If ever there was a case to be made for when the going gets tough, the tough gets going it has to be this weekend when the UP-Tuks MTB cyclists compete at the Varsity MTB Challenge outside Paarl.
Judging by last year’s results and the results of the recent USSA Cycling Mountain bike event it would seem as if Maties are the team to beat. They are the defending overall Varsity Sports MTB champions.
UP-Tuks men’s and women’s teams finished second at last year’s event. Overall UP-Tuks was third.
Maties are again fielding a strong team. The star of their women’s team is undoubtedly Frankie du Toit (South African under-23 cross country champion) who represented South Africa at the World Cross Country Championships in Australia.
NWU also entered quite a strong women’s team. Kristen Louw is the USSA Mountain Bike Champion.
The thing about the Varsity MTB Challenge is that it is not just about individual stars. It is a team competition which means that any team is just as strong as their weakest rider. The men and women will compete in teams of three with the fastest two riders’ times counting towards the overall standings.
Sean Atteridge (UP-Tuks team manager) is quietly confident that either of his two teams can cause a surprise.
“We might not have real individual stars at UP-Tuks, but I think through clever team riding we could ensure a victory. I especially back our women’s team.”
Michelle Benson and Mignette von Staden were part of the team that finished second last year. Both of them are riding again.
Benson is more known for her riding exploits as a road rider. At this year’s South African Road Championships she won two silver medals in the under-23 category.
But if the right opportunity arises, like representing UP-Tuks, she is prepared to get down and dirty on a mountain bike.
According to Benson, she cannot resist a good challenge that is why she is looking forward to competing at the Varsity MTB Challenge.
“I am not saying that we are going to win, but we are certainly going to give it a go. I am very competitive by nature. So it does not matter whether I am on my road bike or mountain bike I will be racing for a podium finish. I just cannot help myself.”
Melanie Roux who finished second at the South African Marathon Championships in the women’s under-23 race will be making her debut as a Varsity MTB rider. She relishes the challenges that come with mountain biking. For her, nothing beats the thrill of racing downhill at speed facing nature’s obstacles knowing that one mistake could end in going down hard.
The fact that they are racing outside Paarl means that the riders are in for some tough climbing over the two days. That does not faze Roux.
“I also do CrossFit which means that I got quite a lot of power in my legs so usually I attack going up the climbs when racing.”
The UP-Tuks men’s team is Felix Manke, Edwill O’Neill and William Mokgopo.
By Wilhelm de Swardt