South African resident Ariane Kleinhans (Team RE:CM) claimed her first national mountain bike racing title when she won the Swiss women's marathon mountain bike championships on Sunday.
The 29-year-old Swiss national is married to top South African mountain bike racer, Erik Kleinhans. They live in Stellenbosch in South Africa's Western Cape province, but Cycling South Africa rules prevent Ariane from competing for South African titles while she is a Swiss citizen.
Switzerland is a powerhouse mountain bike racing country, especially in marathon and cross country races. Since the first edition in 2003, Switzerland has won a total of 15 medals (seven gold, three silver and five bronze), with the next best nation being Norway with four medals in total.
Although there is plenty of marathon racing in South Africa, it has only ever claimed one marathon world championships medal, the bronze by the late Burry Stander in 2010.
The 60km Elsa Bike Trophy in Estavayer-le-lac was given the honour of doubling as the 2013 Swiss national championships. It's a race that Ariane has competed in twice before, so she knew what to expect from the route and, combined with good form and pre-race preparation, was motivated to finish on the podium.
"I knew I had to be patient and not attack from the start. Even though it's quite a short race, there are a lot of steep climbs and very tight corners," said Ariane.
Recent heavy rains, combined with a thunderstorm on Saturday night, left the course muddy and slippery, conditions that Kleinhans doesn't experience too often in South Africa. After a nervous start, she crashed on a steep descent after 15km, but then settled into a more steady rhythm as she began to attack the steep climbs.
"Milena Landtwig (Topeak Ergon) also crashed at the same place as me. I saw her as my biggest rival on the day and the two of us managed to get a gap on the others on the first steep climbs," said Kleinhans.
"We rode together and shared the work up front for the first half of the race. Then, about three kilometres from the highest point of the race, I realised I was climbing stronger than her and managed to open up a gap. When I saw that I'd established a lead on her I put my head down and went after the win."
Kleinhans clocked a winning time of two hours 58 minutes and 48 seconds. Landtwing secured the silver medal in 3:01:04 with Cornelia Hug rounding out the women's podium in 3:05:52. Four-time Cape Epic winner and multiple world champion Christoph Sauser, a good friend and mentor to Ariane, won the men's title.
"I have to thank my South African employers RE:CM and Lange Sports for putting their faith in me and sending me to Switzerland to race my national champs. The fact that they sent me two weeks before the event helped me prepare properly. The weather was cold and wet when I arrived there and the conditions soft and muddy, almost the opposite to what I've become used to in South Africa!" said Kleinhans.
"It is every bicycle racer's dream to compete for his or her national champion's jersey. This win is very significant for me," said Ariane, who with husband Erik, has won the mixed category in the last two editions of the Cape Epic and the Old Mutual Joburg2c, two of South Africa's premier stage races.
"We are incredibly proud of Ariane. This is the first national title for Team RE:CM and the fact that Ariane won it in Switzerland, where there is such racing depth, makes it even more special. She's a fantastic ambassador for both RE:CM and Lange Sports," said Malcolm Lange of Lange Sports, the company that owns and manages her Team RE:CM.