Gearing up for a busy Spur Schools MTB League weekend

With seven events scheduled across seven regions this weekend, the Spur Schools Mountain Bike League is setting the tone for another busy term of racing as riders try to secure a spot in the national finals in October.  To date more than 2000 riders representing 233 schools have participated in the 2016 season.

For riders in Limpopo, Mpumalanga Lowveld, Port Elizabeth and Kwazulu Natal this will be their first 2016 league racing opportunity, while schools in Gauteng, Western and Southern Cape will be looking at logging more points and firming up their positions going into the second race in these regions.  Races will take place on Saturday, 23 July in all regions except KZN, which will be hosted on Sunday, 24 July at Thomas More College in Kloof.

Parel Vallei High School is currently lying overall first on the Western Cape log, with Paul Roos Gimnasium second, DF Malan third, Montana High School in fourth place and HTS Drostdy in fifth.

In Gauteng it is Menlopark High School retaining their top spot as defending champions followed by Afrikaans Hoër Seunsskool overall second, Transvalia High School third, Waterkloof High School in fourth and Midstream College in a close fifth.

York High School is leading the pack in the Southern Cape, followed by Outeniqua High School second, Greenwood Bay College third, Murray High School fourth and Knysna Montessori High in fifth position.

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 as well as in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho. 

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.  

First time league participants in the Western Cape between the ages of 15 and 17 who are keen to give the league a try, will have the unique opportunity this weekend to compete in a fun MOB Race at Bloemendal Wine Estate at 11h10 before the course practice for competing high school riders at 11h40.  Riders can enter on Saturday at a cost of R50.

For entry and event details in the respective regions, visit www.spurmtbleague.co.za, or contact Amarider’s Michelle du Preez at 021 8844547 or michelle@amarider.co.za.  You can also keep up to date by following us on face book at SpurSchoolsLeague, twitter #spurMTBleague and @spurMTBleague.

Swiss XCO Championships

Swiss XCO National Championships, 17 July
Echallens, Switzerland

Ariane: 6th place

Our newly-crowned XCM Swiss champ, Ariane Klienhans, traveled to Echallens, Switzerland to test her skill and grit against the best XCO racers in her home country. Now if you follow Swiss mountain biking in any way you’ll know just how dominant they are in the XCO discipline. Ariane knew the Swiss Championship would be no cake walk.

With the last round of the XCO World Cup in Lenzerheide fresh in her memory, Ariane braced herself for a hell for leather fight for the podium. Unseasonably heavy rainfall in the week prior had left the technically challenging Echallens track a particularly slippery battleground.

Despite traveling to Echallens from her hometown of Thun two days before the event, Ariane was unable to get a feel for the full course’s racing lines, as the weather had made parts of the course unrideable to all but the most confident technical pilots. In fact, as the gun went for the start of the Elite Women’s race Ariane hadn’t completed a full race lap, and one major technical drop-off remained completely unridden by her. She would have to play it by ear and either skip the tough obstacle or ride it blind…

Ariane struggled to find her rhythm  in the heat of the start lap and felt out of sorts on her bike. The marathon champ found herself fighting to stay inside the top 10 in the first lap. And then came her moment of truth: the drop-off. Ariane checked her speed with the riders around her and decided to pin her ears back and ride it. She sailed through the air and pulled out in one piece at the bottom. Success!

Now it was a game of pacman. Ariane upped the pace, found her rhythm and started to pass riders. The podium had got away up front, led by the skilled young Jolanda Neff. But Ariane was starting to feel surprisingly good, and mastering the technical aspects of the course with style.

She picked off a further four places to finish in a very respectable sixth place, building on her confidence and skills in the process.

“After all, I am happy that I managed to do the drop. It’s quite big for me and there were quite a lot of technical sections in there. In the last lap I managed to actually, finally ride the entire course so I will take what I learned from this race to my next XCO.”

James Reid claims second Elite XCO national title

South African XCO National Championships, 16 July
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

James: 1st place

Returning from a tough series of highly competitive races in Europe, James Reid had a lot on his mind in the week before the South African Cross-country Championships in Pietermartizburg. A long haul flight back to South Africa to defend his national jersey gave him plenty of opportunity to ponder some disappointing results at the UCI XCO World Champs in Nové Město, Czech Republic and the UCI XCO World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland (James finished 47th and 41st, respectively).

For James and team mechanic, JP Jacobs there was also the small matter of Olympic selection. Less than a month before the start of the Games neither of them knew whether they’d be wearing the green and gold and representing the country in Brazil. But both of them had to focus on the things they could control: unpacking their bike bags and suitcases, getting the washing done, and repacking it all for an important showdown in Pietermaritzburg.

As James and JP were preparing to board their flight to Durban on 14 July, they heard via SASCOC’s official Olympic team press conference that they were in! James was selected alongside young rising star Alan Hatherly as the two-man South African mountain bike team, while JP would be joining them as team mechanic. As they sat excitedly glued to their mobile devices, the plane taxied off down the runway and they were forced to switch off their phones…

They landed to a tidal wave of support for their selection from family, friends and fans. But they both knew this also left them with a target on their back. There would be added pressure for James to defend his national title and prove he was worthy of a trip to Rio. Although the selection process was done, those who didn’t make the Olympic squad would have a lot to prove.

A track walk on arrival at the Cascades course on Thursday evening was followed by official practice on Friday. Course designer Nick Floros (who is also responsible for the purpose-built track at the Rio Olympics) had mixed things up at the venue and a completely rejigged configuration had opened up plenty of new obstacles and lines. James would make sure that every rock, root and corner of the route was etched into his memory for race day on Saturday. James’ Specialized S-Works Epic was cleaned and dialed by JP before he fitted the all-important number plate. Team soigneur Brent Botha prepped the bottles and gave James’ legs a final rub down.

Race day conditions were sublime and the big names in South African mountain biking had pitched up to make a show of the demanding 7-lap course. James’ Rio teammate Hatherly had elected to race alongside them all in the Elite category, despite still being U23. Philip Buys, who had narrowly missed out on selection, was the other big gun James would need to contend with. Buys had pulled in with his entire Scott team, and they crowded the start line eager to help their team captain assert himself.

The start gun went off with the Scott crew setting the pace for the first lap, and immediately creating large splits early. The second lap saw Buys, Hatherly and James jostle for the top positions but by Lap 3 it seemed as if the positions had been decided. Buys had hammered out a 43-second lead over James with Hatherly dropping a further 26 seconds behind. And there it stayed for a few laps.

Going into Lap 5 Buys’ lead had dropped to 23 seconds and James could smell blood. Buys wasn’t going to gift this race and continued to attack the climbs where he could, but he was clearly running out of puff. Midway through the final seventh lap James caught Buys and, sensing that he was tiring, James tested him with a few surges. With no response from the race leader James seizing the moment and attacked on a climb. He quickly built a gap on Buys and turned into the final start-finish straight with a 14-second lead to take the 2016 South African XCO Championship title for the second year in a row.

“I left it till the last uphill, punched it once and he didn’t respond,” James said. “I’m super happy to defend this title and race in this fashion in 2016. Thanks to the team, they were incredible with everything they did this week. Dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s, making sure the bike was 130 per cent ready to roll. It was a fantastic week to cap off a tough racing block that hasn’t always gone my way. It is sweet motivation for the build-up to Rio. “

Spur Sizzling Skillz: Episode 6

Bottle Handovers

Bottle handovers have become an essential part of lap racing and are fun to practice. Our Five-time Absa Cape Epic winner and Swiss Marathon Champion Ariane Kleinhans relies on Team Spur’s Brent Botha for a seamless and skillful bottle transfer. Watch for a closer look at the rules and technique…

UCI XCO World Cup #4, Lenzerheide, Switzerland

UCI Cross-country World Cup, 10 July
Lenzerheide, Switzerland

Ariane: 45th place
James: 41st place

Ariane Kleinhans shifted her marathon focus and continued on her quest for valuable XCO race experience at the fourth round of the UCI World Cup series, hosted in Lenzerheide in her beloved Switzerland.

Clear skies made for hot, dry and fast racing and U23 World Champ Jenny Rissveds from Sweden eclipsed recently-crowned Elite World Champ Annika Langvad from Sweden. Swiss speedster Jolanda Neff rounded out the podium in third.

For Ariane, the shift back to XCO after a month of marathon-format racing – where she won the Swiss national XCM title and placed fourth in the World XCM Championships in France – proved tough. The Swiss World Cup course was a familiar but testing mix of fast singletrack and technical descents. Ariane had placed 22nd here in her first XCO World Cup race last year so she was hoping for a strong result.

Ariane didn’t enjoy the same sensations from last year and was pulled from the course in 45th position “After speaking with my coach Andrew Smith, my coach, it puts perspective to my result,” Ariane admitted. “I wasn’t trained to the same level as last year and I’ve had a completely different season.”

Our Swiss champion is always looking to improve her racing, and was disappointed by the result: “I couldn’t expect that much actually, which I maybe should’ve discussed with [Andrew] before the race.”

After a disappointing XCO World Championships in the Czech Republic last week, James Reid was looking to answer some of the questions that had left him puzzling about his form. 103 Elite Men lined up at the start and by the 2pm start, temperatures were soaring.

“It was really hot out there, I struggled with the heat in the latter laps. I finished up 41st which is about ten or eleven positions from where I want to be,” James said.

Racing was fierce and the pace was brutal given the high temperatures. James had a good start and was lapping consistently in the low thirties, before fading over the latter parts of the race.

“The positive side is my ribs are healing nicely and my back is finally playing along with the racing which is good but I still found it tough out there.”

Ariane will now focus on preparation for some of the biggest marathon races in Switzerland, namely; Eiger Bike Challenge in Grindelwald and then the Grand Raid in Verbier in August. Then it’s the Swiss Epic stage race in September.

James flies home to South Africa to defend his National XCO Championship title in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday, 16 July. He is also hoping to learn of his Olympic selection on 14 July, when the South African Sports Confederation and Olympics Committee (SASCOC) make the final announcement of Team South Africa. This will give James just over a month to prepare for the biggest race of his career.

Spur Sizzling Skillz: Episode 5

Fixing a Flat

South African Mountain Bike Champion James Reid has been known to plug a tyre, inflate it, and get racing again in under 20 seconds! Here he takes you through the basics of this essential trailside mechanical skill.

 

A world (Championships) of lessons…

UCI Cross-country World Championships, 3 July
Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Rebublic

James: 47th place

The town of Nové Město na Moravě in the central Czech Republic was the scene of a titanic showdown for the World Championship Rainbow Jersey among throngs of loud and passionate fans. It was also an opportunity for the world’s best to show their hands ahead of the Rio Olympics in August. And for South African Champion James Reid it was a critical piece of the Olympic puzzle to fit in place.

Unfortunately it didn’t go according to plan for James who, after a great start that saw him inside the top thirty, slid back through the field and struggled to really rev his engine and engage the higher gears he knows he is capable of. James lapped consistently through the fanatical crowds lining the exciting and technical course for 47th position.

Nové Město World Championships was a big disappointment,” James admitted. “I was hampered by a crash I had a week ago, where I landed on my ribs. But besides that I just didn’t have the legs and the shape on the day.”

“I went hard early on and I felt like I was pacing myself well, but I came unstuck on the second and third laps, where I lost a lot of places and time. Sort of found a rhythm on the fourth, fifth and sixth lap but by then it was already too late and I was disappointed to fade to around 47th place. It is a lot lower than the personal expectations I had. It  feels like an anomaly in terms of the preparation I’ve put in and hopefully it was just a blip and there are better things to come…”

While James experienced a frustrating event, a lot was riding on fellow Specialized athlete, former World Champ, reigning Olympic Champ and Czech hero, Jaroslav Kulhavy. Fanatical crowds poured in for days in the lead-up to the weekend’s racing, hoping to watch “Jaro” reclaim his former glory, after a wrist injury earlier this year. They were wearing Jaro masks and chanting Jaro songs while marching through the pits. Thankfully, the big man delivered: taking the fight to eventual winner Nino Schurter of Switzerland in the early laps before settling for second place ahead of France’s Julian Absalon.

James will be looking for redemption this weekend at the UCI World Cup in Lenzerheide, Switzerland and at home the following weekend at the 2016 South African XCO Nationals in Cascades, Pietermaritzburg back in South Africa.