By Mark Etheridge
Olympian Philip Buys hightailed it to victory in the African continental mountain bike championships in Lesotho at the weekend and Commonwealth Games athlete Mariske Strauss rode off with the elite women’s title.
Buys covered the six-lap course in 1hr 32min 51sec with James Reid second in 1:33:22 and Arno du Toit third (1:34:45).
An elated Buys told Road to Rio 2016: ‘Finally a win, at continental championships!
‘Before last week’s third SA Cup event at Wolwespruit I could feel my body was ready to go fast for a win but unfortunately I had a crash on Thursday and hurt the same shoulder I injured in training last year.
‘The doctor reckoned I shouldn’t risk racing three days after the crash so we drove through to Afriski in Lesotho early to adapt to the high altitude.’
There were thoughts that the track in use for continental championships wouldn’t suit Buys’ riding style, more suited to short punchy climbs.
But this certainly didn’t prove the case. ‘I changed my race tactics a bit and decided to back off a bit in the first few laps then reel the guys in as the race progressed.
‘After the second lap I was lying second a few seconds behind James and then on the second last lap I managed to get over to him and attacked. I got about 30 seconds ahead of him and held it until the finish. I’m super happy to take the win after being consistently third at all the three previous XC qualifying races.
‘We’ve got three more qualifying races left before the end of May and I feel more confident now of securing my place for the Games. I’ve got to win at least one of them still so the pressure is most definitely still on.’
Next race for Buys will be a qualifying race in Pietermaritzburg at the end of the month.
More immediately though and Buys’ attention turns from pedal to pool as he heads down to Durban to support fiancé, Olympic swimmer Karin Prinsloo, at the national Olympic trials this weekend.
12959442_1312624485420914_341244742_oOn to Strauss, pictured above, and for her part a change of approach paid off handsomely as she told Road to Rio 2016: ‘It’s been a trying couple of years but I’m getting the hang of things now and coach Jeroen Swart and my family have been a rock through it all.
‘After nationals I decided to take a bit of a different approach (I’d stressed too much at nationals and had a couple of crashes) so the plan was to firstly stay upright and secondly, chill out!
‘I planned to are my own race, have a blast and see how the field and myself respond at altitude. The race started fairly slowly to my surprise, and then I just opened the tap gradually to the top of the first climb where I found myself in the lead. After that I chased the men’s time because you have to race within 120% of their time to qualify for worlds.
‘I kept things consistently and had a blast racing at Afriski. Massive thanks to all the support out there, and I can’t wait for the next one.’
The Stellenbosch athlete clocked 1:31:14 for the five-lap course while national champion Cherie Redecker was runner-up in 1:32:55.
Last SA Cup winner, Redecker was slightly down on her form at the high-altitude event. ‘Not sure what happened to my health and I don’t want to use it as an excuse but I had flu-like symptoms the night before with swollen glands. I was hoping it was just symptoms and the high altitude but as soon as I actually rested it really hit me. But on the day Mariske was the strongest and that’s what counts.
‘I’m unhappy I wasn’t able to continue the winning formula from Pretoria and take the title of African Champ but I am happy for teammate Mariske who had a great ride.’
Where to from here though? ‘Well I was meant to go for a German Cup this weekend and then an Italian Cup but I’ve decided to recover fully and then the next big race will be the PMT MTB Festival on 30 April.’
Picture of Strauss courtesy of Andrew McFadden
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