Rourke Croeser (Kargo Pro MTB Team) raced in an epic duel with James Reid (Trek South Africa) to claim the 2014 South African Cross country National Championship elite men's title in a time of 1:32:29 at Thaba Trails in Gauteng.
An early neck-and-neck tussle between Croeser and Reid showed that no one was giving an inch away as they made the early break and challenged each other in the first three laps.
Reid attempted another early attack on the rocky climb, but Croeser remained glued to his wheel. The epic tussle continued until disaster struck in the fourth lap. Croeser appeared across the start/finish line with a lead of over three minutes to Reid, who had punctured.
According to Croeser, it was not only Reid who suffered bad luck during the encounter. "I punctured just before James did," said Croeser. "The terrain was hard on the tyres, and not even 200m later I saw James puncture. I waited to make sure that my tyre sealed properly before setting off, but it seems that James' repair didn't seal that well and he stopped again."
Croeser maintained the lead until the end of the 6-lap race, admitting to riding conservatively in the last laps. "I played it very safe after that," said Croeser. "I didn't want to risk anything and especially losing the title. James is very good in the technical sections, and a very powerful rider. I prefer the longer climbs and I knew it would be hard to pass. Over the years, I've learnt to keep it super safe. When the time comes to go hard, then I can let loose, but I couldn't risk another puncture or mechanical."
The prestigious title has been something that Croeser has been working very hard for. "I've won every title since racing in the Sprog category, but being the Elite champ is being the champion of the country. I can wear this jersey on my shoulders with great pride. This is the greatest achievement to win!"
Reid's bout of bad luck cost him another position, as Scott-Sports SA's Matthys Beukes crossed the line in second place in a time of 01:36:57, while Reid claimed the bronze medal in 01:38:06.
Reid says: "I got about 20 metres on Rourke, but I cut my rear tyre. It didn't seem to seal, but on the downhill I cut it again. With the third flat I was definitely out of the race. Hats off to Rourke - if it hadn't been for my flat tyre it would've been an entirely different race. That's how it goes though. Sometimes luck goes your way and sometimes it doesn't."
Croeser's teammate Stuart Marais finished fourth in 01:39:33, while veteran cyclist Jan Withaar finished in a superb fifth place in 01:40:03.
The under-23 category saw Gert Heyns (Heart-Sports ASG) take top honours in 01:18:15, followed by Brendon Davids (Trek South Africa) in 2nd place in 01:19:30, with Travis Walker (Kargo Pro MTB Team) third in 01:21:29.
Mariske Strauss (Orange Monkey Pro Team) put in a dominant performance to claim the 2014 South African Cross country National Championship elite women's title in a time of 1:35:35 on a challenging and technical course at Thaba Trails in Gauteng today. The elite women completed five laps of the 4.5km dusty and rocky track.
The start to Strauss' race was less than perfect as she encountered what she called a "rookie error" when her foot clipped out of her cleats on the start line. This resulted in Strauss entering the first singletrack section in last place.
Keeping cool and calm, Strauss picked her way through the riders on her first lap, and from lap two she held the lead until the end of the race, despite her tumble in the rock garden.
"I lost a bit of concentration and took a tumble, but thankfully it was nothing serious," said the newly crowned Champion. "There was no damage to my bike so I just carried on. Racing in this event was a nice opener for me for the Commonwealth Games."
Strauss' preparations have been going well in the build up to the Championship event. "My coach, Jeroen Swart, has been pushing me quite hard, but the data is looking good."
Apart from this weekend's National Championships, Strauss will be departing for Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games next week Thursday, while her University schedule starts again on Monday after the mid-year break. "I've been trying to keep everything as normal as possible," said Strauss. "My confidence has picked up a lot, and I will try my best to post a good result for South Africa at the Commonwealth Games. I'm very excited – it hasn't really sunk in yet. But it will definitely feel real when I start packing my bags next week."
Cherie Vale (Paarl Media) claimed the silver medal in a time of 01:39:10, while Candice Neethling (Time Freight VELOlife) claimed bronze in 01:40:40. It was great to see mountain biking stalwart Yolande Speedy (Heart-Sports ASG) back in the racing scene, where she claimed fourth place in 01:47:34, with Nicolette Griffioen finishing fifth in 01:29:22.
The under-23 category saw Ashleigh Moffatt (Time Freight VELOlife) claim top honours in a time of 01:24:35, with Hayley Smith (Bell Equipment) claiming a silver medal in a time of 01:27:27.
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