The mandate of Provincial XC Racing is to select the best possible representatives of the Province for competition at a National level, where the selection process will be continued and refined. Ultimately this competition will result in the selection of the National South African Representative Squad in XC to attend the UCI World Championships.

Paragraphs through to of the “UCI Cycling Regulations-Mtb Races” deals with the different types of Cross Country competition. They are included here:

1.7.1. Cross Country Racing Cross Country Circuit Racing or “XC” – The course should be a minimum of 6km per lap. The duration of the race varies from category to category Cross Country Point to Point Racing or “PP” – The course for a point to point race should be at least 25kms and no more than 100kms and should involve appreciable amounts of climbing and descending. Mass start or individual start formats are permissible. The course shall normally start in one location and finish in another, although a large loop starting and finishing in the same place is permissible. Cross Country Short Course Racing or “SC” – An SC course should be a maximum of 6kms per lap. Natural and/or artificial obstacles will only be allowed if they are safe.

On the international Racing scene events longer than 100 kms are classified as Marathon Racing or Ultra Marathon Racing depending on the distance.

SA Racers have been very successful internationally in Marathon Racing, Ultra Marathon Racing and Mtb Stage Racing (not to mention Downhill).

With the advent of the Mazda Drifter sponsorship of PP racing, huge growth has been seen in that format, and subsequently other marathon, ultra-marathon and stage race events during the last 5 years in SA. The whole Mountainbiking Culture within SA is based around the PP racing format, or ultra-endurance events of some type. This is inevitable from a strictly organisational point of view.

It is far cheaper to map a course using dirt roads and public access areas, contact landowners and managers to get permission for a “once off” right of access for an event through their property (and then do it again the next year with less resistance from the landowners if all has gone well) rather than embrace the cost of buying the land, building the course from scratch, ensuring its environmental sustainability and maintaining the course all year.

From the Mountainbike enthusiast’s point of view it is indeed wonderful to take trips all over the country every weekend, to some of the most scenic and pleasant places to ride (those who are truly there to race won’t remember a thing about the view) in SA, and participate in an event that is not too technical and requires only perseverance in the face of sore legs and butt to finish.

After “finishing at all” is mastered participants find it becomes fun in subsequent events to see how fast you can finish. The participation levels at these events have ensured statistically that great International standard competitors for endurance racing are discovered.

However much fun this sounds, it has yet to give a SA Racer a top 100 finish at any World Championship XC event…and XC is still the jewel in the crown of Mountainbike Racing.

When viewed from the vantage point of factual history, SA Racers are not hopeless or uncompetitive on an international footing. We are incredibly talented given the total number of Racers we have in the country. The truth is that we are quite accomplished Internationally at all the types of racing in which we participate locally; it is quite simply that we have very little XC racing outside of the 4 Provincials and 4 nationals each year. Rockhoppers Mountainbike Club is the only provider outside the Provincial/National format, and for too long have all riders relied on them to provide for us all.

Eight races per year is never going to prepare racers for the technical skills required and the physical rigors encountered in XC racing. The tactics involved in XC racing are learned over literally hundreds of races. XC racers in SA currently would have to start racing sprogs and be competing in Vets before they amass 200 XC races!

Whilst participation levels in “PP” races are still on the increase, participation levels in XC are on the decrease and have been for some years.

It is a fact of life that we all get older. As we age we seem to collect reasons not to race any more; injuries, arthritis, more demanding business and family commitments…the list is endless, but the result is that people stop racing. Normally there is a constant stream of new faces coming through who have cut their teeth riding with the older riders, learning all the skills required to handle racing. This still happens, but now when the younger riders do participate in race events it is the “PP” format because there are only 8 XC races per year for them.

When the up and coming riders give XC racing a try they are competing at a Provincial and National level at their very first race and are often just scared off because they are unprepared for the level of technical riding skill and anaerobic fitness required to sprint for 2 hours without respite.

This attrition guarantees that statistically it is very unlikely that new and promising XC stars of the future will ever be identified. Physiologically speaking they are not the same people who are going to excel in PP or marathon events.

In an effort to combat this attrition, forward thinking Provincial Committees have experimented with making Provincial XC courses less challenging and thus more attractive to the recreational rider, encouraging participation levels and thus increasing the population pool from which to choose the best representatives of the Province.

The problem with this approach is that it is not preparing the racers for the skill and fitness challenges they will encounter at a National level, and certainly not at an International level.

I suggest it is the responsibility of Mountainbike Clubs to provide a career path for up and coming XC racers. I suggest that it is only at a Club level that both the sheer number of XC races held each year can be increased, and the multi-level skill model that ensures enjoyment for the beginner, sport and expert racer (as per UCI rules) can be accommodated.

Not everyone wants to race or should race, and racing is far from the only thing that joining a Mountainbike Club is about, but I feel that a look at the annual Mountainbike race calendar would suggest that it is one aspect of Mountainbike Club life that has been neglected for a while. Is it any wonder that Club Members resent having to join a Club just to get a race license and feel they do nothing else for them!

Cult Cycling would like to host an Inter-Club Mountainbike race series at Logwood Bike Haven. We would like participants to be able to race within their own Age Class and Skill Category.

If this sounds like fun to you, then drop me an email to let me know. If you think that 25 of your closest friends would also find this fun please forward this email to them and get them to drop me a mail.

I will save all the emails so I can communicate with all interested parties and then see if we can’t make this happen. It will need the involvement of all Mountainbike Clubs in the Gauteng area…and then we’ll invite those folks from other Provinces who think they know how to ride a bike!!

Till next time keep the rubber side down.

Geoff the Aussie