The TREAD crew spent some time at Wagpos High School, Brits, to experience Day 1 of the finals of the 2019 Spur Schools Mountain Bike League. Here are eight things that really stood out for us.
With over 500 competitors either waiting to race, racing or just finished racing, it was hard to not feel the energy, which was brimming with passion. Disappointment is increased when it comes from passion. Success is fuelled by passion. And that’s just the participants. Every participant had at least one supporter or a school support crew, all of whom were equally – in some cases more – passionate about the performance of their riders…
With 87 schools represented, there was, as you’d expect, fierce inter-school rivalry. The great thing about the finals is that it brings schools together from across the country to compete. Schools that by virtue of their location would never normally be in the same contest were up against each other and it made for incredible racing!
We have attended a few regional Spur Series events in the past, as well as a final at the Becker School (the previous finals host venue). Usually the courses are on the tamer side in terms of technical challenges, which is understandable because you want minimal injuries and maximum fun at events like this. But the finals course this year was a level up, with two challenging climbs, a technical descent and a number of corners, including a purpose-build bermed section with a gap jump A-Line option. It all made for a highly stimulating course that challenged everyone and rewarded the better skilled riders for certain.
You don’t expect the highest of standards at a national high schools sports event. But wow! The level of professionalism was such that we’d deem the event to have been world class. The only glitch we noticed was the races running behind the planned start times, but other than that, we were blown away by the venue layout, the amenities (food, drink, parking, ablutions etc), the communication and media (the event was live-streamed on Facebook!).
Large modern sporting events are not possible without sponsors. And boy were there some highly engaged sponsors of this Series at the final! Besides Spur, which last year extended its title sponsor contract by a further 10 years(!), Signal Bikes, SRAM, Anatomic, UVEX and CycleSure were there in force! We were impressed at how knowledgable and approachable the SRAM staff were and loved that Signal Bikes created interactivity with a Watt Challenge on a Signal Bike connected to a Wahoo Kickr and a Zwift climb…
Yes, this was the final of the Series, with just over 500 riders. But we were stunned at the high percentage of high-end bikes and equipment we saw. We don’t have any stats, but we reckon more than 50% of the riders were on lightweight high-end carbon bikes (many of them full-suspension). We’re very much aware that during the preliminary rounds, more than 18 000 youngsters competed and that the high-end bikes percentage isn’t that high for the full series; but still, it’s amazing that so much has been invested in equipment by parents and/or sponsors.
The skill level variance
It’s frustrating watching a young rider on an R80 000-plus high-end bicycle struggle through a series of beautifully shaped berms or over-braking and unable to stay clipped in on a moderately technical descent. Yet it’s encouraging seeing a rider on a sub R15 000 alloy hardtail own those same obstacles simply because he/she has the knowledge and confidence… Without going into great detail here, the above observations should make it clear to parents/schools that more investment in skills coaching is required. Note: there is a difference between physiological coaching and skills coaching. Very few coaches can do both. Happy to make recommendations for both types of coaches if you email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sure, the rivalry was high. We’re South Africans, it’s in our DNA! But there was also a high level of camaraderie to be seen and sensed as racers from rival schools mingled comfortably off the bike, unfazed by differing school-coloured race-jerseys as they consoled and congratulated one another after each race. The teenage years can be a challenging time for most, but friendship, support and mutual respect are timeless catalysts in making any challenge seem so much more achievable. It was heartening to see this.
To read the summary of the racing, click here: http://www.treadmtb.co.za/spectacular-finish-for-2019-spur-schools-mtb-league/
Photo Credits: Henk Neuhoff and Hitchcock