Freshman Lise Olivier (Team bizhub) surprised even herself when she debuted on the podium in the Subaru sani2c three-day paired mountain bike race that ended in Scottburgh, KwaZulu-Natal, this past weekend.
Olivier, riding in only the second mountain bike race of her fledgling career, teamed up with the experienced Yolandi du Toit to place third overall after 249 kilometres of racing in misty and muddy conditions between Underberg and Scottburgh.
The 26-year-old former runner stood in for Ischen Stopforth, the reigning MTN Series champion, who is still recovering from a broken collarbone and fractured pelvis sustained during training earlier this year.
The Team bizhub duo – who had never ridden together – claimed second positions on each of the opening two days behind Team MTN’s Yolande Speedy and Mariska Strauss and was lying second overall going into Saturday’s final stage.
Disaster however struck when Du Toit’s rear derailleur broke soon after the start of the last stage, leaving them to hobble home, forfeiting their runner-up status in the process.
“Our strategy was to conserve as much energy as possible on the first two days and then to give it our all on the last,” said a disappointed Du Toit. “Everything went exactly to plan, until the mechanical failure.”
Du Toit said they had two options – to retire from the race or to forge ahead in the hope of salvaging a minor position. “We had such a good race until then, neither of us wanted to throw in the towel.
She said the final 50 kilometres were very frustrating and tiring. “I constantly had to dismount to put the chain back on and at one point I even had to hold onto Lise.”
“Fortunately we had built up a big enough lead over our closest rivals and the damage could be limited to an extent.”
Du Toit was full of praise for Olivier. “We didn’t know what to expect from Lise going into the race, but she rose to the occasion and rode brilliantly. It was such a brave effort from her.”
Olivier said she was initially very worried about the technical sections, but she benefited from Du Toit’s guidance and “became better at it each day”.
“It was by far the most fun I’ve ever had on a bicycle. Hopefully I will soon get another opportunity.”
Speedy and Strauss dominated the event, winning all three stages en route to the title (Stage 1 – 3:14:41; Stage 2 – 3:57:02; Stage 3 – 2:49:57; Combined – 10:01:40).
Hanlie Booyens and Fienie Barnard (Team Giant Jeep) placed second (3:28:25; 4:24:53; 3:12:49; 11:06:07), with Team bizhub holding on to the final podium spot (3:25:49; 4:20:54; 3:26:53; 11:13:36).
In Randfontein, Team bizhub’s Michelle Corbett won the Harmony Gold to Gold mountain bike race over 56km, while team-mates Catherine Williamson and Arien Torsius placed first and third respectively in the Petrusburg Cycle Classic in Bloemfontein.
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