Varsity Sports MTB riders to watch next weekend

Varsity Sports MTB riders to watch next weekend

In a race within the race that is the Varsity MTB Challenge, five universities will be battling it out for bragging rights as the best student mountain-bike team in South Africa.

 Mariska Strauss likes to describe herself as a happy person, but she has no problem knowing when to ditch the emoticons and drop the hammer. “There’s no point in putting your wheel on the start line if your goal isn’t to race and to win,” says the current South African cross-country champion, looking forward to a rare chance to race in the colours of Stellenbosch University.

If the four other universities competing for the official Varsity Sports MTB title (in a race within the broader Varsity MTB Challenge, which is open to alumni and the public) ever had any doubt about what awaits them in Franschhoek, now they know. On what is essentially home turf, as far as the Maties men’s and women’s teams are concerned, the only steps on the podium that are up for negotiation are the bottom two.

“We know the terrain and what the trails are like, so that will definitely be an advantage,” says Strauss. “It’s always fun to race in your backyard, and mentally it’s a bit easier: you don’t have to stress about travelling far or anything like that.”

The Varsity Sports MTB format allows universities to enter teams of three riders, although only the times of the first two across the line actually count. This adds an extra dimension to the two-person team dynamic more usually seen in mountain-bike stage racing – now there’s a third rider who can help her teammates, in an echo of the team time trial more familiar to road racers.

Ominously for the opposition (both male and female), lining up in Maties colours next to Strauss will be Vera Adrian, the Namibian who has just returned from the Rio Olympics, and Nicky Giliomee, who finished tenth in the women’s race at the Cape Epic earlier this year.

“We haven’t decided if we’ll all ride together and take it from there, or if we each do our own race and maybe break some of the men’s egos,” smiles Adrian, who has a 2016 Sani2C winner’s trophy on her bookshelf as well. “We’ll see.”

The up-country riders won’t just roll over though.

“It’s not a one-man show,” points out William Mokgopo, who’s represented SA at three UCI cross-country world championships and who’ll be spearheading the University of Pretoria challenge in the men’s race. “Maties have a very good chance, but it’s a two-man team who have to finish and we’ll have a good go at it.”

Riders who live at the coast are also liable to forget that the holy grail of endurance training just happens to be a byproduct of everyday life on the Highveld. As De Wet Swanepoel from North West University Potchefstroom says: “When we go down there, there’ll be an advantage because we’ve been training at altitude.”

With the inland teams being up for the scrap and the University of Cape Town sure to be competitive on trails that are their own home away from home, Maties might not have it all their own way after all.

Varsity Sports MTB men’s teams:
University of Stellenbosch (Maties)
Dominic Calitz
Jacques Lloyd
CP van Wyk

University of Pretoria (Tuks)
William Mokgopo
Edwill O’Neill
Kyle Wood

University of Cape Town (Ikeys)
Luke-William Evans
Wayde Finch
Martin Freyer

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (Madibaz)
Kellan Fouveris
Reich Lategan
Christiaan van Aardt

North West University Potchefstroom (Pukke)
Hanré Dreyer
Francois Ellis
De Wet Swanepoel

Varsity Sports MTB women’s teams:
University of Stellenbosch (Maties)
Vera Adrian
Mariske Strauss
Nicola Giliomee

University of Pretoria (Tuks)
Michelle Benson
Mignette von Staden

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