Following a string of victories on various courses over the last nine months it’s become evident that Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing) is currently the top all-round female mountain bike racer in the country, as the 31-year-old endurance sports coach looks for another national title at the SA Cross-Country Championships in Pietermaritzburg, on Saturday.
The prestigious Mazda MTN SA Cup Series moves to KwaZulu-Natal for Round 3, which doubles as the 2008 nationals at Cascades, the venue where Amy Jane Mundy (Jeep) claimed the national cross-country title ahead of Speedy in last year’s event.
But since that day, Speedy has seldom been beaten, collecting the 2007 SA Marathon title, the 2007 African Cross-Country title, racing to very respectable finishes at four World Cup events in Europe and North America, and being unbeaten in the first two SA Cup Cross-Country races of 2008.
This is a formidable record, and one that makes her the clear favourite to dethrone Mundy on Saturday, but as has been proven the case over and over in mountain bike racing, nothing is certain.
Mundy is currently in peak race condition and will be performing on home turf. She’ll also be very familiar with the course, which has been the subject of much discussion in mountain biking circles of late.
"It’s a hard course with lots of climbing," said Speedy, who wisely went to recce it on her way back to Joburg after the Sani2c stage race 10 days ago. "It’s a course that’s up to world class standards. It will be challenging to complete each lap without dismounting."
The women will complete four laps of the 6.3km circuit for a combined total of 704 metres of climbing, with a couple of the short, sharp ascents being extremely steep and difficult for most to ride.
The UCI rankings points on offer are also a motivational factor for competitors. South Africa is currently ranked 17th in the world, just within the top 18 countries that gain at least one automatic place on the Beijing start line. But with the northern hemisphere season only just starting now, the points race could get tight over the next few months.
As South Africa’s top ranked international racer, Speedy (currently 40th), will be the first choice rider to fill South Africa’s Olympic slot. However, that too is not a given and the likes of Mundy and Western Cape star, Sara Muhl (Jeep) will need ensure they’re in the medal mix in Pietermaritzburg this weekend to remain contenders for the selection shortlist.
"I’ve been focusing on cross-country-specific training this year and have good race condition. I’m hoping to try and win the title again (she was the 2006 SA cross-country champion), but it’s a tough course and Amy Jane and Sara are tough competitors so it should be interesting," smiled Speedy. The Elite women’s cross-country race starts at 10h00.