Heymans wins men's race, but Stewart named national champion
Team Jeep's Amy-Jane Mundy took advantage of muddy conditions to successfully defend her cross country elite women's title at the South African national mountain bike championships in Pietermaritzburg. Going into the championships as a dark horse, with only an outside chance of toppling African champion Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing), the 2007 national champion was motivated to put in a great performance and won by more than four minutes.
"I love racing in muddy conditions and so for me, the rain was actually a good thing," said the 26 year-old. "The course was only about 80 percent rideable on the first lap and I managed to get the early lead on the first climb and just built on it from there."
Speedy was slowed by a snapped chain with two kilometres of the first lap remaining. "It was mostly all downhill from where my chain snapped to the technical zone at the start/finish area so I thought I'd just run with my bike down to where I could wash the chain and repair it," explained Speedy. "But the broken chain fell out of my pocket at some point so I had to find a new chain which took up even more valuable time."
Going into lap two, Speedy had lost a few positions and was 13 minutes down on Mundy, an eternity in a two-hour event. Speedy chased hard on the remaining three laps, moving up to second place and gradually closed the gap to Mundy, who by contrast, was having a perfect race. But ultimately it was Mundy's day and she gave a broad, muddy-faced grin to the crowd as she crossed the finish line in 2:18:12.
"I did feel pressure going into the race and am so happy to have been able to defend my title," smiled an elated Mundy, who conceded that Speedy's technical problems did take the pressure off somewhat, before adding: "But I did put all my focus on this race and it's very satisfying that it paid off."
In the elite men's cross country race Brandon Stewart (USN), inspired by enthusiastic hometown support, charged into an early lead at a very quick pace. But as he started lap four for the second half of the race, Mannie Heymans (MTN Energade), caught and passed him and went on to claim the victory. However, as Heymans hails from Namibia, Stewart was awarded the national title.
"I've been training for cross-country racing as well as marathon racing this year, so I was very prepared for this race," said Stewart afterwards. "I'm riding full time now which makes a big difference. It feels really good to win a national title!"
For Heymans, the overall victory was important as it confirmed his selection to represent Namibia at the Beijing Olympics, the veteran's third Olympics. "I didn't have a great year last year and I told the Namibian Federation that if I didn't prove myself at the South African Champs., I would happily step aside from the Olympic team. But I showed today that I've still got what it takes and feel my selection is justified," smiled Heymans.
Burry Stander (Mr Price GT) won the U23 men's cross country title, and Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) and Gina Nixon won the elite men's and women's downhill.
The 26 year-old Minnaar had only been back on his bike three weeks following surgery to repair his shoulder. "To be honest, it was quite a relief to win today," smiled Minnaar. "I'm always expected to win in South Africa and when I'm home, I'm not super focused on racing so went into the race a bit under-prepared. But it all worked out okay and my shoulder never bothered me at all, although I was a bit stiff from practising in the mud on Saturday."
See full coverage of the South African National Championships.