It was a nerve-wracking build-up to the event for Jessop as he’d been unable to train properly in the lead-up because of a throat infection.
Race day rolled around and, despite feeling better, he said mechanical issues with his bike meant he was unsure of whether he’d make it to the start.
“My dad had to rush off to a bicycle shop to get it fixed and luckily it got sorted out,” said Jessop, who turned 20 the day after securing the title.
“I was very nervous about how I’d feel on the day and I was also very nervous because it was my first time defending the title in cross-country.”
Jessop said he started with a plan, which was to get an early gap. The idea was to give himself enough time to sort out any further mishaps, should they happen.
His approach worked and he was able to drop his competition on the first of six laps.
“Halfway up the first major climb I made my move and attacked. Jarrod van den Heever stayed with me for about 500m but after that I rode by myself.
“I kept it hard and counted the laps down one at a time. I came across the line as a winner and I’m very happy. I’m stoked.”
Franco Pelser and Henry Liebenberg completed the podium.
Jessop, who broke his back in 2014, said it had taken a lot of hard work to get back to where he’d been.
“A lot of the time I thought I’d never get back to where I was, but now I’m finally there, I’ve made it,” he said, adding that his achievement was the highlight of his year.
After missing last year’s race, Frances du Toit announced her return by claiming the women’s title ahead of Bianca Haw and Julia Kotze.
The 19-year-old said she’d been looking forward to riding at Mankele – her favourite track – after a strong performance at the Ussa Cycling Championships the week before.
Despite feeling confident, she said she couldn’t help but feel nervous due to the enormity of the event.
“I’m very happy about my win. I haven’t had the best season so far so I really wanted to do well to prove to myself that I could still do this.
“It was tough competition because Bianca was there and I knew it would be a hard race going up against her.”
In the end, less than a minute separated the two and Du Toit said she was “really chuffed” and had renewed confidence in her ability ahead of the 2018 season.