Andrew Neethling (Trek) clearly thrives on pressure, a fact he confirmed on Sunday when he secured a thrilling victory at the second round of the MTN National Cup downhill mountain bike event at Mankele in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.
Riders each get two runs at South African downhill races, and their fastest of the two determines their final position. That was the format used on the technical 1.8km course through some rugged, lush bushveld terrain, which included rock gardens, bridges, jumps, berms and tight switchbacks.
Neethling, winner of Round 1 in Stellenbosch last month and strong favourite to win Round 2 on Sunday, clocked a time of 2min09.27sec for his first run, a performance which most felt was good enough to take the early lead and put his rivals under pressure for the second round of competition. But fellow Capetonian, Johann Potgieter (Cannondale), eclipsed Neethling with a time of 2:08.56, setting the scene for an exciting finale.
“I usually use the first run as a ‘feeler’ run but felt that time was pretty good on such a tight, short course which leaves no room for error,” explained Neethling afterwards.
The 2007 national champion, widely regarded as one of the classiest downhillers in the world, then showed his ability to perform under pressure when he set the course on fire with his second run, clocking a snappy 2:04.54 which Potgieter and the others were unable able to better.
“Johann really forced me to wake up for the second run. I’m pretty much expected to win when I race in South Africa and I try my very best to live up to those expectations. It feels really good to get a second win so early in the year. It gives me a confident start to the season and it is great exposure for my new team, Trek.”
Neethling finished 11th overall in the 2008 UCI Nissan World Cup and began a new contract with the Trek international racing team last month. He’s one of a crop of talented downhillers from Cape Town, four of whom secured the top four places overall on Sunday.
Potgieter’s first run gave him second place with Gary Barnard (Fox Morewood) third, Jonty Neethling (Fox Morewood) fourth and 2008 national junior champion, Hayden Brown (Mongoose), rounding out the top five.
Rika Olivier, winner of Round 1, sustained an injury in a practice session crash and had to sit out Sunday’s action giving Vicky Phillips (Fox) a path of less resistance to capture the victory with a solid first run time of 3:10.75.
Round 3 of the MTN National Cup Series, in association with MiWay, takes place in George on 14 and 15 March, and doubles as the national championships. For full results from Round 2 and more information, visit www.cyclesport.co.za
MTN National Cup in association with MiWay
Downhill – Round 2
1 Andrew Neethling ¬– Trek 2min04.54sec
2 Johann Potgieter – Cannondale 2:08.56
3 Gary Barnard – Fox Morewood 2:10.18
4 Jonty Neethling – Fox Morewood 2:11.64
5 Hayden Brown – Mongoose 2:11.65
1 Timothy Bentley 2:12.10
2 Pierre van der Merwe 2:14.10
3 Luke Davis 2:21.10
Vicky Phillips – Fox 3:10.75
1 Tiaan Odendaal 2:30.61
2 Matthew Wortmann 2:31.78
3 Alasdair Frey 2:33.94
1 Alan Hatherly 2:40.06
2 Christopher Rigby 3:29.36
3 Luke Evans 3:48.15
1 Patrick Morewood 2:23.79
2 Mark Hopkins 2:30.39
3 Tyrone van Rooyen 2:32.32
1 Chris Nixon 2:23.84
2 Norman Hatherly 3:07.06
3 Neil Evans 3:20.47
1 Bradly Illingworth 2:48.04
2 Jon Sherwood 3:24.00
3 Wilbur van Blommestein 3:50.51