UCI World Cup | Albstadt

A course made treacherous by wet weather was the big story at the second round of the UCI World Cup, held in Albstadt, Germany. 

Frazer, Mariske, Martin and Raph all put in strong performances, continuing their upward trajectory of form, and Schwalbe’s Rocket Ron put in an awesome shift in the mud!

As one of the top 40 Elite Women riders in the World, Mariske was part of World Cup history on Friday night, racing the inaugural Short Track race. Twenty-five minutes of racing over a 1.2km course was fast and tactical, and it decided the top two rows of the grid for Sunday’s XCO race. Getting caught behind a coming-together off the start didn’t help Mariske’s cause, but she fought back onto the train that chased down the lead group. Mariske came away with 33rd place, 10 World Cup points and a great experience!

Onto Saturday and it was Frazer who lined up to take on the World’s best U23 Men. And the rain! A fast start saw Frazer up into 5th place on the start loop. After the race, Frazer explained that adrenaline had masked the fact he was going too deep in the early stages, and that from lap two onwards he really suffered as a consequence. After slipping backwards he managed to settle in and consolidate whilst many of those around him were ‘blowing up’ completely and crashing badly. A 15th place finish is a really strong performance. Frazer is a little disappointed with the result, but also confident in his form and ready to learn, progress and go again next weekend in Nove Mesto na Morave.

Rain overnight meant no improvement in course conditions come Mariske’s race on Sunday. As she pointed out after the race, you don’t get mud in Cape Town, so the slippery conditions were particularly testing! It was a battle to stay upright, let alone race, but Mariske soldiered on to finish in a very respectable 46th position, with a few tumbles along the way. It was a tough mental game, as well as physically demanding, but Mariske is still smiling and full of positive energy for next weekend.

The mud was drying and there was even a hint of sunshine as the Elite Men lined up to race. Martin and Raph seemed determined to extend their Cape Epic partnership: they started with numbers 80 and 78 respectively, and were no more than a few places apart for the first laps. However, Lady Luck decided to split the two of them and issued Raph with a puncture. As he dropped back and made a stop in the pits, Martin started to really make progress through the field. His race plan was not to start too fast and then begin to make his way forward. It was working perfectly. Just as he was knocking on the door of the top thirty, he also punctured. Mark made a seamless wheel change in the pits and Martin was able to get back into the race in around 45th position. There were a lot of punctures in the race today, and sadly we were not exempt. With great professionalism, Raph and Martin kept calm and regained their rhythm, but it is a shame to have lost the chance for even better results. Martin finished 44th and Raph was 57th. Given their start numbers, they still produced brilliant rides, but we are all looking forward to another chance to race next weekend and chase a finish place deserving of their form.

Time to wash the mud from everything, pack up and head to the Czech Republic for another World Cup week.

Cape Epic 2018

STAGE 7

Eight days, five venues, 658 kilometres, two sick riders, three finishers, one third place overall. The 2018 Cape Epic is done.

We are currently a bit too tired to really appreciate the journey we have been on and to celebrate what has been achieved. It’s hard to quantify the successes, but there have undoubtedly been many.

We must start with the quite incredible third place overall for the Silverback-KMC team of Mariske and Annie. The result in itself is no less than was expected from this partnership. They were second overall last year, bagging a stage win along the way, and came into the race as one of the favourites. However, racing the final two days whilst suffering from a nasty sickness virus puts a whole new spin on this achievement. Mariske suffered so hard, and Annie worked so well to nurture them to the finish line. Fifth place today was more than enough to see them step onto the overall podium in front of huge crowds in Val de Vie.

They were disappointed to have not been able to race the way they wanted to in the final days, and to show what they were fully capable of. But having such a strong start to the race and establishing such an impressive time buffer is something that they are proud of. Once again they proved that a great partnership is worth so much in this extraordinary race.

Secondly, the new and exciting partnership from Martin and Raph. The guys had only known each other for two weeks when they embarked on the toughest of mountain bike races, but they showed a noble desire to suffer and work for one and other from day one. With this they moved from 33rd in the overall rankings after day one, up to 13th on day six. Two 11th place finishes demonstrated their ability to deliver results, and seeing them race at the very front of the lead group on Stage 4 was a really special and proud moment. Sickness was our worst enemy during this Cape Epic, and Martin succumbed irrevocably. His withdrawal on the morning of Stage 7 was a really saddening sight. Martin had raced so well – drawing on his Cape Epic experience and displaying some impressive strength – so it was especially hard to see him reluctantly side-lined. With the form and confidence that Martin showed over the first six days, we are really excited for the season ahead.

Thirdly comes Raph’s strength of spirit. There are very few people who can put themselves into the hurt locker for hours on end and then raise a smile at the end. Or who offer to go back to the food tent and collect an extra lunch pack for their team manager at the end of a stage. Or who don the Lonely Leopard jersey with such understanding and compassion when their partner is forced to retire from the race. Or who think about carrying said partner’s race number in their back pocket to the finish line because “You don’t leave a team mate behind”. Raph’s first Cape Epic was a baptism of fire, but he handled it amazingly. And he finished!

Lastly is a mention for the team behind the riders. Supporting such World-class athletes is a privilege and an honour, but it’s not glamourous and it’s not easy, especially at Cape Epic. We are all still alive, and all smiling. That’s definitely a success!

We are raising a glass of South Africa’s finest, and then making a beeline for bed! Over and out.


 

STAGE 6

The penultimate day of the Cape Epic is usually a welcome stage of the race: with the end in sight, morale is boosted and motivation is high. However, this morning our spirit took a real knock. Illness had struck the team and continuing the race was in serious jeopardy.

By 0530 it was clear that the fever which struck Martin yesterday afternoon had not abated, and he was simply too ill to start Stage 6. We announced the following:

UPDATE

We are sad to say that Martin Gluth has to withdraw from the Cape Epic today.  

 After some sensational rides in the last six days riding at the very front of the race, he has succumbed to the sickness virus that has spread across the Epic village. 

 It’s devastating news for both Martin and Raphaël. They were battling hard to close in on a top 10 finish, recovering from a 33rd place on the prologue to 13th overall last night. 

 As always, the rider’s health must come first and whilst we are all disappointed at the news, we can be immensely proud of the effort, professionalism and courage the two riders displayed to race amongst the World’s best in the toughest race of them all.

 Raphaël will start today as a ‘Lonely Leopard’ and we will give him our full support as always in the final two days of the race.

With that tough decision made, another was just around the corner. Mariske had also fallen sick during the night and was unable to keep any food or liquids down. With half an hour before the start, she made the decision to try and race. It would be a matter of steady survival mode and seeing if her body was capable of completing the day.

To our amazement, and with thanks to Annie for her unwavering support and assistance, the Silverback-KMC duo kept going. Water Point by Water Point, they ticked off the kilometres and edged closer to the finish line. It was almost inevitable that the team behind them in General Classification – the strong Team Ascendis pair of Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot – would overtake them. The focus was therefore on holding off the fourth placed team of DormaKaba 2. With incredible willpower, they only lost 1 minute and 24 seconds, and with that they sit comfortably in third place overall. A podium in Val di Vie is still in sight.

Mariske went to the medical tent immediately after the finish to asses her condition and thankfully nothing is cause for concern. She is recovering well now, but we cannot be sure how she will feel tomorrow. Fingers crossed that this tough lady can make it to the finish line.

With his partner sidelined, Raph was still keen to make it to the finish line in Val di Vie and complete his first Cape Epic, albeit not in the way he had hoped. Donning his fetching new leopard print jersey, Raph rolled off with the ‘C’ Batch, behind the UCI Men, UCI Women, ‘A’ and ‘B’ groups. He rode up through groups on the open sections and then sat behind on the singletrails and enjoyed the South African countryside.

Yesterday evening and this morning really tested the strength of spirit within the team. Months of preparation go into the Epic from both the riders and the staff, and to fall short is really hard to handle. However, looking back on an awesome effort from Martin and Raph over the first six days, and looking ahead to what Martin’s form indicates could be an amazing season, fills us with pride and excitement. As for Mariske, it is hard to describe the physical and mental toughness she displayed today. It is far beyond the limits of most of us.

Martin is smiling again and Mariske is feeling much better. Health comes first, and hopefully Raph, Mariske and Annie crossing the line in Val di Vie tomorrow comes next!

 

 


 

 

STAGE 5

Stage 5 saw the return of a mid-race time-trial, last raced in the Cape Epic in 2011. The route was a relatively short 39km but with 1800m of ascent and every second counting, there was no expectation of an easy day.

Martin and Raph rode a controlled and tactical time-trial, finishing in 18th place but holding on to their 13th place in General Classification. Mariske and Annie also defended their overall position with another podium ride – third today keeps them in second heading into the final two days.

Martin and Raph began their stage at 0713. The sun was up but the air still held an overnight chill. Having discussed their plan of attack last night, the guys knew that they must leave energy for the top of the main climb which got increasingly rocky and difficult towards the summit.  Consistency was king today; steady on the way out and strong on the way home. With Martin having been the stronger of the two thus far, he pulled on the front when the speed was fast and the tracks were wide, and Raph set the pace on the narrow climbs. With “the best singltrack day so far”, according to Raph, the pair clocked a time of 1:55.05 which slotted them into 18th position.

A smart race and a great partnership today.

It was another podium performance for the Silverback-KMC pair of Mariske and Annie. Annie led them out after rolling down the start ramp at 0759, and they two disappeared round the corner at the end of the start straight to rapturous applause from the crowds gathered at Huguenot High School here in Wellington.

After an amazing bounce-back performance yesterday, Mariske again struggled to find her legs today. Racing the Epic is such a delicate balance of effort, exhaustion, illness and recovery. And even when you manage all of those things, sometimes you just don’t have the strength that you hoped for. Amazingly, with a combination of experience, consistency and determination, the team were still able to pull off an impressive third place. Even when Mariske’s legs are a little weak, her mind is so strong! Annie rode a great race to pace her partner to perfection and bring the team home. Team work makes the dream work!

Today was a classic example of it taking more than strong legs to succeed at the Cape Epic. You need tactical nouse and togetherness as well; looking after your body and each other.


 

 

STAGE 4

The Queen Stage delivered a battle royale today; 113km with vicious climbs and testing traverses, all whilst fighting to create or close gaps and move up the General Classification.

The transition stage from Worcester to Wellington saw Silverback-KMC achieve their best result so far with a superb 2nd place, whilst the Silverback OMX Pro Team fought another strong battle to finish 11th place and jump up to 13th in the General Classification.

Yesterday, Mariske said at the finish that she had left her legs in the camper that morning. Thankfully we found them and gave them back to her before she set off from Worcester today! The Silverback-KMC pairing were full of fun, even at 0630 as they rolled to the start, and they were still smiling at the finish line (although we guess they stopped for some time in between!). The long singletrack trails played to their strengths and they were able to expend energy efficiently as the route twisted and dived through rocky terrain. Annie lost two water bottles early on which made for a tough time in the searing heat, but she managed to recover well after Water Point 2. Riding together with Team Ascendis, Mariske and Annie knew that the pressure was off them; Ascendis were lying behind them in the overall standings so the onus was on them to make up time. Content to follow the wheels and let the pace drop, it wasn’t until the entrance to the final singletrack that the Silverback-KMC team decided to make a move and make some time. With Ascendis’ Robyn de Groot evidently feeling the strain, it was a perfect attack. Annie and Mariske soloed into Wellington in second place. With Team Spur withdrawing from the race this morning, Silverback-KMC are up to second place in General Classification with three stages to go.

After some very hard days in the saddle, it was with a little trepidation that Raph headed to the start line this morning. However, once the race started rolling it was clear that this Cape Epic newbie was ready to fight another day with the big guns. Both guys were suffering to hold the pace in the early stages, but they made the crucial split and were still with the leaders through Water Point 2 at 45km. The group rocketed in, scrambled to collect their bottles and sprinted out again. It was like feeding time at the zoo! From there the climbs came and the decisive moves were made. Silverback OMX Pro pair dropped back before they topped out their rev limiters, and soon other teams also cracked under the pressure of the leaders. Martin and Raph were caught by teams behind them, but also caught up to teams ahead. It was a constant fight to keep the balance of catching and being caught in their favour. They sat in a group of three teams up the famous Bain’s Kloof Pass – a 9km tarmac climb – and then began the descent down to Wellington. The group swelled to four teams on the approach to the finish so the guys hatched a plan to win the sprint. Raph attacked early to lead the group in, and Martin then had to use his explosive power to finish as high as possible in the bunch sprint. It worked perfectly, with the guys crossing the line 1st and 2nd and taking 11th place. In a long race like Cape Epic, the difference between 11th and 14th on one stage is not all that important, but these boys love racing and winning a sprint is always good fun!

We have broken the back of the 2018 Cape Epic, and done so in style today. Three more days to go.


 

 

 

STAGE 3

“The Longest Day” was a hard and fast 122km, transitioning from Robertson to Worcester.

Silverback-KMC finished in fourth after a day of suffering for Mariske, but held onto their third place overall. Martin and Raph were put under pressure from the big, marathon men but they fought hard for a great 13th position at the finish.

“I think I left my legs in the camper this morning”, said Mariske at the finish line. However she tried to loosen them off, push through the barrier or settle into a good pace, they just wouldn’t respond. It’s an awful feeling, both physically and mentally. But on day four of the Cape Epic there is little you can do except push on the best you can and hope for a change of fortune.

With Annie feeling strong, she took to the front and rode in support of her team mate. Communication is key, and this partnership has it dialled. A crash for Annie and a puncture for Mariske didn’t help their cause, but with calm professionalism they pressed on, working hard all the way to Worcester. Damage limitation was effective; the ladies finished fourth but retained their 3rd place in General Classification with a seven minute buffer over fourth place.

In the Men’s race, today’s stage was the big chance for the marathon specialists to make time on their cross-country compatriots. And they took it. Pushing a high pace, they motored along the district dirt roads like a train! Gaps were established early on but Martin and Raph knew what to expect and they managed to make the second major group on the route, sheltering in the wheels and holding onto the high pace. It was not an easy ride, but they managed to save enough in the tank to win the sprint for 13th position in Worcester. They stay 16th in General Classification and, despite some serious suffering in places, still raise a smile at the finish.

Four days down and four to go. The rhythm of racing is here, but so too is the fatigue. Early mornings, hard hours in the saddle and life in the race village is not easy. The half way stage is mentally tough; you are tired but there is still a long way to go. Luckily these riders are made of tough stuff – it is quite incredible to see them perform at such a high level, day after day.

With the riders now sleeping, the staff are hard at work preparing bikes, making food, doing laundry, tidying up and ensuring that our teams are in the best possible position to race hard again tomorrow. Stage 4 here we come!

 


 

 

STAGE 2

Stage 2 was a tough day, but our riders were tougher!

Mariske and Annie claimed a thrilling third place, less than 1 second behind second position. Martin and Raph showed their capabilities today with a brilliant race: positioning well, taking their turn at the front, and coming home with a strong 11th place.

Having been dealt a harsh hand yesterday, Martin and Raph were determined to find their feet at the front of the race and prove their Cape Epic credentials. With the sun spilling over the mountains behind them, the Elite Men sped out of the start and into 106km of tough terrain and they were up towards the front, just where they wanted to be. As they zig-zagged through the vineyards towards Water Point 1, the duo were sitting comfortably in the front group, looking to have found that critical balance between eagerness and efficiency. Chasing through the Robertson Valley after them, we saw the race flying down the dirt roads kicking up a trail of dust that silhouetted them against the bright morning sun. As the long train of riders slowed and turned towards us we could see that it was Martin sitting on the front with Raph tucked in behind him. Very few riders have the talent to lead the front pack at the Cape Epic, but our guys were stepping up to that mark. They passed through Water Point 2 in second position, and stayed with the lead group until the attacks started coming from the big title contenders on the final major climb. Raph didn’t have the top end power to stay with these accelerations so the pair settled into a sustainable pace and pushed for home. Sprinting into the finish line, Martin and Raph held off Cape Epic legends, Karl Platt and Urs Huber, to take 11th spot, and only 4:46 off the leaders after 4 hours and 10 minutes of racing. And with that they jump up to 16th overall. That’s what you call a good day!

Mariske and Annie had a third place in General Classification to defend as they rolled out on Stage 2. With the long game in mind, the pair aimed to have a conservative day, riding consistently and efficiently rather than swinging between the red zone and recovery. Of course, that’s easier said than done when the race leaders are attacking! Finding a compromise between staying with the leading group and not over-exerting themselves, Annie and Mariske followed wheels on the flat and found their own rhythm on the climbs and descents. A big attack from the leading team of Songo Specialized was too fast to follow, but with an efficient pace they could close the gap to second-placed Team Spur and ride the final 20 kilometres together as a group of four. Deciding it was not worth the expenditure of effort to try and split the group and push hard for home, a sprint was on the cards. It was thrillingly close but Spur took 2nd place by less than a second, and Silverback-KMC took the third spot on the podium but with no time lost to their closest rival. They remain 3rd in the overall standings and feel in a strong position for the coming five days. The big smiles on the podium say it all!

 

Three days down, five to go. It’s only just getting started…

 


 

 

STAGE 1

The first of four consecutive days over 100km got underway on Stage 1. It was the first real test of this year’s epic – who could handle the heat?

For Silverback OMX it was a case of handling it in different ways; the ladies turned up the heat and claimed a fantastic third place, whilst the men kept their cool after puncturing and then turned on the burners to chase back to 22nd.

A strong sun shone down on the finish line at Arabella Wine Estate, but the air was still cool as the sun rose and the riders rolled to the start. Cloud cover kept the temperature down in the early stages of the race but the clearing skies, brutal climbs and long district road drags made for an increasingly tough day.

Martin and Raph faced these challenges having already been dealt bad luck. A big sidewall puncture only five minutes into the stage left them biting the dust as the Elite field disappeared into the distance. With huge thanks to the Silverback Volvo team of Shaun-Nick Bester and Jaco Pelser, the guys could get a replacement rear wheel for Raph and begin their chase. Losing time so early in the stage left them alone and facing the day without wheels to follow and groups to shelter in. Not only is it physically harder, it’s a tough mental game. Thankfully Raph and Martin have both strong legs and strong heads! They made one more stop to adjust the rubbing brake on the replacement wheel, and the rest of the time it was pedal to metal to limit their losses and finish in 22nd. Hopes of a good overall result are not lost, and we are excited to see what this pair can do when luck is on their side!

Mariske and Annie were plagued by press rather than punctures, with a storming ride to take 3rd place and move into 3rd overall! They crossed the line with huge smiles and were immediately surrounded by cameras and microphones. Talking about the day’s racing they explained that the pace gradually built up as they wound out of the wine estate and onto the gravel roads. Second-placed Team Spur followed the lead of the Zebra jersey, Team Specialized Songo, but Annie and Mariske opted to hold back and not push too hard too early. They joined up with Team Ascendis and DormaKaba and the group worked well on the open tracks around Water Point 2. Knowing their technical strengths, the duo tried to attack into the next single track section, but a wily Sabine Spitz picked up on the plan and blocked Mariske’s opportunity to overtake. Next time around, heading into the Land Rover Technical Terrain section, the ladies were sure to be at the front and from there they built their lead over fourth place. Hammering hard towards home, they claimed the podium spot and gave themselves a five and a half minute advantage over Team Ascendis in the General Classification. Another great display of team work and fine form. Congratulations Annie and Mariske!

Some days team can be proud of their riders because they make the podium, and some days they are proud because of great character and spirit when the going gets tough. Today was both!

Tomorrow we face Stage 2: 110km again, and 2000m of ascent. Bring it on!


 

 

PROLOGUE

The 2018 Cape Epic kicked off in classic style, with scorching sun and dusty trails on the slopes of the iconic Table Mountain.

The Silverback-KMC pairing of Mariske Strauss and Annie Last laid down the fourth fastest time in the Women’s field, whilst the Silverback OMX Pro Team duo of Martin Gluth and Raphaël Gagné made a solid start with 18th place.

 

Raced over 20 kilometre, with 600 metres of climbing, the Prologue was a tasty appetiser of what’s to come. Despite not being too technically taxing, concentration was key. The race cannot be won on the opening day, but it can be lost with a moment of misjudgement or excessive eagerness!

With a Cape Epic together already under their belts, Mariske and Annie were relaxed and confident ahead of today’s test. Annie was cool as a cucumber on the start ramp, and Mariske had a little dance. They looked across at each other, smiled, and rolled down the ramp with a sparkle in their eyes.

It wasn’t a perfect day, with the heat suppressing that top end power and making Annie feel a bit flat, but a sensible, sustainable effort led the ladies to a great 4th position. They were just 1 second off the podium, and 2 minutes 15 seconds behind the winners.

Starting his first Cape Epic, Raph was excited and intrigued. He had asked all the right questions and done all the right preparation, but in the end there is only one way to discover the untamed Epic.

The starter counted them down and off they went to face the first of 658 kilometres. After 48 minutes of racing they crossed the line feeling rather hot but happy with their efforts. Having guzzled some water and thrown the rest over his head, Raph was quick to emphasise his “amazing partner”. “Martin is very clever; a smart racer”, he explained. With good legs and smart heads, they took a solid 18th place. The time gaps are small and the race is long.

And so one day of the Cape Epic is ticked off already. But with a race like this, the work doesn’t stop when the riders cross the line. Recovery from today and preparation for tomorrow are key to success. Following a two hour drive up to Arabella Wine Estate outside Robertson, the team camp is now set up for three days. Eat, sleep, race, repeat.

 


 

 

We are excited to announce that we will once again be racing the World’s premier mountain bike stage race, the Cape Epic.

 

The 2018 edition of this infamous race will be held from the 18th to the 25th of March, travelling through South Africa’s stunning Western Cape region.

Silverback OMX will be entering two teams to compete with many of the World’s best Marathon and cross-country racers on this acclaimed international stage. In addition, we are lucky to have Silverback’s South African outfit, Silverback Volvo, riding in support of our team, offering assistance in the case of mechanicals or mishaps.

OMX Pro Team has had huge success at Cape Epic, winning the Prologue in 2015 and the Queen Stage in 2017, plus many other podiums.

But success is not just measured in medals. When riders have crashed and staff have become seriously ill, when mechanicals have put the future of the race on hold, when our bodies have decided enough is enough we have had the strength of mind and the power of passion to pull together and pull through. Nothing tests you quite like the Cape Epic does. And nothing beats the satisfaction of sharing success in this harsh environment.

This year the riders will cover a total of 658km and 13530m of climbing as they race from the Prologue on the iconic Table Mountain to the majestic Val de Vie Estate seven days later. Technical terrain, searing heat and long days characterise this race, and the 2018 edition will be no different.

The Cape Epic is something exceptional; it heightens every emotion, pushes you further than you thought possible, and challenges every aspect of mountain bike racing. It is a giant, a legend. It is untamed, but it is not unbeatable.

UCI World Cup | Stellenbosch

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!

Gluth and Gagné Team Up for Cape Epic

We are very pleased to present our Silverback OMX Pro Team pairing of Martin Gluth and Raphaël Gagné for the 2018 Cape Epic.

 

Martin has twice experienced the heady thrills and crushing spills of this infamous eight-day stage race, and this experience will be invaluable in steering the pair through 658km of intensely physical and mental racing.

For Raph, it is an exciting step into the unknown; the ‘Untamed’.

 “There are some nerves since this is new, but I am really excited for the experience. I heard a lot about the Epic in the last 10 years through racers, friends, magazines, YouTube and everything, so to finally make it is amazing. I look forward to the race itself, and everything it should throw at us: landscape, safari on the bike, harsh racing conditions. Making new friends on and off the bike as well as seeing new places and getting to ride and race new trails.” 

Martin and Raph are new as team mates, so the crucial relationship of Cape Epic partners will be a testing one. However, after just one week together training in South Africa this February, the boys seem to be getting on like a house on fire! There will be many unknowns, but we are certain there will be an incredible work ethic and also some laughs along the way.

Martin explains his feelings towards the 2018 edition:

As the Cape Epic approaches, excitement is an understatement! Training gets more serious and I focus more on the recovery between the training sessions. There are lots of fun trails during the stages and we will suffer hard to keep the lead-group as long as possible!”

It can be difficult to make goals for a race with so many uncertainties, but Martin and Raph each aim to push the boundaries of their bodies and our expectations. They are in good condition and full of enthusiasm for the race, so the results will follow. Raph says,

“We will have to see how we feel and discuss the goals each day with Martin. We want to get the most out of ourselves by racing hard and smart throughout the Epic. I am confident we will get the most out of this partnership and get the most out of each other. It’s great that Martin has raced it twice so far, he has the experience I don’t have.”

As a team, we are buzzing to see Raph and Martin line up to start their Cape Epic on 18th March! This race is something special, and we can’t wait to get stuck in. Martin sums it up perfectly:

“I am looking forward to building a great partnership with Raph and writing a story that is worth talking about the whole season!”

 

Team Number 2 will be revealed soon. Watch this space!

 

 

 

2017 World Championships – Pedal to Medal

What a way to finish an amazing 2017 season!

Annie Last rode a technically and tactically superb race to take the silver medal, while Mariske Strauss came back from a physically and mentally tough year to claim a strong 24th position.

Riding in their national team colours of Great Britain and South Africa, Annie and Mariske both got great starts as the race got underway in Cairns, Australia. The start loop was flat out but both ladies slotted into the top ten which set them up for a great opening lap in the natural, dusty and rocky trails of the rainforest.

At the end of lap one, Annie had made her way to the very front of the race and led through the finish line and out onto lap two. She pushed eventual winner, Jolanda Neff, on the opening climb and matched her on the notoriously tricky descents. However, Neff was just too strong and began to pull away. Annie settled in second as Pauline Ferrand-Prevot and Irina Kalentyeva both challenged but then faltered with flat tyres.

Meanwhile Mariske was proving she is back to her best. Surrounded by many of the sport’s top names, she held her position inside the top 15 and settled into a fast pace. Unfortunately a small crash cost her some time and positions, and a knock to her rear mech meant she then had to deal with skipping gears. However, despite this she rode really strongly throughout the race and finished with a fine 24th spot.

By the final lap of the race all Annie had to do was keep it safe and smooth, and the silver medal was hers. We held our breath as she rocketed down the rocks and swung through the dusty berms of the jungle. And then the tarmac appeared and finish straight opened out ahead of her. What a ride! Annie became the first ever British Elite Woman to win a medal at an XC World Championships. With obvious delight she crossed the line, hands aloft and wearing a huge smile.

We couldn’t be more proud of Annie and Mariske and the way they rode this weekend; they are so deserving of their success. Congratulations ladies. Now let’s enjoy a drink. Cheers!

World Cup #6 – 4th at Finale

It’s hard to believe the 2017 World Cup is over. The season has flown by in a flurry of travel, races and results.

The final stop on the circuit was Val di Sole in Italy’s Trentino region.

 

The Valley of the Sun gave us some hot racing, kick started by an exciting U23 Women’s race. Isla had been happy on course all week, and went into Sunday’s race with a relaxed manner and quiet optimism. With two top tens already under her belt this season, the pressure was off and that – coupled with amazing form and well-deserved confidence – made for her best result yet.

 

A brilliant start from the second row of the grid saw Isla leading out the race, but lessons learnt from last week in Basel meant she backed off and tucked in as they began to climb. Feeling strong, Isla slotted into 5th place and kept a steady pace as the field strung out. Dropping into the first descent, the top five had already pulled out a gap on the rest of the field. Kate Courtney led into lap one, followed by Sina Frei, Evie Richards, Martina Berta and then Isla. Courtney, Frie and Richards pulled away and Isla’s race developed into a battle for 4th. She was stronger on the climbs but Berta was quicker on the descents. Isla played a tactical game and made gains where she could but without expending too much energy. Eventually she was able to eek out an advantage; firstly just a few seconds, then up to as much as 45 seconds. By the fifth and final lap, Isla was looking very comfortable in 4th. After the race she explained that she had left some energy in the tank in case she would have to fight it out with Berta in the final stages of the race, but it wasn’t needed and Isla could ride a sensible last lap to secure herself an amazing result and a wonderful end to her successful World Cup season. She high fived the crowds as she rode into the finish, and the smile is as broad now as it was then. There is a huge sense of satisfaction in achieving what you know you are capable of, as a result of really hard work. Congratulations Isla!

It was great to have Mariske back racing a World Cup after an unscheduled but much-needed mid-season break. She lined up with Annie in the Elite Women’s race at 1215.

Once again it was Annie who led the race off the line and into the start loop. Unfortunately towards the end of lap one – when riding in third place – she burped her rear tyre and immediately lost time and places on the long climb and through the final switchback descent. Lee did a really quick wheel change in the tech zone and Annie re-joined the race in 21st position. As the race went on Annie began to suffer with stomach problems and this thwarted any attempt to claw back the places she had lost. Twenty-fourth position was not the result she was hoping for, but Annie is certainly carrying some great form.

Mariske had a solid start and a strong race, handling the intensity of World Cup racing well given her time off. She settled into around 50th position, jostling for positions on each climb and descent. Bad luck struck again though, this time not a mechanical but a bee sting! Mariske was able to finish her race (in 50th position) but her allergic reaction was getting serious and we had to get medical attention. Thankfully everything was quickly brought under control and she is fine now.

Both Annie and Mariske now travel to Cairns, Australia, for the World Championships. Good luck ladies!

DX2_1663

Suddenly it was the last race of the day, and the last race of the World Cup season.

Martin was content with his race, after some disappointing results in the previous rounds. He was able to put in a strong performance in Val di Sole and fight each lap with consistent times to keep his position in the race. Seven fast and furious laps ended with a solid 53rd place.

There are just a few races left in the season now, and then we can finally begin to unwind and assess what has been a remarkable year. We have had our best ever results in the World Cup, with the highlight of course being Annie’s win in Lenzerheide. But each and every member of the team deserves mention for their incredibly hard work and great team spirit over six tough rounds of racing. Together, #weareOMX.

Champion Weekend!

The fight for the stripes is always special. The biggest race of the domestic calendar, often in front of friends and family, and with the pride of a Champion’s jersey at stake.

 

We are delighted to say that the team retained both of its National Championship titles, with Great Britain’s Annie Last and South Africa’s Mariske Strauss. Isla Short also scored a medal in Britain, and Martin Gluth rounded out a top weekend with a top ten in Germany.

Mariske kicked of proceedings on Saturday in Mankele, SA. After some time away from racing to rest, reset and refocus following a hectic start to the year, the National Championships came with added uncertainty. However, Mariske was in it to win it, and she soon proved that she was still the strongest. Breaking away on lap two, she pulled out a comfortable lead and crossed the line with her trademark big grin!

 

Both our British riders went into Sunday’s race at Cannock Chase, England, with brilliant World Cup results behind them and looking to showcase their form in home soil. Annie led the Elite race from the gun and over six laps managed to increase her lead to an incredible fourteen minutes to take her fifth Elite National title.

In the U23 race, Isla had World Cup winning competition from Evie Richards. Richards went on to win the race but not without a brilliant fight from Isla who held Richards within a minute by the race finish. Isla took a superb silver medal and also a renewed confidence in her ability to challenge the best U23 riders in the World.

Over in Germany, Martin lined up amongst a strong field for the highly contested black, red and gold stripes. Martin got a great start and was in second wheel on lap one, behind the eventual winner Manuel Fumic. Unfortunately, a crash cost him a lot of time and places, and finding the rhythm again was hard. Martin rode in 12/13th position for the following laps and then managed to move up to 9th place by the finish.

 

Three medals and two Champion’s jerseys is not a bad haul from one weekend! We are really proud.

World Cup #4 – VICTORY!

Sunday was proof that dreams come true.

If you truly believe, and you work with unwavering dedication, then a vision that has been many years in the making can pull into perfect focus.

Annie Last had the ride of her life on Sunday; an exemplary performance that married technical skill, power, fitness, and tactical nouse. It was the culmination of over ten years of training, racing and fine-tuning every aspect of her life as an athlete to deliver the ultimate result.

Gridded on the second row, Annie got a fantastic start, slotting into sixth place up the first climb and thus avoiding the ensuing carnage in the first technical single track section. Annie quickly settled into the race and was, as in training, riding with obvious strength and efficiency on the unique Lenzerheide course. Overnight rain had made the abundant roots and off-camber, natural tracks treacherous. From lap one, Annie made the decision to run some sections, rather than slip and slide to an unceremonious dismount, something which paid dividends as the race progressed.

Soon, seventh place had dropped back and Annie was beginning to edge closer to a podium position. By the end of lap two she was up to fifth place and did not look like slowing down. Indeed, Jolanda Neff and Maja Wlosczowska riding together in 3rd and 4th, were soon just ahead of her. With the course so slippy, it would have been easy for Annie to overcook it as she pressed on to close the gap, but it was in fact Neff who dropped back and then Wloscszowska who made an untimely mistake which let Annie pass into 3rd.

The team radio crackled with nervous excitement and the relaying of time gaps and the race situation. A podium position was the goal, and now, with two laps to go, Annie was knocking on the door of her first World Cup win.

World Cup leader, Yana Belomoina, and MTB legend, Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa, were duelling it out at the front of the race, but they were about to get an unexpected visitor! First there was a small crash for Belomoina, and then a slip from Dahle Flesjaa, and now, on the final lap, Annie Last was leading the World Cup. Momentum was with her, and now the belief and the adrenaline kicked in as well.

We held our breath. We paced and shook with nerves and excitement. Could this really be about to happen? And then it did.

Annie rode a brilliant final half lap to establish just enough of a lead to eliminate the need for a sprint finish. She exited the final single track section and rolled up and over the bridge onto the finish straight. This was it. The crowd roared with appreciation of a magnificent performance and a new World Cup victor. Annie took one final look behind her and then raised her hands to cross the line and make her, and our, dream come true.

It is difficult to put into words what this means to us, so more of that in a later story. In this moment we just smiled, cried and hugged a lot! We are all so incredibly proud.

Of course, it takes a team of people to bring about a result like this, and two very important team members also raced on Sunday. As always, they encapsulated the ethos of our team and left us smiling.

Isla Short, following on from her brilliant eighth place finish last week in Andorra, was full of confidence. Confidence is what you would expect following a career-best result, but not what you would imagine from a young lady who broke her back on this course two years ago! Isla has come such a long way since then, physically but also mentally. Her approach to racing and how she deals with the mental challenges that brings has matured immeasurably and that alone makes us really proud. However, she added another layer of awesome on Sunday with a classy ride to 12th place. Isla had a monster crash on lap one which left her winded and wobbling. However, she got up, got going and got on with her race remarkably. She’s a fighter, and she’s going places!

Martin Gluth had the tough job of following on from Annie’s race. He interrupted his warm up to give Annie a big congratulatory hug and share in the moment, but then it was time to find his focus and get race-ready. He had a great start but unfortunately, like last week in Vallnord, he just couldn’t find his power and struggled throughout the race. Technically he rode really well but it wasn’t enough to hold onto the kind of result he is looking for. A 63rd place left him with many more questions than answers. However, Martin quickly turned around his disappointment and put the team’s success above his own race. It was humbling to see his selflessness and support of Annie and Team Manager, Paul. Thanks Martin!

Now we are all back home and trying to let this extraordinary weekend sink in.

Thank you to everyone for your support, belief and messages of congratulations. It means a great deal to this small team from England!

 

 

World Cup #3 – Fight at Height

Round three of the UCI World Cup took us to the high Andorran mountains and the stunning venue of Vallnord Bike Park.

Unfortunately Mariske didn’t make the trip and instead stayed at home in South Africa to rest and reset after a hectic start to her year. Meanwhile, Annie, Isla and Martin all prepared for the race on altitude training camps with their national federations. By Thursday last week riders and staff were all together and ready to make the final preparations for the race.

The weather was a constant source of wonderment; how quickly it changed and what it would do next. Thankfully the sun shone on us for race day, although the day started early and cold.

Isla got the racing underway for us at 0830; there was no time for bleary eyes, foggy brains or sleepy legs! Thankfully Isla suffered none of these and went about riding herself into her first-ever top ten U23 result. Plans made, lessons learnt and demons slain; Isla was in control of this race from the start and it showed. As the riders around her came and went, she rode a steady, calculated race with an all-out final lap to secure an amazing eighth place. More than the result, it was the beaming smile that Isla wore as she crossed the line that made us all so happy and proud. As she lay down recovering her breath, Isla explained:

“That was the smartest I’ve ever raced, and racing smart pays off. I’m so happy.”

With big, congratulatory hugs from her team mates, it was exit stage left for Isla and enter centre stage for Annie. The all-too familiar whir of the rollers wound up as focus turned to the Elite Women. Annie was gridded on the second row after her brilliant start to the World Cup season and she was once again in the mix in Vallnord. The strength in depth of the Women’s field is impressive at the moment, and it is great to see Annie up there duking it out with some of the biggest names in the sport. Indeed, battling to be in the front groups of such a big bike race is where Annie belongs. In Andorra the top ten just slipped away on the final lap and Annie finished in 17th spot. She was evidently disappointed after the race, and later explained:

“I felt really strong, but I just couldn’t hit the high revs. I was ready to make moves and close gaps but I was flat; I couldn’t get to the strength I knew I had. My heart rate wasn’t as high as it should be, especially at altitude. It was frustrating. Now I am having an easy week to freshen up and energise for Lenzerheide. You can’t make training gains in one week, so I am just focussed on being fresh. I’m really looking forward to racing in Lenzerheide again and in front of the Swiss crowds, they just love it!”

Onto the final race of the day and the highs of Isla’s race made the lows of Martin’s all the more salient. Martin could not hide his disappointment following his withdrawal from the race:

“Sh!t start, no power and suffering from the first minute! What an off-day for me. I tried really hard to turn things around but it wasn’t getting any better so I had to pull out in lap 4. Need to tick that race off ASAP and get the focus back for next week.”

Some days it just doesn’t go your way. It’s extremely hard when, as an athlete, you don’t have any answers to why things didn’t go to plan. However, Martin is already looking forward to a new race this weekend in Lenzerheide and we are confident he can turn things around.

With the next World Cup just around the corner we are already set up here in Switzerland. Official training begins today and before we know it we will be on the start line again! Stay tuned with updates across our social media channels, and don’t forget you can watch the Elite races live on Red Bull TV on Sunday.