Wednesday, 25 July 2012

SA Champs, Mankele

The weekend of SA Champs had finally arrived! The last few months of my life have been centred on this one race, the South African Cross Country National Champs. I felt ready; Coach Paul Cordes had prepared me with a specific training program that I had followed pedantically and the training camp at Mankele two weeks earlier with Epic Sports was invaluable! My Ghost bike was serviced to perfection and I was feeling fast and ready to rock!
The Elite, U23, Junior and sub junior girls all started at 9:15. It was probably the biggest group of ladies I have seen lined up at a XCO event, which is fantastic, but got the nerves going too.
Lined up in the second line of ladies in the start chute meant I would have to push hard from the gun to get into a good position before the single track! I was nervous but concentrated on keeping calm and focused, playing over in my head the route that I had prepared for and now knew so well.
When the gun went, we all sprinted furiously for the single-track. I saw Yolande Speedy get in first, then Samantha Sanders, Candice Neethling, Mariska Strauss and me in 5th place. Up the climb the order stayed the same, but I managed to get past Mariska and push up to fourth overall in the second section of single track.
I quickly gained a gap on the girls behind me, but the top 3 were out of sight. I chased hard but kept within myself, not underestimating this hectic course in Mankele! The trails were awesome, challenging, technical and fun, and had claimed many victims in the past few weeks, including me, with many falls and close calls while practicing!

Up in front in the ladies it was an exciting, close battle between Candice Neething, our Olympiad; Local rider, Samantha Sanders and Yolande Speedy, no introduction needed there! Yolande and Samantha were neck and neck, battling it out, chasing Candice. Yolande finally managed to catch Candice in the last lap (her fastest lap) and get a gap on Samantha. Despite a long road to recovery from a broken wrist Yolande beat Candice in a sprint finish to claim her 6th SA Champ title! Nail biting stuff!
I finished fourth overall, and third Elite lady. It is a great achievement, considering the size and calibre of the field I was racing in.
I am thoroughly enjoying racing my Ghost  XX Team edition bike, fitted with Ritchey, Crank Bros pedals and XX Sram. It is super-fast, responsive and light: built for racing. We are making a good team! In my bottles I used Singletrack Fuel XC, specifically designed with more carbs and less protein than the Marathon Fuel. Just right for the punch you need.
The more I race XCO, the more I realise what a complex discipline it is; fitness is only a portion of what it takes to be the best. You have to be exceptionally skilled technically, and consistent, with a huge amount of mental strength and the fight and ability to push through the pain. It is all about balance, the balance between taking too many risks or doing “stupid” things, and playing it too safe, between pushing yourself beyond your limit to stay with your competition and racing your own race. Being over- confident could make you complacent, and not being confident enough means self-doubt, a recipe for failure. Neither being a stressed bundle of nerves nor being nonchalant is helpful.

Anyway, my point is that XCO is fun, exciting, painful, challenging, fast and unpredictable. I am looking forward to racing the series next year, working on building my strengths, turning my weaknesses into strengths and getting the balance right. Until then, I am excited for more marathon racing and hopefully some stage racing, another ballgame altogether!

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