Ladies give XCO a go!

Ladies, if you love riding your bike and want to improve your skills then you really should be doing XCO, writes Diana Carolin from the first SA Cup race of the season in Mankele.

Cross Country is seen as too hard and scary by most female riders. Honestly, it is one of the best disciplines out there as far as I am concerned. Yes it is 70 to 90 minutes of riding as hard as you can, but what race isn’t a dash from start to finish? There are technical sections to be navigated, but that will help you develop your skills pretty quickly, and the benefit of XCO (which is lap racing) is that you get to ride the same sections over and over again until you perfect them. When I race I’m always coaching myself in my head about how to ride lines better and faster.

I travelled with friends from Cape Town to Mankele Bike Park near Sabie in Mpumelanga to do my first SA Cup XCO race and it was fantastic. The vibe when we arrived on Friday was very festive. There were loads of kids and parents and teams of juniors all registering and doing practice rides for the next day. In XCO you get to ride the course the day before so you can get a good feel for it before you race on it. There was a bit of a crowd at the most challenging A line section of the course while people were practicing it. The A line is the most technical line and there is often a B line option for those who aren’t so skilled, which isn’t as challenging but takes a little longer. One poor chap got the drop-offs horribly wrong and ended up mangled and carted off in an ambulance. It was a valuable lesson in not taking chances and sticking to what your capabilities are.

Di Carolin in action at Mankele.
Di Carolin in action at Mankele.

The pro riders had all arrived on Thursday and had done their laps that morning. The Scott boys had posted video clips of the drop-off jump and were now resting with their legs up waiting for the next days’ race. The ladies in the OMX team were spotted doing a cool-down ride after training on the tar road near the venue. Annie Last, Cherie Vale and Mariske Strauss make up the team and are the ones to watch this season. Not forgetting Candice Neethling, who is now riding for Dorma.

On race day the ladies Elite group was the largest I have seen at an XCO event, which was great. There was also a big group of youth and junior girls but when it came to the Sub Vets and the Vets and Masters the numbers had dwindled somewhat. Is that because a sense of self preservation sets in as you get older and women just aren’t as brave as men. Or is it because the guys seem to be favoured with sponsorship? The Scott Junior Team has eight guys but just two girls! What’s up with that? Ladies, if you love riding your bike and want to improve your skills then you really should be doing XCO! So what if you are at the back of the field and get lapped, just get out there and give it a go. I take my hat off to the only Masters lady at the race. She goes to the races because she loves it. Her bike is by no means top of the range but she gets out there and gives it a go. She walks some sections and rides what she can. In fact there were a lot of girls walking up the one climb and there’s no shame in that. There were spectators all along the course to cheer you on, encourage you and make you feel like a pro!

My group consisted of Sub Vets, Vets and Masters and we went off about 20 minutes after the Elite Ladies and the Youth girls. There was a bit of traffic but it wasn’t too bad. I felt good and confident and had a great race. Annie Last, the British rider, came storming past me up a  steep climb on my last lap and won the ladies Elite category in fine style.

British ace Annie Last was unstoppable in the Elite Woman's race.
British ace Annie Last was unstoppable in the Elite Woman’s race.

After my race I went to support one of the Junior men. It was a mad dash from one water point to another and lots of shouting encouragement. The Elite men were racing at the same time so it was all very exciting. Well done to James Reid who pulled of a very convincing win in the Elite men’s race.

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and lots of fun and good sportsmanship all round. XCO is a challenge and it keeps you on your toes, but it’s also a great experience, a fantastic spectator sport and great for the whole family. So ladies please get out there and give it a go. The next SA Cup race is in Somerset West on 27 February and the following one is on 26 March in Gauteng so come support if you can.

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