Yolande Speedy chases another SA MTB title

2008-03-12 00:00

Following a string of victories on various courses over the last nine months, it has become evident that Yolande Speedy (IMC Racing) is currently the top all-round female mountain bike racer in the country.

But the 31-year-old endurance sports coach wants to confirm her position with another national title at the South African cross-country championships in Pietermaritzburg on Saturday.

The prestigious Mazda MTN South Africa Cup Series moves to KwaZulu-Natal for round three, which doubles as the 2008 nationals at Cascades, the venue where last year, Amy Jane Mundy (Jeep), claimed the national cross-country title ahead of Speedy.

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. A formidable record and one that makes her the clear favourite to dethrone Mundy on Saturday.

But in mountain bike racing nothing is certain. Mundy is currently in peak race condition and will be performing on home turf. She will also be very familiar with the course, which has been the subject of much discussion.

"It’s a hard course with lots of climbing," said Speedy, who wisely went to recce it on her way back to Jonannesburg 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 6,3-km 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 tighten 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 to ensure they are 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," said Speedy.

The Elite women’s cross-country race starts at 10 am on Saturday.

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