South Africa’s Matt Beers said he surprised himself with his achievement at the UCI MTB Marathon World Championships in Auronzo, Italy, at the weekend.
Beers, who rides locally for NAD Pro, was the highest-placed South African in the gruelling 102km race, which comprised 4 200m of ascent.
He finished 35th in a field of 167 of the best mountain-bikers from around the world.
However, what was most telling about this result was that Beers was seeded 157th, which meant he started in the last row.
He managed to jump more than 130 places during the race and would surely have done even better had he started nearer the front.
“Finding out that I was starting basically in last [place] was a bit demoralising but I think I surprised myself with the result, for sure,” Beers told In the Bunch.
“I wasn’t too far off the top 10, especially considering where I started. I was pleasantly surprised.
“This shows good things to come and we just need to keep that momentum rolling. Next time we will surely be more aware of the seeding procedure.”
Beers’s local teammate Nico Bell was seeded 161st and finished 80th, Julian Jessop was seeded 160th and placed 66th and Phllimon Sebona was seeded 165th and came 92nd.
Under-23 men’s world cross-country champion Alan Hatherly was seeded second but placed 55th, Willem le Roux 110th but finished 123rd and Matthys Beukes was seeded 62nd but was unable to complete the event due to a race-ending mechanical.
Beers said the Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge, which took place in January, was the best local opportunity to gain much-needed UCI points.
However, NAD Pro took part in the Mpumalanga Tour in that same period, which Beers won. Beukes won the Attakwas, which was how he earned valuable points, Beers said.
“It was quite challenging mentally [to have to start at the back], because you kind of feel like it’s already over from the get-go.
“But I was there and made the most of it. There was no use dwelling on the points and making yourself panic.”
Beers said the race got off to a “crazy start”, but that was where they managed to make up much of their time.
“It was quite hectic; there were about 160 riders going flat-out along an 18km stretch towards the first climb.
“We made up good time on the climb and then we just kept on chipping away. That climb was probably one of the steepest I’ve done in my life.
“But I was able to manage my pace up there pretty well. It was important not to burn yourself out up there because there were still four major climbs after that.”
Beers caught Hatherly on the second of two medium-category climbs that followed, before he found himself in a “pretty good group with the top-20 guys”, he recalled.
“That group split up a bit due to some very technical riding – those Europeans are super fast – but I also knew I burnt a bit more gas after having to get there from the back.”
Due to the nature of the route, Beers said he and his team had trained for longer intervals which had put him in “good shape”.
He will now link back up with his NAD Pro teammates and is expected to race with Bell in the 3 Towers next weekend, followed by the Berg and Bush, Cape Pioneer Trek and Wines2Whales later in the season.