By Quintin van Jaarsveld
Megan Bircher (Pure Adventure VELOlife) powered to the top of the podium in the second round of the Stihl South African Cross-Country Mountain Bike Cup Series at the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria on Saturday.
With about 190 metres of climbing over a 5.4-kilometre lap, the course was in the Port Edward rider’s wheelhouse – and she was clearly in her element.
Her power riding propelled her to a first-lap time of 22:52, which put her in a commanding lead in the sub junior girls’ race, and a strong second lap (25:49) saw her cruise to victory in the national event.
Her time of 48:41 was over two minutes faster than that of her closest rival Sabine Thies, who was the clear runner-up, and over five minutes quicker than third-placed Andrea de Waal.
“I’m really happy and overwhelmed,” Bircher told eHowzit.
“The track was really enjoyable and flowing and there was quite a bit of climbing, which is my favourite.
“This win will really motivate me to train even harder for the SA Champs in July.”
With 50 Elite Men and 11 Elite Women competing, this event had one of the largest Elite fields in a long time.
The winner of the Elite Men’s race was Matthys Beukes (Scott Factory Racing powered by LCB), followed by James Reid in second place (RECM), and Philip Buys in third (Scott Factory Racing powered by LCB).
London Olympian Buys, who was winner of the first XCO round in PE, still managed a podium spot, finishing in third position after unfortunately snapping his chain in the opening lap.
“The track was very rocky, not too many climbs, and a lot of open areas,” said Beukes. “It really was a great track to ride – especially after ’Epic. It was such a pity that Phil snapped his chain right at the start, but he’s still very happy with his third place.”
Teammates Beukes and Buys competed in the Absa Cape Epic earlier this month, where their partnership got them the Stage Four victory and Absa African special jersey win, and they came fifth overall. “It was a such great ride, I really enjoyed myself,” he said.
Beukes and his team head off to Germany and Czech Republic for the World Cups at the end of May.
After a season of taking it slow from an injury, OMX Pro-team rider Mariske Strauss came back with a vengeance to claim the number one spot in the Women’s Elite category, even after a flat tyre on the course.
“It’s just so great to be back on the bike. I went in there to enjoy myself, that’s all. And as soon as the gun went off, I thought, ‘hey, I can do this’. I had about a two-minute lead when I got into my fourth lap, and then I must’ve hit a rock wrong or something. It was then that I heard it: ‘pshhhhhhhh’, and I just knew,” said Strauss.
It was after her tyre-swap that she needed to up her game in order to secure her lead, ahead of Bianca Haw (second) and Isla Short of the OMX Pro-team, third.
“I was looking forward to a chilled, relaxed last lap, but obviously that couldn’t have happened. Bianca was close on my tail and definitely gave me a run for my money. So well done to her, she definitely gave it her all,” she said.
Also competing over the weekend was current Junior World Champion Simon Andreassen (DEN), who took first place in the Junior Men’s category.
The junior event saw a large field of national and international participants. Andreassen showed his prestige by claiming the junior victory in a time of 01:04:23, followed by Namibian Tristan de Lange (01:08:55) with South African Julian Jessop in third place (01:11:14).
The Junior Women’s race saw Genevieve van Coller claim victory against Frances du Toit in a time of 01:25:46, with Lynette Benson rounding out the podium. Du Toit suffered mechanicals during the race in which Van Coller rode with sheer dominance.
Both Strauss and Beukes will be amongst the many competitors taking part this coming weekend in the XCO (UCI HC Cat) race at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday. The race forms part of the Pietermaritzburg MTB Festival, which takes place from 3-5 April.
Round three of the 2015 Stihl SA MTB XCO Series takes place at Mankele MTB Park, Mpumalanga, on Saturday, 25 April.