SA XCO Champs is rolling around again and in 2022 the titles will be fought for on the innocuously named Happy Valley track in Bloemfontein. Fun and friendly names aside, the intensity will be on this weekend! At 1400m above sea level, the altitude can play a factor for riders coming up from the coast and we’ve seen teams spending some time in the area to acclimatise. We spoke with the top contenders to suss out where the riders’ heads are at coming into the National Champs race and we also have some info on the track for you.
The Happy Valley XCO Track is 4.5km long and features 141m of elevation gain per lap mostly contributed by 2 significant climbs. The general feel of the track is smooth and fast with a few technical hotspot rock gardens. Have a look at the video below from Marc Fourie from last year’s XCO Cup for some visuals of the track.
The 2021 Champs were as follows; Alan Hatherly (Elite men), Candice Lill (Elite Women), Tristan Nortje (u23 Men), Rimari Sutton (u23 Women), Andrea Schōfmann (Junior Girls), Ernest Roets (Junior Boys).
Alan Hatherly is focusing on preparing for World Champs in Europe and thus will unfortunately not be racing to defend his title but the rest of the crowd will be lining up on Saturday for their shot to claim or reclaim the title jerseys! We have comments from some of the contenders below.
Phil Buys – 2nd SA Champs 2021 / 2 X SA Cup Wins 2022
WA: Phil, you’ve been the most dominant rider at the SA XCO Cups this season. How has this affected your approach to the SA Champs race? Are you excited about the track?
Phil: “My training hasn’t changed much over the last few months, I’ve just been keeping healthy and that consistency in training benefits me really well. I do feel confident and enjoy the track in Bloem and usually have a good race there.”
Candice Lill – SA Champ 2021 / 1st SA Cup #1 2022
WA: Candice, you and Mariske each have a win at the SA Cups, are you hopeful to defend your title in Bloom? Does the track suit you?
Candice: “Yes I am absolutely aiming for the win on Saturday. I’m feeling strong and confident and ready to go all in. It would be awesome to keep the jersey another year! I love the track in Bloem and feel like it plays well into my strengths. I am not sure if they have changed the track since a few years ago but excited to check it out!“
Matt Beers – 4th SA Champs 2021 / 3rd SA Cup #1 2022
WA: Matt, you’ve had quite a full on season in terms of travel and variety of racing. How has that affected your preparation of SA XCO Champs and are you optimistic about taking a win in Bloemfontein?
Matt: “The season has definitely been a bit full on from January. I got a bit sick after the US trip from an infection and needed to take some time off. I think it was the body saying “whoa, we need to pump the brakes” so I took about a week and bit off. I’ve been building, not ideal prep for XCO Champs but we have to give it a go! I like the Bloom track, I’ve had quite a few seconds there so hopefully I’m going to change that this weekend but I haven’t raced an XCO in a while so it is definitely going to be a shock to the system!
Tristan Nortje and I came up to Clarens a week beforehand to acclimatise to the altitude so we’ve done all the prep we can. We’re feeling good so hopefully there can be an Elite title and an u23 title from us 2 Toyota boys, that’s the goal obviously but it’s not always easy. With Alan not riding everyone has come out to get our chance because we know we can’t beat that guy, he’s too good at his game, so it is going to be some good racing!“
Mariske Strauss – 3rd SA Champs 2021 / 1st SA Cup #3 / African Champ 2022
WA: Mariske, you and Candice are tied on SA Cup wins this year, who has the advantage going into SA Champs? Does the track suit you? How has the return from injury affected your preparation?
Mariske: “It’s obviously been less than ideal circumstances preparing for this SA Champs we’ll just need to see how the body goes and how the form is come Saturday which is exactly 6 weeks since my crash in Europe! It is mountain biking so anything can happen. Did my best to be at my best with the time I had, now all that’s left is to go race that LIV of mine!”
Arno du Toit – 3rd SA Champs 2021 / 1 X SA Cup #1 2022
WA: Arno, you’ve been right there battling for XCO wins this season with Phil and claiming one at Round 1, what will make it come together for you this weekend in Bloem?
Arno: “Looking back at the SA XCO cup series this year I have been blessed with some pretty cool memories. I haven’t been off the podium and it was awesome to win the first round in a sprint after an Epic battle with Phil & Matt.
With a small gap in racing over the last month, I’ve had some time to iron out a few issues and fine tune the turbo. I also really enjoy the track in Bloemfontein and it’s just around the corner from where I grew up. I know there will be an amazing atmosphere at Happy Valley and I’m looking forward to an exciting battle.”
Johan van Zyl – 3rd SA Champs 2021 / African Champ 2021 / 1st SA Cup #3 (u/23)
WA: The u23 category has a few strong contenders this season and you’ve delivered some great results. Who do you think will be dangerous this weekend in Bloem and are you optimistic for a win?
Johan: “Luke Moir had a strong race in the last SA cup in JHB and will be, as always, a strong contender. Tristan Nortje was last years winner and it seems that he has recovered from his shoulder injury, which make him also a strong contender. Daniel van der Walt has always in the past performed on the Bloemfontein track although he had a nasty accident earlier this year and he is still recovering. Keagan Bontekoning is always a strong contender. I would love to have a good race and if everything go well I believe I will also be in with a chance.”
Tyler Jacobs – 3 X SA Cup Winner 2022 / African Champ 2022
WA: Tyler, you’ve been incredibly dominant this season, with a win almost definite how to you approach the national champs and what are your goals for the race?
Tyler: “In response to your question; To win SA champs would be awesome and very good for points, and is something I’ve been working towards. This weekend I’m going to try my best to keep it safe on the course and basically not do anything stupid or take any unnecessary risks haha!”
Ernest Roets – Junior SA Champ 2021 / Junior African Champ 2022 / 1st SA Cup #3 2022
WA: Ernest, it looks to have been a closely contested season in the junior field but you have an SA Cup win and African Champs title to your name so far! What is going to be key in the race for you to keep your national title this weekend?
Ernest: “To keep cool and calm during the start of the race and not to over do it in the beginning of the race but also to keep a high consistent pace throughout the race. The field is very strong and you can’t afford to make mistakes.”
By the sounds of things this weekend’s race is going to be a cracker across the categories! Sunday will see the first Short Track race at our national champs but it has been positioned as a fun event with no national title to win. Race schedule below.