A bunch of press releases came through from Trek World Racing over the weekend after the South African nationals. Our boy Anton absolutely killed it in the Juniors winning ahead of his nearest compeditor by over 12 minutes... 12 freakin minutes. The Elite catergory was slightly more stacked and Flueckiger brothers finished top 10.
In the Downhill though it was complete domination, with Gwin taking the win , Neko in 3rd and Justin in 5th.
Full press release below. Flueckiger Brothers Finish Top 10, Anton Wins Juniors
Today all 4 Trek World Racing XC athletes competed in dry, yet very humid, conditions in the South African National XC races, which many teams used as a test event for next weekend's World Cup on the same course here in Pietermaritzburg. Willow Rockwell made her return to racing just 10 weeks after having her first child, a major feat in itself, while Anton Cooper raced his first international event for his new team, and the Flueckiger brothers showed they have race speed at the start of the season.
First up at 8am this morning was the 5 lap Junior Men's XC race which saw riders entered from 5 different nations, but only 6 riders managed to finish on the same lap as race winner Anton Cooper. His lap times were blistering and he put around 2 minutes into the field each lap, eventually winning by more than 12 minutes on the 17 minute lap!
Next up at 10am was the 5 lap Women's Elite race which ran over the UCI ideal time and probably could have been a 4 lap race. Willow had a great start moving from the back row of the grid up to 9th on lap one, but by the end of lap 2 was suffering from severe lower back pain. It abated a little allowing her to record faster lap times in lap 4 and 5, and finish a credible 17th place in only her 2nd XC race in nearly a year and a half. Last year, the day before the South African World Cup, Willow discovered she was pregnant. This year 10 week old Raven has travelled to South Africa, and it's impressive to see Willow in the mix so soon.
In the Men's Elite XC over 6 laps, both Luk and Math had great starts. Luk broke away early with Swisspower riders Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel and for 2 laps was comfortable in the top 3. Math moved from position 23 on the grid and was soon inside the top 10. Unfortunately both crashed in separate incidents on lap 3 and lost some ground, but fought back to finish 6th and 9th respectively. Trek World Racing was one of the 3 teams to have 2 riders in the top 10 of this world class field.
Luk said: "The fast guys were here today and I was really happy to be up with them for the first part of the race. I have an injured finger from Cyprus that affects my shifting of the front derailleur and that caused me some issues today, but Shimano is helping me with a solution for next week, so overall I'm really happy with where I came today".
Math said: "For me it was a good start and I had plenty in reserve in my legs, so I was extremely happy with the first half of the race. I then had a crash, and a small mechanical on lap 5 which cost time, so to be inside the top 10 gives me motivation for next week."
Willow said: "It's definitely more fun at the front of the field, I won't lie, but I knew this event would be a tough one, and I'm happy to have finished and got it done. My main focus will be the rounds in May, in Belgium and Czech Republic, but next week should even be a little better for me than today".
Anton said: "Pretty stoked to know I have good shape going into next week. I rode a solid race and tried to maintain consistent lap times in the humid conditions. The Superfly was perfect for this course and I'm glad to get my first international win of the season".
The riders learnt a great deal from today's racing and will take that experience into next weekend for the all-important opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup. Live coverage can be seen at www.redbull.com/bike with the Women's Elite XC on Saturday March 17 at 10.30am Central European Time, and Men's Elite XC at 1.00pm Central European Time. Aaron Gwin Wins Pietermaritzburg National, Neko 3rd, Justin 5th
Aaron Gwin lead the way today for all three Trek World Racing riders who ended up on the podium at the South African national race held on the improved Pietermaritzburg course that will host next week's World Cup opener. With a scorching time of 4m 14secs, Aaron was 3 seconds ahead of last year’s fastest World Cup qualifier Mick Hannah (AUS).
Youngest team mate Neko Mulally (USA) showed that his specific preparation for this event was paying off. After qualifying 7th due to a puncture late in the run, Neko stormed the course in the final and had a super solid run finishing 3rd with 4m 25secs just ahead of Troy Brosnan (AUS) and one second ahead of team mate Justin Leov who rounded out the podium.
The course in Pietermaritzburg has been modified to deal with wet weather, yet despite this, overnight rain made some of the sections almost unrideable in the first training runs of the day. Fortunately the thunder storms that had threatened all day held off and the racing got under way in sunny, yet blustery conditions. Neko set off 7th last and immediately went into the hotseat after a perfect run. He would stay in the lead until Mick Hannah knocked him out with his impressive 4m 17secs run (remembering that Aaron had qualified fastest with a 4m 25secs). Aaron appeared just under a minute later and record a stunning 4m 14secs, with clear signs of a fall on his right leg.
Aaron said: "Yeah, I fell on the second corner, but otherwise I was really happy with the run today. The course dried out and the wind made for some extra pedalling, but all in all a good fun day. Great to see Neko and Jusso up there in 3rd and 5th."
Neko said: "The improvements made to the track were awesome! I really enjoyed riding it this weekend. It felt good to score a podium today and that gives me confidence going into next week."
Justin said: "I had a productive weekend with no setbacks so that was positive. I learnt a lot about the course/setup and what needs to be focused on leading into next week. Great to see Neko so strong and Aaron sending a clear message to everyone!" Live coverage of next weekend's all important opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup can be seen at www.redbull.com/bike with the Men's Downhill starting at 1.00pm Central European Time.