The 2013 World Mountain Bike Championships have been a major success for Pietermaritzburg and South Africa. Thousands of Mountain Bikers converged on the City bringing more than a billion rand of value and economic spend. The event is run over two weeks with Masters riders (those over the age of 30) racing over the first week and non-age group riders (mostly professional riders) competing over the second week of the competition.
For the first time, the World Championships have been held in South Africa. It offered South Africans a rare privilege of competing at the highest level without having to incur the massive costs associated with overseas travel.
My race preparation for the World Championships involved participation in the 2013 Cape Epic and the South African National Mountain Bike Championships, which were held in Port Elizabeth in July 2013. At the SA Champs, I started at the back of the field and eventually managed to secure a second place. It was a weak ride following a stomach bug which I had picked up earlier in the week. You can check the results here.
For the World Championships, I was looking for a test of fitness against the best of the World. My race had some very strong riders. There were 67 riders on the starting list, with about 30% of the riders being from abroad and the remainder being South African riders.
The start saw a mad rush of riders all trying to make it through the bottle neck at the end of the main starting area. One of the South African favorites (Doug Brown) was brought down in a tangle of bikes, but, Tommy Olsson, the Swedish National Champion and former World Silver medalist, shot to the front and never relinquished the lead.
The former World Bronze medalist, Patrick Baltazaard, finished 4th ahead of Atle Hanssen from Sweden.
Graham Taylor came in 6th and was the first South African home.
The World Championships were a wonderful learning experience. I was able to test my fitness against the best and secure a 6th place in a strong international field and was the highest placed South African. The Swedes, French and Danes who beat me are all highly experienced national and world champions and it was a great privilege to ride against them on home ground. It is one thing to watch such events from a distance, but, its an entirely different matter when one is able to interact with these types of athletes. You quickly learn your shortcomings and what needs to be done to improve yourself.
While we certainly have the skills to match the Europeans, their overall race conditioning was superior. The Pietermaritzburg experience has shown how South Africans can succeed on the international stage and where we need to improve. The Province of KwaZulu-Natal and Cycling South Africa must be congratulated for staging a spectacular event which has placed South African mountain biking high on the international agenda.
- Tommy Olsson (SWE) 1.21.44
- Jean-Paul Stephan (FRA) 1.23.22
- Mads Boedker (DEN) 1.23.31
- Patrick Balthazard (FRA) 1.27.26
- Atle Hansen (SWE) 1.29.47
- Graham Taylor (RSA) 1.30.18