The long road to recovery took another encouraging turn for South Africa's top female marathon racer, Yolande de Villiers, when she won The Herald VW Mountain Bike Tour at the Addo Elephant National Park just outside Port Elizabeth last Saturday.
Racing for the Cycle Lab Supercycling Toyota team, De Villiers clocked four hours and 17 minutes for the 85km event, which hugged the boundary fence of the world-famous elephant park and took in some of the Eastern Cape's most rugged terrain.
It was her second victory in successive weekends following her win at the MTN National Marathon event in Barberton last weekend. De Villiers, the 2006 national marathon champion and winner (with Yolande Speedy) of the 2007 Cape Epic has undergone two operations to her left shoulder following a crash in mid-2007.
The injury and subsequent surgery virtually ruled her out of racing for most of last year, although she did finish second in the Mixed Category at the 2008 Cape Epic with Johan Labuschagne.
"I'm very happy with my result today," beamed the 35-year-old mother of three. "There was some very technical and bumpy terrain, and I made it through without any pain. The steep downhill switchbacks made me nervous but I got through them fine which will do wonders for my confidence, especially for this year's Cape Epic which is a lot more technical."
De Villiers, who still experiences complete numbness in her left arm and hand, has been told to expect another two years to reach full recovery.
"The nerve damage takes a long time to heal. At the moment, after two hours of riding, whether racing or training, my left hand and arm go numb, which requires some extra concentration, especially on tricky terrain," said De Villiers. "I may try switching from a hardtail to a dual suspension bike to see if that helps at all."
De Villiers is just happy to be riding again. "I couldn't ride my bike for ages and took up running to keep fit while my shoulder healed. Winning is great, but I'm a mountain biker and just riding my bike again makes me very, very happy!"