Young James Reid got his early season off to a flying start when he won the inaugural Ultimate Quest title at The Herald VW Cycle Tour in Port Elizabeth in early February.
Reid, who has opted to compete as a privateer racer this season following the demise of Team Nedbank 360Life, showed an unbroken spirit and promising all-round ability with his triumph in the new super-category.
He took third in the 80km Extreme mountain bike challenge (3:02:56) and finished just outside the top ten in the 106km Classic road race (2:36:32) to emerge as overall champion in a combined time of 5:39:28.
“The Ultimate Quest is a fantastic concept that I hope will grow in years to come,” says Reid.
“It creates a unique, supercharged race-within-a-race and can almost be viewed as a two-day stage race in terms of nutrition and hydration during the mountain biking leg, as well as recovery before the road race.”
He said he thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and that the atmosphere at the weekend festival of cycling had been fantastic.
“It really is called the Friendly City for a reason. As athletes we are always treated really well and that makes all the difference when it comes to choosing from a full calendar.”
And a full calendar it has been thus far, with Reid going on to finish first in the U23 category and second overall in the opening round of the national cross country (XC) series in Durbanville the following weekend.
“What made the result more exciting for me was that Florian Vogel and Ralph Naef (two top Swiss riders) ended up 3rd and 6th.
“Obviously they are out here on a training camp and just getting into the swing of things condition-wise, but it was confidence boosting nonetheless.”
The 20-year-old says he has decided to focus on cross country because it is a version of the sport in which younger riders are able to shine.
“I’ve looked at races like the Absa Cape Epic and realised that it’s not the younger guys featuring in the results. I do intend to take marathon racing seriously, but only in years to come.”
For the moment, he is concentrating on what he does best.
“I suit and enjoy a track that is super punchy and technical from the gun. The difficulty with XC racing lies in racing down fairly difficult technical pieces with your heart rate often well beyond 180 beats per minute!”
The only form of mountain biking recognised as an Olympic sport, cross country has gained a huge following overseas, says Reid. “Actually, so much so that, unlike in South Africa, marathon racing is the fringe sport.”
For this reason, the Cape Town-based rider will be racing in Europe from March in preparation of the U23 world champs being held in Pietermaritzburg this August.
“I know that to feature at the worlds, I need experience racing the same riders on world-class courses at the same pace.
“Thankfully the World Cup series is a great way to understand the physical demands and the level of the racing scene over there. I’ll be doing five of the races this year.”
Reid says he is aiming for podiums after finishing fourth in Pietermaritzburg and fifth at Mount St Anne in Canada last year.
“So I think this year it is within reach. That would be a dream come true.”
He will also be competing in a few Swiss and Austria Cup races between World Cup events.
It is understandable that the young rider has chosen to go it alone after the shock dissolution of his former team in the wake of the much-publicised doping scandal.
“I was completely blown away. I had no idea. Immediately there were a lot of unanswered and unasked questions about everything to do with the team.
“Everything became uncertain and I had to learn to live like that for a few months, which was horribly stressful. I felt anger, sadness and confusion.”
But Reid said he realised he was young enough to start afresh.
He says he has no regrets as the opportunities he was afforded during his 11-month stint with the team provided a launchpad for his fledgling career.
His best achievement was finishing 10th overall in the U23 World XCO Series. “It’s a result you don’t get without proper support from a sponsor with vision and a long-term plan.
“Unfortunately, things fell apart prematurely. But, as I’ve always believed, things happen for a reason. Even now, I’m grateful that I had the backing of a world-class sponsor.”
Aiding Reid in his solo venture will be equipment sponsor Trek South Africa.
“Oakley and Red Bull are two other powerhouse brands that I’m really chuffed to be working with, but I’m still looking for a main financial sponsor.
“I decided to race as a privateer in 2013 to see where I could go with choosing the races I want to concentrate on and not racing too often, as we have a tendency to do in SA.”
Despite the recent turmoil in the South African cycling fraternity, Reid remains optimistic.
“It’s in a tricky space at the moment; one that is also still reeling from the tragic passing of Burry Stander,” says Reid.
“In terms of investment, industry-related sponsors will always be involved as they need to sell product in a competitive market.
“But non-industry related sponsors, and especially the financial world, will be a bit more cautious about their involvement considering the potential risk and rumours doing the rounds.
“My hope is that cycling, and mountain biking in particular, will recover and be able to move forward to build the sport and its heroes of tomorrow.”
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