When David van Straaten switched to mountain biking a few years ago, he did it for a very good reason – to win races.
Unlike road events where the winner is often determined by strategy and team work, he says the off-road version tips the scale towards the strongest competitor on the day.
This belief stood him in good stead when he powered to victory in the 60km feature race of the Sondela MTB Classic, which was presented by ASG Events in the picturesque game reserve outside Pretoria at the end of June.
“My strategy was to go hard from the start to put myself among the leaders and in a position to win.
“The course was fast and quite technical and I was confident that I could do well if it came down to a sprint,” says the 39-year-old cycle shop owner from Meyerton.
However, his quick-out-of-the-blocks strategy almost cost him dearly when he overshot a bend after a mere 5km of racing and crashed spectacularly.
The embarrassment was fortunately worse than the injuries and, after dusting himself off and untangling his chain from the crank arm, the hunted became hunter again as he zoomed in on his prey.
The catch came relatively quickly and, as the race started to bare its teeth, Van Straaten once again managed to distance himself from the pack – with four other riders tagging along in the hope of sharing in the day’s spoils.
“Apart from Eddy Texeira (who placed third) I didn’t know the other guys in our group,” he confesses.
With his strategy of getting ahead and staying there once again in place, he was happy to hit the single track, which spanned the majority of the route.
“The single track was excellent. It was smooth and flowing and we could get our speed up nice and high.”
Route director Melgard Meyer’s joker in the pack was a few sandy stretches, which Van Straaten says he negotiated without any trouble.
“I’m used to riding on sand; I’d say it’s one of my strengths. I managed to leave some riders behind on one of the sections.”
His confidence in his sprinting ability was well-founded as he easily got the better of his breakaway companions in the gallop to the line. “It was exactly what I had hoped for.”
He took the title in 2:21:08 ahead of Anton Nel and Teixeira. His wife, Ronel, made it a family affair by winning the women’s race in 2:40:53 ahead of Nicolle van den Greft and Barbara Mulcahy.
For a rider relatively new to mountain biking, Van Straaten seems to have found his groove quickly after slogging away anonymously on the road for the better part of two decades.
“I did road cycling for about 18 years and achieved one or two podiums.
“Since I invested in a mountain bike, I’ve had in the region of ten. I even sold my road bike this year.”
He is however under no illusions about the competition at the top of the sport as he sets his targets on the High Five Walkerville MTB Classic in July.
“Sondela was great, but Walkerville will be tougher. There will be more pros and more climbs.”
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