Durban – South Africa’s sole UCI Trade Team on the global mountain biking scene, Kargo Pro MTB Team, has enjoyed a frenetic period of competition of late with their appearance at the recent UCI MTB World Cup in Pietermaritzburg signalling the start of their exciting international journey.
Since being welcomed aboard by the sport’s global body in late January, Shaun Peschl’s Kargo outfit has been hard at work, flying the team’s flag on the local KwaZulu-Natal and South African cross country scene and eagerly preparing for their first major of the season in Cascades MTB Park two weeks ago.
Well, not quite the whole Kargo outfit.
Despite the rest of his team mates being fully focused on the World Cup season opener, Siya Njiva spent much of his off-season gearing up for his third attempt at the globally renowned nine day long ABSA Cape Epic in the Western Cape and, partnering Xolani Mthethwa in the Kargo Mountain Biking 2 team, Njiva did his team proud as well.
Njiva and Mthethwa crossed the finish line – a feat in itself – in 392nd position with their best individual stage result coming on the opening day’s prologue where they finished 314th.
“We were very cuffed with Siya and Xolani’s result in this year’s Cape Epic. They raced their hearts out and they finished really strongly, showing they’d prepared well too,” said Kargo pro MTB team manager, Peschl.
“This was Siya’s third Cape Epic and we look forward to him racing hard in the coming weeks with some great form,” he added.
With the nerves and excitement around their first major international cross country appearance, the World Cup proved somewhat of a disappointment for the Kargo outfit.
Team ace Rourke Croeser and Stuart Marais finished in 63rd and 65th and one and two laps behind the leaders respectively in the elite men’s clash while under-23 star Travis Walker crashed out in the notorious Tree House rock garden on the opening lap and fellow youngster Paul Rodenbach finished 32nd.
“It was a tough World Cup,” admitted Croeser afterwards. “It’s a difficult one to swallow when so much time, effort and money has gone into preparing for an event with so much hype around it and then for things to not go as planned.”
“It was just one of those days for me. I wasn’t quite on song and I probably let the pressure of the occasion get to me a little. It felt like I was just pedalling in squares!”
The weekend was however still one of great positives for the team though and invaluable lessons were learnt which Peschl and Croeser feel will put them in good stead not only for the rest of the World Cup season but all of the events on the team’s busy calendar.
“Personally it was important to get my elite men’s international debut under my belt and as well for the team to get our debut at such a big event out of the way as well,” said Croeser who at the beginning of the year stepped up out of the under-23 age group and into the elite men’s category.
“The World Cup was not great from a results point of view for us but we did achieve another big goal in seeing how all the international teams operate and being a part of the action first hand,” added Peschl. “It made us realize what planning and prep is needed to become a successful World Cup team.
“The riders weren’t the only ones under pressure on the day, the feed zone was another big stress for us as support staff as you are surrounded by seasoned, professional managers and mechanics. We learnt a huge amount from them though and we will take all of this info with us when we prepare for our next events in Europe and the States.”
Despite the disappoint of the global encounter still fresh in their minds, Peschl, Croeser and the rest of the Kargo setup had little time to feel sorry for themselves as the very next weekend, 19 and 20 April, saw them back on the bike and competing in the second leg of the SA MTB Cup Series at the demanding Afriski in Lesotho.
Whilst technically not overly challenging, racing at an altitude of over 3000 meters above sea level presented a unique challenge in itself.
A determined effort by Croeser saw him finish third overall behind Trek SA’s James Reid and Orange Monkey Pro Team’s British competitor David fletcher, a much needed solid performance at the final South African team Commonwealth Games selection event.
“To come back from the downer that the World Cup was and compete at the front again in Lesotho was pleasing,” said Croeser. “It was crazy racing at that sort of altitude but it was great get another good result in and make it a second, third and third in the three Commonwealth Games selection races.”
Croeser’s third was backed up by a seventh for Marais, eighth for Walker and seventeenth for Rodenbach also in the Pro Elite men’s race while Marco Joubert claimed an eighth in the junior boys race.
“Going into Lesotho we had a lot to prove, especially as it was the second round of the SA Cup Series and the final qualifier for Commonwealth Games,” said Peschl. “There was loads of hype around the venue beforehand but we had a positive outlook on it and hats off to Cycling SA for taking racing to different venues and courses.”
Croeser will now look to defend his KZN Cross Country Champs title at Cascades MTB Park on Saturday while the rest of the team also prepare for the aQuellé Tour Durban cyclo-cross race in Durban on Monday 28 April.
Croeser and Walker will then switch into marathon mode for a few weeks as they tackle the final leg of the MTN National MTB Series in Clarens on Sunday 4 May where the pair will hope to at least earn a top 20 finish which will see them qualify for the UCI MTB Marathon World Championships which takes place at Cascades MTB Park, Pietermaritzburg at the end of June, and then will look to get their team onto the top step of the podium at the popular Sappi Karkloof Classic on Sunday 11 May. More info can be found at www.peschlracing.com
SUMMARY OF RESULTS – KARGO PRO MTB TEAM
ABSA CAPE EPIC
392.Team Kargo Mountain Bike 2 (Siya Njiva/Xolani Mthethwa)
UCI MTB WORLD CUP PIETERMARITZBURG
63.Rourke Croeser (-1 lap)
65.Stuart Marais (-2 laps)
DNF – Travis Walker
SA MTB XCO CUP SERIES #2
Pro Elite Men
Source: Gameplan Media