Yolande Speedy (Epicsports/GT/USN) celebrated a victory by the narrowest of margins to defend the elite women’s title at the 2012 SA MTB XCO National Championships at Mankele MTB Park near Nelspruit, Mpumalanga on Saturday 21 July 2012. Photo Credit: Johan Orton

Superb cross-country racing and an amazing display of upcoming talent resulted in one of the best SA National MTB Championship events in a long while, with defending champion Yolande Speedy retaining her elite national cross-country title.

A technical 5.4km XCO course with 120m of ascent had been prepared by Mankele MTB Park on the outskirts of Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, and coupled with excellent weather conditions on Saturday 21st July made for some exciting racing.

Candice Neethling (BMC SA), the only woman mountain biker representing South Africa at the London Olympics, won the U23 category at the 2012 SA MTB XCO National Championships at Mankele MTB Park near Nelspruit, Mpumalanga on Saturday 21 July 2012. Photo Credit: Johan OrtonThe Pro-Elite women’s race saw Yolande Speedy (Epicsports/GT/USN), Candice Neethling (BMC SA) and Samantha Sanders in a titanic battle, with Speedy (elite) taking top honours completing the 5-lap race in 1 hour 36 minutes and 31 seconds.

Neethling (U23) finished in second place, 2 seconds later with Sanders (elite) third overall in 01:37:14. Amy McDougall rounded out the elite women’s podium (01:45:17) while Ashleigh Parker-Moffatt (BMC SA) and Mariske Strauss finished second (01:48:11) and third (01:53:05) respectively in the U23 women’s category.

For Speedy, who is almost fully recovered from her broken wrist from earlier in the year, the full confidence of tackling the much talked about drop-off was not quite there, and it almost cost her the victory.

“Candice made an early break and Sam and I were fighting for 2nd place for most of the race,” said Speedy. “Sam went into the last lap with a 10-second lead and Candice with 22 seconds. I caught Sam on the first climb and pushed as hard as I could to try and get enough of a gap before the drop. Catching Candice on the short steep climb after the wooden bridge drop-off was a surprise, and I knew I would have to give 100 percent with no mistakes to keep a lead.

With Neethling and Sanders firing on all cylinders after racing World Cups in Europe, Speedy was challenged from the start right until the very end. “Fortunately we were both taking the 2nd chicken run and I got into the last singletrack section with a few seconds lead.

“One slip out through a corner lost me some time but I came into the last BMX section in the lead and gave it everything I had left until the finish line with Candice on my wheel.”

Speedy said that it was one of the closest, most nail biting-finishes she can remember in the women’s cross-country category. “Great racing by both Sam and Candice, and I wish Candice everything of the best going forward to the Olympics!” said Speedy.

The junior women’s race saw Linda van Wyk (bizhub-FCF) take the victory, racing her three laps in 01:05:22, with Nicole Erasmus second (01:06:05) and Tayla Odendaal (Contego/28E) third (01:10:20).

“The racing was close and at a high standard,” said Cycling SA-MTB Technical Commissioner Grevile Ruddock. “In the UCI categories (junior, U-23, Elite) the Championship was decided in the final lap, and most by seconds or in a sprint.”

Apart from this weekend’s World Cup in Val d’Isere (France), Candice Neethling will also be tackling the Olympic Games in London two weeks later. “The London course is a high speed kind of course, not the toughest course, but the profile is similar to Mankele’s although the technical aspects are not quite the same,” said men’s champ, Burry Stander.

“The outstanding aspect for me was the superb racing, and in all categories,” said Ruddock. “This can only mean that our sport is in good health. Then, the record entry in the youngest age groups was testament, I believe, to the success and importance of the school series. We have never had 14 entries in a national Nipper race!”