SA Cup Series XCO #2, 27 February
Helderberg Farm, Stellenbosch
James: 5th place
All the South African XCO specialists were in town for a key Olympic qualifying event at Helderberg Farm, outside Stellenbosch. The technical but fast and flowing course had also caught the attention of a number of international big guns.
The powerful Kiwi Sam Gaze and Danish Junior XCO and Cyclo-cross World Champion Simon Andreassen were on the start line. Their Specialized Factory Team was holding a training camp in Stellenbosch and the team manager, former World Champion and multiple Cape Epic-winner, Christoph Sauser keen to test the team’s form. Dutch former U23 Mountain Bike World Champion, Michiel Van Der Heijden (Scott-ODLO) was also in town and excited to mix it up in the sweltering heat.
Unfortunately, our Cape Epic plans were dealt a severe blow when James’s Epic partner Howard Grotts fell and cracked a few ribs in Friday’s practice… We will keep you posted on developments here.
The racing was intense and hot! Gaze blew the field to pieces from the start gun, and his confidence grew with each lap as he consistently lapped faster than anyone else and built a two-minute buffer that no-one could answer. South Africans Allan Hatherly (Kargo) and Phil Buys (Scott-LCB) fought back bravely towards the end to finish in second and third, respectively.
James had high hopes for Helderberg and expected to make much of the racing at the front of the field as he had won the first round of the Cup Series in Mankele in January. Unfortunately, after a good start he was unable to engage top gear and lapped consistently in fifth, where he finished just behind Andreassen in fourth. It was a frustrating day for our young ambassador, but it provided valuable feedback in his quest for Olympic qualification.