they set the tone as role models for the young riders. 

For those new to the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League, the League is a programme focused on growing the number of children on mountain bikes by running interschool mountain biking races around the country. 

The League consists of 11 South African regions including neighbouring African countries Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho.  Around 60 events take place from May to the season-ending National Final in Magaliesburg in October.

 The racing format takes place on a marked track, generally over school fields and dedicated trails, where riders have to complete a certain amount of laps of a course that ranges between 2km-6km.  The distance that needs to be covered is in accordance to the South African Schools Cycling Association rules and regulations.

 The League is facilitated by Amarider, a trails advocacy organization aimed at improving trail opportunities in Southern Africa. The organization uses the League not only to introduce young riders to trails, but also to develop the technical trail riding skills that will make the trails environment a safer and more enjoyable space. In addition Amarider also provides the necessary support to build local advocacy capacity and develop the regional coordinator teams.

SA XCO Cup #4, Port Elizabeth

SA XCO Cup #4, 14 May 
Settlers Nature Reserve, Port Elizabeth

James: 1st place

With the fourth leg of the Stihl National XCO Cup series serving as the final qualifier for 2016 UCI World Championships and the Rio Olympics, it was sure to be a heated race with all the major contenders bringing their A-game. Having a DNF at the PMB MTB Festival due to a mechanical, James Reid was ready to prove that he has what it takes to beat out his rivals.

With the pressure mounting, James traveled to Port Elizabeth a week early to compete in the Eastern Cape XCO series held on the same course. Not surprisingly, James came away with the win, lapping all but the second-placed rider and picking up valuable insight into the technical course.

The team drove up to support James in race week and we were hosted by the Sun Boardwalk in fine style! As a clear skies dawned on race day James knew what he had to do. James knew he wouldn’t be given an inch by the other two Olympic contenders, Alan Hatherly and Phil Buys so decided to dictate the pace from the gun. Within 5 minutes James was piling on the pressure, with only Hatherly able to follow his lead briefly. The talented U23 rider was tough to shake but James turned the screws when Hatherly faltered through a technical section and the elastic snapped. Alan was then relegated to a battle for second with Buys. James steadily built his lead to over a minute, until a crash into a backmarker on the final lap reduced the gap to second to 55 seconds.

“After Alan’s technical error I opened the taps as wide as they could go and pushed the gap. Hats off to Alan, it was a pressurised race, everyone knew the stakes and I am super happy to come away with a win! A huge thanks to my sponsors Spur and Specialized for standing by me and to my entire team for the backup over the past weeks and months – lets hope for good things in the future.”

James’s sights are now firmly fixed on taking the battle to the European World Cup circuit. The competition is on another level, but he is confident that he has the form and shape to execute his best international season yet.

 

Rothaus-Hegau Bike Marathon, Singen, Germany

Rothaus-Hegau, 8th May
Singen, Germany

Ariane: 5th Place

The first European race for Ariane Kleinhans’ 2016 season would be Rothaus-Hegau, starting in the German town of Singen. Ariane was carrying good form from her 2016 Absa Cape Epic victory and success at the Fairtree-Contour as well as the Liberty-Winelands three-day stage race in her adopted home of Stellenbosch. But she also knew the quality of the field meant the racing would be at a level above anything she had experienced since her third-straight win at the Cape Epic in March.

Ariane was with the lead pack inside the first 10km when fellow Swiss rider Ester Süss and Great Britain’s Sally Bigham launched an attack. Bigham in particular was familiar with the course from previous years, and timed the surge to perfection. Ariane found herself in a singletrack bottleneck, caught behind slower riders. She quickly started working her way through the slower pack of riders, but flatted and then encountered a technical issue with her valve. This put her way back in the field. But Ariane was determined to claw her way back to the pointy end, and called on all her racing experience to secure a strong fifth place.

The next event for Ariane will be a switch from the longer format, with the high-intensity UCI XCO World Cup in Albstadt, Germany. Time to switch from diesel to high-octane racing!

2016 Spur Schools Mountain Bike League Fires Up

Scholars in the Northern Cape are pumping tyres, checking gears and calming the butterflies ahead of the opening round of the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League on Saturday. Theirs is the first region to kick off the 2016 season that will ultimately see more than 10,000 participants get a taste for the singletrack life.

The 2016 Spur Schools Mountain Bike League season marks eight years of the ground-breaking cycling program, which now proudly includes over 480 Southern African schools. Participation at the 60 nationwide events continues to grow and schools across the region now actively promote mountain biking as a school sport.

The top Spur League schools have invested heavily in mountain biking: many have built dedicated mountain bike trails on school grounds and neighbouring parks, encourage training rides after school, and even boast coaches and team managers.

The Spur Schools League boldly aspires to get “more kids on bikes, more schools in action”. It caters for all ages and skill levels, promotes a fun and social environment and actively encourages first-time riders to get involved. Yet as the League matures a healthy rivalry between riders and schools is also emerging and the top age groups are already racing at a ferocious pace. And so they should – there is far more than bragging rights at stake these days.

The Spur Schools Mountain Bike League consists of 11 South African regions, and includes schools from our African neighbours Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho. The League begins in May and culminates in a glorious weekend of interschool competition at the National Final held at Bekker School, Magaliesburg in early October. Riders are divided into age groups and race laps of a marked track, typically 2-6km in length. Each region hosts three or four events, with the larger regions attracting upwards of 600 participants at their races. Earning selection to the coveted National Final is understandably fierce.

In order to foster healthy competition, promote teamwork and increase participation in the League, winners of each age category, boys and girls divisions, at the Spur League Final receive R10 000 for their school. While Spur’s intention is to reward entrants by contributing to their schools’ educational needs, teams are free to make use of their winnings where they see fit.

An added incentive in 2016 is the opportunity to engage with top local mountain bikers Ariane Kleinhans and James Reid, professional riders for the newly-formed Team Spur. Ariane and James are pursuing an international racing calendar that includes high-profile events such as the Absa Cape Epic, UCI World Cup series and the Rio Olympics. Dedicated to inspiring the next generation of young mountain bike superstars,the pair will be sharing their tips and advice with parents and scholars throughout the year, and joining the best riders at the Spur League Final in the Magaliesburg in October.

The League is facilitated by Amarider, a mountain bike trail advocacy organisation aimed at improving trail opportunities in Southern Africa. “We use the League to introduce young riders to trails and develop their technical trail riding skills, making a safer riding environment and a more enjoyable space,” says Amarider’s director, Meurant Botha. “It is equally important that we build local advocacy capacity, and seeing the regional coordinator teams develop their trail management and event management skills is very exciting.”

The founding sponsor of the League, Spur Steak Ranches has again committed to a bigger and better season. “Seeing the continued growth of the program is something we are extremely proud of. We are committed to supporting the League’s growth into the future,” says Adam Deane, Spur Brand Activation Manager.

For more information on the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League, contact Amarider:
Michelle du Preez
021 8844547
michelle@amarider.co.za
www.spurmtbleague.co.za

Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival, Kwa-Zulu Natal

Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival, 30th April
Cascades, Pietermaritzburg

James: DNF

The weather forecast weighed heavily on the minds of our team mechanic JP Jacobs, and James Reid ahead of the UCI HC race in Pietermaritzburg. It was a critical round in the race for individual Olympic selection and offered significant UCI points, which would help in South Africa’s qualification of more than one slot to the Rio Olympic Games in August.

The rain-soaked Cascades course was a favourite hunting ground of James’. Quite apart from being his hometown, Pietermaritzburg had seen his best-ever UCI XCO World Cup finish. In 2012 and again in 2014, James finished fourth in the U23 race. A year later he was South Africa’s best finisher – 17th – at the Elite UCI Marathon World Championships (despite still being U23) held in and around the same venue.

Unfortunately, today would be a bitterly disappointing result. James’ high hopes for a win and a valuable box ticked in the deciding races for Olympic selection were left stuck in the thick paste of mud clogging up the course. Fine dust had turned to an almost unrideable sticky glue in the torrential rain showers on the day.

James had a decent start off the line, keeping his position through the first half of Lap 1. But South Africa’s young national champion wouldn’t even complete a lap, as his bike ground to a halt from the build-up of mud and he recorded his first DNF of the season.

James was able to salvage something positive from the weekend when he came back the next day to support the youngsters at the PMB MTB Schools Festival. He swallowed his stinging disappointment and engaged with the scholars as they tackled the various races of the exciting race format.

“After the disappointment of Saturday it was refreshing to be a part of my first Schools Mountain Bike League event. To see the current growth of the sport at this level is amazing. The boost in the younger categories, I mean pre-high school categories, is encouraging and fascinating.”