German Wolfram Kurschat stunned the favourites to secure a dominant victory in the elite men's cross country race at round four of the MTN National Mountain Bike Cup in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, on Saturday, while Olympic silver medallist Maja Wloszczowska of Poland, held off the Olympic bronze medallist, Russian Irina Kalentieva, to win the elite women's cross country.
The majority of the entrants were using the event to prepare for this weekend's opening round of the UCI World Cup, to be held at the same venue.
After a poor start, the 34-year-old German Kurschat (Topeak Ergon), who is currently ranked 35th in the world, began to move through the field, riding from 11th place after the first of seven laps and catching the lead group comprising Burry Stander (Mr Price Specialized), Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel (both Scott Swisspower), on lap four.
Kurschat, an agile climber, was in his element on the numerous steep ascents, passing three-man break en route to assuming the lead. He continued to increase his lead, eventually finishing in 1:54:45 seconds. Jose Antonio Hermida's late-race pace saw first Schurter and then Stander drop off on the final lap before he secured the runner-up place. Stander, cheered on by his enthusiastic home fans, finished half a minute later to secure the final podium place and claim top prize for the Under 23 category.
"It was a very good race and a fantastic leg-loosener for the World Cup next week," said Stander. "My plan was to ride hard for the first three laps and then go steady for the rest of the way. It worked out fine, but I did feel my legs are still a bit heavy after last week's Cape Epic. By next week they should be fine though."
"Kurschat was a surprise for all of us. He's a good rider, but normally inconsistent. Hopefully this week was his good week!"
Maja Wloszczowska of Poland, fought off a strong challenge from Russian Irina Kalentieva, to win the elite women's cross-country race. After a steady start for the first half a lap, the front group strung out dramatically on the first long climb with Wloszczowska (Bank BGZ) and Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) moving off the front and building a small lead on the tough 4.6km course.
Unperturbed by the mid-day heat, the pair of Eastern Europeans set a fierce pace and marked one another closely on the tight course. But on the penultimate lap the 25-year-old Pole managed to pull clear, eventually claiming the victory in 1:43:19.
Kalentieva was less than a minute back with American Mary McConneloug (Kenda Seven) finishing strongly to claim the final podium spot. Another Pole, Aleksandra Dawidowicz, finished sixth overall and secured the Under 23 category victory.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.