Today saw the South African National Series XC race on the World Cup course to be run here in Pietermaritzburg next week, and the conditions were extremely difficult. Temperatures were lower than they've been all week, the rain bucketed down and the track was very muddy, providing a real test for the World Cup riders that took to the course.
Despite this, all three Trek World Racing riders manage to podium with Lukas Flueckiger taking the win in the Elite Men, Willow Koerber took 2nd in the Elite Women, and Mathias finished 3rd in the Elite Men.
In the women's 4 lap race, several of the World's top women took part, including former World Champion Irena Kalentieva (RUS), Lene Byberg (NOR), Esther Suss (SUI) and Mary McConneloug (USA). Straight from the start Willow took the lead and was at the front for most of the first two laps. Then in the middle of the event was left without energy after a difficult weak last week fighting a stomach bug, but re-grouped by the end of the race to take 2nd place behind Kalentieva.
"That was probably the muddiest race I have ever done! It was 98% ride-able but towards the end it was really hard to see. Eyewear was fogging up and it was almost a guessing game choosing lines. But I'm so happy to have done that. I learned so much riding my Top Fuel, and I can go into next week with an important box checked."
After a fast start in the men's race, Luk crossed the line at the end of lap 1 of 5, in first place, just ahead of last year's big improver Jaroslav Kulhavy (SVK), with brother Math not far behind in 3rd. The race soon became a battle between Luk and Kulhavy, and on lap 3, Luk punctured a rear tire and took the opportunity to swap from his XR3 tires to MudX tires, and caught back up to Kulhavy, and then began to make a break. His lead went out to 40secs by the end of the race, with Math 3rd about 4mins back.
Luk said: "Good race for me today, and I enjoyed the conditions. I learned a lot and I'm happy to be on the top step. Bike worked great, shoes were perfect for the conditions, overall I am really happy."
Math said: "It was a little bit quiet for me with no riders around, but I used the day as a good exercise in technical improvement, and I learned a lot. If it's wet next week for the World Cup, this was an important race today." Great selection images here from Gary Perkin: http://www.flipper.co.za/clients/2011/web/Trek/SACup/XCO/