Mother nature cooled the mercury from the low 40s on Saturday to the mid 30s on Sunday, which is reasonable considering it is peak summer. Despite the heat, over 100 riders entered the race, including some heavy hitters from the international scene. As always, the volunteer-based organisers put on another slick event.
A few small, yet well executed changes to the track brought a new dynamic and feel to the classic Paarl lines. Overall, track conditions could be summed up as rutted, dry, fast and loose. It was a difficult track to maintain pace on and one that punishes riders for small mistakes.
While several of the countries elite riders might have given the impression they were using the race as a pre-season test event, it was pretty obvious once racing started that everyone was after the win.
Before anyone could even think about winning, a lot of laps would be needed to dial in the lines, test the braking points and clear the gaps. Some riders start the weekend slower, building their speed throughout the weekend. It would appear this isn’t the strategy of all though. 16-year-old Xavi Gomes was putting in some heaters from the get go.10-year-old Levi Ulyate overcame a nasty crash in practice to finish P2 in the Nipper Boys class.Paarl’s hip jump is a classic and a favorite of all the stylers. Really impressive riding from Myndert Laubscher all weekend. This guy has speed and is improving all the time. On Sunday, he was only 2 seconds off the win in Junior Men. The track got pretty chewed up and this right hand turn has more ruts, holes and edges than you can shake a stick at.Lining up the rocks is another young gun who has impressive pace is Youth Men rider, Zak Jones.Starting young and getting his head around racing is 6-year-old Ray. He was running many laps on Saturday and is keen to start racing as soon as possible he tells me.There’s that hip jump and style, again. Julian Oosthuizen had a good weekend taking third in Youth Men.The first rock garden on the Paarl track is on hardpack and rutted terrain and over the years of raind and riding it has become pretty awkward, as Nikolaas Douglas discovered.Those rocks never seemed to bother Christeleigh Bruwer who took the win in Youth Woman this weekend.The man, the myth, the legend. Duran van Eeden took time off from sculpting the biggest jumps in the world (Darkfest – are you going?) for some flat pedal fun in Paarl. After a freak crash caused by a bar failure, Pieter Venter bounced back up — literally — and finished the weekend with enough speed for a third place in Junior Men. It was a seemingly frustrating weekend and result for Pieter, who was clearly wanting more… The notorious rock jump at Paarl is one of those parts of the track that can be really tricky. It can either be squashed or jumped deep into a tight right hand turn. Along with about 90% of the riders, Alexander Odendaal opts for the safer ‘squash’ option.Second place in Elite Woman went to the effervescent Roxy Baynes.Singlespeed star Pieter Rossouw added a cassette and derailleur to his bike for this race and it paid off with a win in the Vets Class. The question on everyone’s lips – did he actually use the gears? Jokes aside, Pieter is a legend of Downhill Racing and has recently started coaching. Give him a shout if you need to polish up on gravity skills, he’s got plenty of advice.Matt Lombardi had the throttle wide open and that Slash was dancing all over the shop like kids at Christmas. Rumour has it he will be moving onto a Downhill bike sometime in the future – now that will be a party to watch. The fastest father on the day and the laziest old-school moto-style whips went to Johann Potgieter. Such a talent and at 37, he’s got incredible pace.It wouldn’t be Paarl if there weren’t a few rock gardens. Aidan Droomer threads this technical section well.Philip van Schalkwyk carves a tricky inside line coming into the final turns of the track. Philip, a Stellenbosch local, was the fastest teenager on the day with a fourth overall.Junior Men class was won by Ethan Hunter who is most certainly a talent One thing is for sure, the Paarl race track has no shortage of ruts and edges that require precise line choice. Getting it right all weekend was Hellsend’s Frankie du Toit who took the win in Elite Woman and finished 21st overall. The finish, as always, ends up with this combination of left and right turns where traction is at a premium. There’s always plenty of crowd gathered here egging the riders on. The pressure was on Stefan Garlicki who was desperately looking for a win to kickstart the year. In the end, and after some of the smoothest and stylish moves on track, Stefan couldn’t quite match the brawn and pace of Theo.That guy Theo Erlangsen starts his ’24 racing season right were he left off in ’23; with a win. Having fun on his bike all weekend is what it’s all about for Theo. He’ll be happy with this win and the momentum it gives him as he starts what is a busy few weeks of racing and events before jetting off to Europe to race. Chapeau to all involved! | *Click to enlargeSee you all at the next round on 3-4 March.