The 2018 World Cup got off to a great start in Stellenbosch, South Africa, with some brilliant racing and a lovely team vibe.
Thankfully the sun didn’t beat down too hard on us today, but the dusty Coetzenburg track still provided the riders with a South African racing experience!
Frazer Clacherty was first to race, lining up with the number twenty start board on the third row of the grid. The U23 British Champion got a solid start – 18th after the start loop and looking really comfortable and controlled. Talking after his final training session on course yesterday, Frazer emphasised the technicality of the track in such dry and loose conditions. The lack of visibility and the washed out corners could be a recipe for disaster, so a measured and mature approach would hopefully be beneficial. Frazer had to back off more than he had planned for on lap two, slipping back to 25th, but after that the engine really got going and he worked his way back up through the field with impressive pace to claim 12th position in a sprint for the line.
Following the race, Frazer was happy to start the season with a solid result. There is definitely more to come, and a second row start at the next round in Albstadt – where he finished 6th last year – will certainly help.
Next up was the local, Mariske Strauss. A home World Cup, sporting the stripes of National Champion, is a special occasion, and Mariske certainly rose to it. Following a tough 2017, Mariske went away and worked really hard to put herself in a better place physically and mentally. She took to the start line happy and confident, and a fantastic 28th position followed. It wasn’t a race without mishaps – getting stuck behind riders stalling and crashing – but today Mariske had the fire in her tummy and she fought for every second and every position. Her goal was to leave it all out on track, and following the race she was happy to have achieved that. She is edging closer to that top twenty finish. Plenty of chances left!
Finally it was time for Martin Gluth and Raphaël Gagné to line up against the fastest XCO riders in the World.
Starting with the number 73 board, Martin had a difficult task to get going and move up in a congested and narrow start lap. But he did it! He rocketed away from the start line and up to 55th place after the first lap. Riding in groups, holding the wheels and then moving forward when he could, Martin moved up 48th and then 44th by the finish. It’s hard to explain how hard it is to climb 29 positions in a World Cup race full of amazing riders and technical trails, but with powerful legs and impressive skills, Martin was able to do it. Last season was not an easy one for Martin, so it was such a delight to see his smile at the finish line. A really well-deserved result and a stepping stone onto even better things.
Ralph was not able to get such a strong start today and, despite some super silky descending, it was hard to then get going and make an impression on the race. Holding around 72nd position for most of the time, it was clear to see that he was struggling to find the power. However, a last lap surge saw him move up to 66th and draw some positives. This was not Raph’s day and we are gutted that he was’t able to show his capabilities, but we know there is much more in the tank and look forward to better days.
And so, in a flurry of dust, the first World Cup of 2018 is already done. We will be cleaning Coetzenburg dirt from ourselves for a while, but the good memories will certainly last longer!