MacDonald to join team FedGroup ITEC Connect

    Neil MacDonald (left) and FedGroup ITEC Connect's Brandon Stewart, wearing the red jerseys of race leaders, were all smiles after winning the overall title at the 2012 FedGroup Berg & Bush three-day mountain bike stage race at the weekend. The pair will team up officially from 1 January 2013 when MacDonald’s two-year contract begins. Photo: Full Stop Communications

    The South African-based FedGroup ITEC Connect professional mountain bike team increased its firepower on Tuesday with confirmation that Neil MacDonald will join the outfit on a two-year contract, starting 1 January 2013.

    MacDonald (35), who has raced for Team RE:CM for the past two years, will race marathons for FedGroup ITEC Connect and will partner with team captain and owner, Brandon Stewart, in stages races in South Africa and abroad.

    “This was the first full year for the team and we’ve now built a solid foundation with respectable results. The goal is to up the ante somewhat in 2013 and I believe that with Neil on board we’ll be able to move to a new level,” said Stewart, who is the only South African to have won stages at three of the world’s premier mountain bike stages races – ABSA Cape Epic (Africa), Transalp (Europe) and BC Bike Race (North America).

    “Neil has only been racing mountain bikes for less than two years and already has some impressive results. As a bike racer, he is extremely dependable and consistent and I believe he will still improve further as a mountain bike racer. I look forward to what he’s going to bring to the team,” added Stewart.

    MacDonald comes from a professional road cycling background, having turned professional in 1997. His road career highlights include victory at the 2000 Tour of South China Seas, three stage wins at the 2002 Qinghai Tour of China, a stage win and second overall at the 2007 Tour of Morocco, winner of the Points Jersey at the 2008 Tour of Gabon and two wins at the South African Amashova Classic (2000 and 2003).

    In his first professional mountain bike race, MacDonald and Team RE:CM teammate Waylon Woolcock won six stages and the overall title at the 2011 joBerg2c. The pair finished 14th overall at their first ABSA Cape Epic earlier this year.

    “It was a tough decision to make to leave Team RE:CM. Piet Viljoen of RE:CM and Lange Sports gave me the opportunity to move from road cycling into mountain biking with no experience and it worked out very well. Waylon has been a great teammate too. But I need to focus on my future and the opportunity with FedGroup ITEC Connect has given me new motivation,” said MacDonald.

    “I’m fully committed to RE:CM until the end of the year and am looking forward to learning a lot from Brandon, who is one of the most experienced stage racers in the world. He’ll be doing his 10th Cape Epic next year and who better to learn from and grow than a teammate that’s done every single edition?”

    The increased backing of the team by Kia Motors South Africa and Kathea Communication Solutions, combined with the recent commitment of title sponsors FedGroup and ITEC Connect for another three years, has enabled team expansion. MacDonald’s signing follows soon after that of Brad Stroberg, a rising Under-23 racer who joined the team in August.

    Stewart and MacDonald teamed up this past weekend to compete in the FedGroup Berg & Bush, one of South Africa’s premier three-day stage races, which they won.

    “Team RE:CM didn’t have this race on our schedule, but I was invited to join Brandon as a collaborative effort with FedGroup ITEC Connect. It turned out to be an ideal test of our compatibility. I think our victory confirmed that we passed the test. It wasn’t the smoothest of races and it challenged us on many levels. Brandon is very relaxed in his approach, never letting small things stress him out. I need to become more like that in races,” smiled MacDonald.

    The pair plan to race predominantly in South Africa, but have identified the Transalp as a European stage on the team’s radar for 2013. Stroberg will race marathons and will join the team’s female member, Bridgette Stewart, for stage races where they will compete in the mixed category.

    “Momsen Bikes will continue to be our bike partner. It’s quite something to be part of the success of this progressive South African brand, which will be doing some big things with stage-race and marathon bikes in 2013,” added Stewart.