I found myself selected to represent SA at the Masters World XC Champs in Pra Loup, France. The squad that travelled from SA to race was about 14 strong, with all the usual suspects ( and me!) from the SA XC circuit in attendance, and boy what an experience it was for me!

The honour of selection came as quite a surprise. I had my reservations about being ready for international competition, but decided to go anyway for the experience.

I left for France together with my best friend Eileen (team support and tour guide) to take on the world, on Woman’s Day. I was full of excitement and nerves getting on the plane as I have never even been to Europe before.

We arrived in Paris on the 10th, travelled through France for a couple of days and ended up at Nice Airport on the 14th (as arrangedto collect my bike before heading to Pra Loup. Low and behold, any cyclist’s worst nightmare came true for me. My bike was still stuck in Paris as it got bumped off the shipping schedule and would only be in Nice on the 16th! With accommodation already booked in Pra Loup we had no choice but to travel there and try to get my bike there on time for the race on Sunday. My nerves were shot.

On arrival in Pra Loup (ski resort in the Alps in the south of France) we got settled into the apartment and I went to register and get my race number. The first thing that struck me was the atmosphere! MTBers were everywhere on their bikes having a good time. Displays of anything to do with MTB even Xtreme riding DVD’s were up for sale. I ran into Bridgette and Chris (SA) at registration and they took me to where Colin, Helen, Ann and Keith were staying.

The Green Streak riding the Blue Bullet

On hearing about my bicycle woes, Keith promptly offered to lend me his bike and riding shoes (my shoes were in the bike case with my bike) to pre-ride the track. This is absolutely essential in XC. I accepted gratefully, even though Keith’s bike frame was one size to big for me and he wore a size 8 shoe (compared to my size 6). At least I would be able to see what I’d be in for on race-day. I stuffed socks into the front of his shoes, got into my riding gear and headed off on his bike. I must have been quite a picture in those shoes.

Keith’s bike had V-brakes; I’m used to riding discs so this was something else to get use to. Not doubting my capabilities at handling it, I merrily set off. About 500m into the start we had to ride down a set of stairs. I slowed down put my weight over the back wheel went down the stairs only to be brutally flung over the handle bars at the bottom because the front wheel got stuck. Perplexed I picked myself up got on the bike and carried on only to have a front wheel wash out another 1 km further down a steep descent with a sharp off-camber lefthander.

I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, started checking the brakes only to come to the realisation that Keith (like almost every other MTBer out there) rode with his front brake on the left of his handle bars and his rear on the right. I ride exactly the opposite way. After that “light bulb moment” the pre-ride was un-eventful except that the climbs were brutal, it literally took my breath away. Medical attention was sought at the end of the ride as I busted my knee pretty badly on the second fall and having something attractive (some good looking male paramedics around) to look at soothed my bruised ego. Keith seemed to be happy though because his bike got christened by a “gorgeous chick” (bike was only 2 weeks old…sorry Keith).

Two South Africans putting a world of pain on some poor chick who has had to get off and push to keep up.

The UCI officials informed riders that the Womens XC race was moved to Saturday the 18th; one day less to get hold of my own bike and start practicing for real.

Despite having crashed it silly last time, Keith leant me his bike again the next day to practise, with the generous offer that I could race with it too if my bike did not arrive on time.

Negotiations with the courier company involved them deciding what the precise obscene amount of money they would extort from me would be. When they had taken my last Euro they sent my poor bike down to Pra Loupe. My baby finally arrived late Thursday evening. I went for a final ride on my trusty GT blue bullet on Friday and then rested up for Saturday.

Race day arrived! I slept poorly, just too nervous. I got breakfast down, got into my SA kit, mixed my bottles, gave instructions to Eileen for the feed zone and went for my warm up ride. The start was scheduled for 8:00 am.

All the guys riding for SA were there to wish the girls good luck (6 SA girls in total). We got into the start pen. The whistle went! We shot out the start and down the track. We had to ride 3 laps. The competition was fierce. The ride very hard. Funny enough I did not fall once in the race. I finished 12th, but what a ride. The spectator support was phenomenal; I have never experienced anything like that before.

After the girls came the 50 plus category with Keith and Colin and Saturday afternoon were the Downhill finals with Don from SA riding. That was awesome to watch and also drew a big crowd of spectators.

On Sunday it was the rest of the men’s categories with 5 of our boys competing. This time it was the girls supporting the boys dashing all over the course to encourage them. All did very well in categories that numbered 100+ riders. Sunday evening saw all the South Africans get together for a well deserved celebration.

I do want to give a special thank you to all the mountainbikers from home that overloaded our cell phone inboxes with sms’s wishing us all good luck. You will never know how much it meant to know that you were “riding with us”. It just inspired us to give our all.

Also to my fellow riders at the Masters World Champs, how odd that we had to travel 9000 km out of South Africa to really get to know one another, you all are an awesome bunch of people. See you at the Worlds next year!

Many Thanks, and Thanks to Many,

Dorette Crous


The Masters World Cross Country Championships were held in Pra Loup, France this year over the weekend of 18 –19 August. Thirteen fellow Safa’s across all the categories accepted the opportunity granted by CSA to represent South Africa at the Championships.

I planned my travel to arrive on the Thursday prior to the race, which I hoped would give me sufficient time (2 days) to practise the course and get ready. Being the last person in the team to arrive in France I had the advantage of extracting plenty of information from the others on the evening of my arrival and the first thing I heard was how tough the uphills were. After my first practise lap the next morning I had to agree with the others and that riding it on 2 consecutive days was probably not viable if one wanted to still have legs on race day. In South Africa an average XC course has about 20m of ascent per km whereas this course had 40m! In practise I was in Granny gear on the hills and still seeing a hr of 190…

Due to the size of the fields the organisers changed the original schedule and raced all the female categories and men 50+ on the Sat morning and then the other age groups were to race throughout Sunday. This worked quite nicely as it meant every SA rider was then able to have both crowd and bottle support during his/her race.

I always knew that the race was going to be tough, especially with the prep I had had leading up to it, and knowing that the fields would be so much bigger than we are used to. In SA for xc racing we often only have 20 or so riders on the start per age group, my start list had 125 riders and I was in a start position of 92!

The course went down a rideable flight of stairs after 500m, which only had about a 1,5m entrance so a good start was critical to avoid the inevitable bottleneck and all 125 riders knew it!

I was heard afterwards to say that those 500m were "like a streetfight on wheels" and mayhem it certainly was. The rest of the first lap after that was still pretty hectic as everyone jostled for position on what was mostly singletrack. To my disappointment the down hills were pretty easy and not that technical but the up hills made up for it with there steepness.

The pain of the hills was made bearable by the awesome support from the crowd with shouts of “Allez Allez Sud Afrika” following you all the way up the switchbacks.

I finished in 64th place after getting pulled off at the start of the last lap, they pull you off at the end of each lap if you are outside the leaders time by 10% and give you the place you are in at that point in time.

It was the experience of a lifetime, not one that I had planned for or dreamed of ever getting at the start of the year but one that I am very grateful I got. I will definitely be back but this time a whole lot wiser, armed with a lightweight hard tail and hopefully a lot fitter.

Thanks to Everyone.

Stuart Carliell

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