By Quintin van Jaarsveld
Uvongo rider Hayley Smith (Bell) continued her rich vein of form at the opening round of the Southern African Mountain Bike Cup Series, which took place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg.
After a week of rain and dismal conditions, riders were greeted with very hot and humid weather for the cross-country races on Saturday.
Smith, fresh off retaining her women’s Under-23 KwaZulu-Natal cross-country series title, finished second in the elite women’s race behind Orange Monkey Pro Team’s Mariske Strauss (01:24:32) after completing the four laps of the 4.8km course in a time of 01:32:16.
Kim Westbrook claimed third place in 01:38:29 while VeloLife’s Ashleigh Moffatt suffered two technicals when she punctured and had to run across the finish line after the plug popped out of her tyre on the rock garden.
“I’m very happy with my performance,” Smith told eHowz!t. “The competition was tough, it always is in the pro elite category against the likes of Mariska Strauss, who is one of our best cross-country riders in South Africa.”
Smith added that it was perfect preparation for the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup that will take place at the same venue on 13 April.
“Racing was very important for me as this is the same track that I will be racing for the World Cup and I need as much practice on this technical track as possible in order to improve my times,” said Smith.
Another South Coast rider, Megan Bircher of Port Edward, finished third in the two-lap sub junior girls race behind runner-up Courtney Smith and winner Tiffany Keep.
Bianca Haw (BMC-SA), the current national junior road race champion, displayed her true cycling talent as she won the three-lap junior women’s race in 01:05:22 while Saffron Vosloo won the two-lap youth women’s race in 00:54:42.
Philip Buys (Scott Sports) secured victory and a valuable 60 UCI points in the elite men’s race.
Buys put in a consistent performance to claim the win ahead of Brendon Davids (Trek South Africa), who finished 38 seconds behind, while Rourke Croeser (Kargo Pro MTB Team) secured third place despite an injured hand, about a minute and a half behind.
Alan Hatherly (Heart-Sports a[s]g) celebrated his birthday with a victory in the four-lap junior men’s race in 01:13:34 and Thomas Jessop (00:58:55) won the three-lap youth men’s race.
South Africa’s downhill stars took centre stage yesterday with world champion Greg Minnaar (Santa Cruz Syndicate) claiming victory in his first race since his knee operation late last year, posting a winning time of three minutes 17.631 seconds.
The Western Cape’s Stefan Garlicki (Investec) finished in second place, just 1.351 seconds off the pace, with Samuel Bull (Team Sportsnut) claiming third place, 2.572 seconds off the pace.
Kathryn Fourie claimed the women’s victory convincingly, with a 30-second advantage over second-placed Kate Stephenson in 04:33.714, with Michane Viljoen claiming third place.
The second round of the Southern African MTB Cup Series takes place at the Afriski Ski and Mountain Resort in Lesotho on 19 and 20 April.