Defending champion Yolandi du Toit has proved she’s peaking at the perfect moment to mount a strong defence of her title at the Fairbairn Capital/Old Mutual joBerg2c mountain bike race.
Du Toit’s win in this past weekend’s Mr Price Karkloof Classic should give her a timely confidence boost ahead of the nine-day stage race on April 29.
The 25-year-old will team up with top Mauritian rider Aurelie Halbwachs under the banner of new sponsor DEVELOP. “Aurelie and I fit together really well and we’ll be looking for a podium finish,” she said.
“We’ve been friends for years having met in Europe and we’ve raced against each other at the world road championships,” said Du Toit, who is looking forward to riding on the same team for a change.
Halbwachs, 24, rode the inaugural event last year with boyfriend Yannick Lincoln, taking second place in the mixed category. She also won the bronze (road) and silver (time-trial) medals at the most recent African Championships.
The duo’s major opposition is set to come from Du Toit’s Team bizhub team-mates Catherine Williamson (Britain) and Ischen Stopforth.
Williamson finished first at the South African marathon championships in March and then partnered Carel Bosman to an eighth place finish in the mixed category at the Absa Cape Epic.
Stopforth, riding with Hanlie Booyens, was third in the women’s race and followed up her performance with a fine victory in the first Merrell Tsitsikamma Mountain Bike Challenge on Saturday.
“The joBerg2c has been Catherine and Ischen’s focus since the beginning of the year,” said Du Toit, adding that the event was fast becoming an important fixture on the mountain biking calendar.
“The country needed a long stage race up in the Jo’burg area. The other two majors (Cape Epic and DCM Cape Pioneer Trek) are both down at the coast.”
Organiser Craig Wapnick said the first prize for the women’s race had been fixed at a substantial R50 000 to attract and reward the elite riders.
“For an athlete, it’s more about the result than the money,” said Du Toit. “But it’s really gratifying that they are noticing all the time and effort that goes into our sport.”
The other half of last year’s victorious team, Lise Olivier, has been forced to withdraw from the event as she is without a riding partner.
Her team-mate – national road champion Marissa van der Merwe – pulled out last week after being included in Cycling South Africa’s six-rider squad for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
This means she will have to race in Europe this season to improve her UCI ranking and get accustomed to the racing environment at that level.
Olivier’s replacement partner – six-time SA mountain biking champion Hannele Steyn – was also ruled out of the race this week due to a knee injury sustained in a training ride crash.
Du Toit and Olivier will get another chance at a face-off however when they come up against each other at the three-day Subaru sani2c in May. Their respective team-mates have not yet been confirmed.
For more information, visit www.joberg2c.co.za, join the Facebook group or follow joberg2c_journo on Twitter.
CAPTION: Last year’s champion Yolandi du Toit (pictured) will be back to defend her title in the nine-day Fairbairn Capital/Old Mutual joBerg2c mountain bike race alongside new partner Aurelie Halbwachs of Mauritius.