After a freezing winter spent training indoors, Norway’s Petter Fagerhaug was too strong for the rest of the men’s under-23 field in the summer warmth of Stellenbosch as he won the opening leg of the UCI Mercedes-Benz MTB World Cup on Saturday morning.
Fagerhaug won the six-lap race on the Coeztenburg track in a time of 1:18;23, one minute and six seconds ahead of New Zealander Ben Oliver. France’s Neilo Perrin was third, 1:54 behind Fagerhaug.
“I’ve been sitting on the indoor trainer back home in Norway for the whole winter, getting stronger than last year. Hopefully I will be even better than last year,” said Fagerhaug, who won the opening leg of the World Cup in the Czech Republic in 2017.
“I felt much stronger in the beginning of the race. I was just waiting behind other guys, watching, looking at their strengths and weaknesses. I could see that Oliver was getting tired, and when I pushed the pace he fell off.”
Oliver’s opening lap was a blisteringly quick 12:42, but Fagerhaug’s smooth, powerful riding style and consistent lap times around the 4.4km circuit meant that it was going to take something special from Oliver to catch him. Perrin, the French under-23 champion, was followed home by the fourth-placed Dane Simon Andreassen, who spends much of his time training in Stellenbosch, and Belgium’s Pierre de Froidmont.
“I’ve done a bit of racing in New Zealand already, the nationals and Oceania champs, but you never know how you are going to go in the first World Cup of the season,” said Oliver, whose previous best World Cup result was sixth in Andorra last year. “It was a big improvement from last year and a big confidence boost. I’m over the moon.”
The first South African home was Wessel Botha in 19th place with Julian Jessop close on his heels in 21st. Botha had to fight hard to crack the top 20, having had a bad start when there was a crash right in front of him on the first hill, which put him back in 36th place.
“This is my first World Cup, so I wasn’t really expecting a result like this,” said Botha. “I was just ready to race myself into the ground to see what I could do. Luckily, I could pass a few riders after the crash that slowed me up on the first lap. It’s amazing to have an event like this in South Africa, and to do well for my country.”