Last weekend the countries top downhill athletes gathered at Taal Monument in Paarl to challenge for the 2021 SRAM National DH Championships.
IMAGES: Chris Taylor |
A record 142 riders lined up in their respective categories taking on the legendary and slightly revised Paarl Downhill race track.
Intermittent rain through the week gave way to clear skies and near-perfect riding conditions on what can be a very slick and tricky track. The conditions were absolutely prime and the scene was set for good racing. It all started on Saturday morning with a track walk followed by a flurry of shuttles taking riders to the top of the track to begin practice. Follow the story in the photos below.
The official track walk was well attended.
It’s a short shuttle to the top of the track.
The Paarl race track dates back over 20 years and to even the playing field between local and upcountry competitors, a few last-minute changes were made to the track by Duran van Eeden and veteran racer, Chris Nixon. The changes fractionally reduced the top speed on two of the traditionally high-speed sections and provided a little more loam and powder for the riders to deal with in the forest section towards the bottom of the track.
Paarl is quite a short track and it didn’t take long for all the riders to get into the flow of things.
Coolish temperatures and moisture allowed the track to hold together through Saturday (left) but by Sunday (right) things started to chop up.
The sport of downhill is alive and well in South Africa thanks to young guns like 9-year-old Luke Futter who have fallen in love with the sport. It is refreshing to see so many new faces racing. Luke raced with his father, Barry, and the two of them spent the weekend doing runs together. How neat. Luke placed 3rd in the Nipper Boys category and his father placed 4th in Veteran Men. 3rd in Veteran Men was Barry’s brother Peter and 2nd in Veteran Women was Peter’s wife Simone. Downhill is a family sport!
Lucas Hugill lines up the berm after the rock drop which is about midway down the track.
The Veteran Women’s category was dominated by Gina (G.G) Nixon who rode smooth laps all weekend and put in an impressive race run of 2min11sec which was good enough for a 70th overall. Gina has many years of race craft and is the behind-the-scenes boss of the popular Uitsig Bikepark pumptrack facility in Cape Town.
Winner of the last race of 2019, Niko Velasco was looking fast all weekend and placed 5th in Elite Men. After the race, doing well to hide his disappointment, Niko admitted he ‘has yet to work this track out’. Next time Niko!
Zander Venter placed 10th in the hotly contested Junior Men category. His time: 2:11:325
The top section of the track winds through a series of tight and blind turns where many interesting shapes are made to stay on line.
Second generation DH rider Liam Hall, knows how to throw down shapes and ride at pace. Liam’s moto-style approach through the blown out final turns was a smart option and it paid off with a solid 6th in Youth Men category.
The shuttle up is mostly full of solid banter – but when a National Championship is at stake things are a little calmer.
In between volunteer work on the provincial committee and live commentary at the event, Anthony Ashley found time to sneak onto the podium in the Sub-Vet Men’s category.
Stellenbosch local and former youth World Champion Ike Klaassen ripped into the hot seat with a 1:46:618 which was fast enough for 5th overall and an outright win of the Junior Men Category.
New school shredder Philip van Schalkwyk with the old school turn-bar over the hip jump.
Anvia Bredenkamp left Paarl with some bruises and soft tissue damage from a seeding run crash, but with a silver medal from finals. Second place in Junior Women for Anvia.
Dillan Rix blasting through the revised lower section of the track and showed good form all weekend.
Charlotte Wolfson smashed the Junior Women category to win by a sizeable margin. Charlotte rode steady all weekend and took the time to do an extra track walk on Saturday afternoon to fine-tune her lines, which clearly paid off.
Beani Thies had a better final than seeding and says she really pushed hard. It was a good run for Beani but she was naturally disappointed to not take the win stating her gear selection for the last turn wasn’t right — too big a gear. It’s not a bad performance considering she hasn’t been on the DH bike for about a year!
Frankie du Toit says she was a little too excited on the top half of the track and was entering sections too quick and paying for it on the exits. She obviously kept on charging and did enough to take the win.
That’s back-to-back titles for Frankie and she hopes to get overseas to mix it up on the EWS circuit later this year. We will keep an eye on her progress.
Stefan Garlicki steals a few splits by staying low and ‘insiding’ the hip jump. Considering the horrific injury he had last not so long ago and what would have been a very painful comeback, Stefan can hold his head high and be very happy with a medal on a day when the field was this stacked. Speaking to him after the race it was clear he was frustrated with his result as he felt he put in a near-perfect run and wanted to prove his speed. The reality of this sport is it takes time to get to the top after a big injury. Stefan has the time and the determination to do it.
Defending champion Johann Potgieter threads the needle (and the entire track) with sheer precision. Pottie has matured into a calculated and smooth rider which is an approach that race tracks like Paarl reward. This time though, it wasn’t to be and the part-time coach, part-time racer and full-time nice guy was pipped on the line by less than 1/10th of a second. Hard luck Pottie.
It was all business for Theo this weekend. The boss of the Commencal trains which were running all weekend came into the event in form. Clearly hungry for the win, Theo put in a wild run which wasn’t without error but he had the form to claw back time lost from pushing hard. “Mylo, it’s amazing what happens when you train!” – Theo
Eyes on the prize.
Schralpy or shoey – the new champ has skills.
The 2021 South African National Champs Frankie du Toit and Theo Erlangsen celebrate their wins.
Looking for images of this race? E-mail the official race photographer Chris Taylor
Elite Women 1. Frankie du Toit 2:07.319 2. Beani Thies 2:08.628 3. Jessi Nixon 2:16.041
Elite Men 1. Theo Erlangsen 1:42.480 2. Johann Potgieter 1:42.575 3. Stefan Garlicki 1:44.747