Mariske Strauss came up against two of the best riders in the world and narrowly lost out to Annie Last and Kathrin Stirnemann at the first SA MTB Cup Series XCO event in Bloemendal, Bellville, today.
South Africa’s Strauss completed the six-lap course in 1:26:55, just over a minute behind Switzerland’s Stirnemann, who finished 14 seconds behind the winner, Last of Britain.
Another South African, Candice Lill, was fourth, a further four minutes back.
It was a tough day for Strauss against two global powerhouses in the discipline. Last and Stirnemann are both ranked in the top 30 of elite women’s cross-country cycling.
Strauss was delighted with her showing in what was her first competitive race for the year.
“I’m very stoked with my ride. It was a top day out and I felt strong most of the way,” Strauss told In the Bunch today.
“It was a proper battle [against Last and Stirnemann]. Annie was up there in the first lap or two and then Kathrin came.
“We had a battle until the fifth lap, which was when I stalled a bit behind Kathrin and lost some time.
“I managed to get back to her on the sixth lap, closely following Annie, but my legs just weren’t able to hold out until the finish.”
The close tussle against the two world-class riders was a good gauge of her performance potential for the season ahead, Strauss said.
“It was great to see how I measured up so early in the season. Clearly I’m on the right track and now it’s just all about fine-tuning before the world cup season.”
Strauss said it was good to see a wide array of South Africans being competitive on the day.
“Candice had a great start, while Sarah [Hill] and Cherie [Redecker] were also there. It was very exciting to see everyone in the mix.
“I’m super happy for them and well done to them [as well]. It was a super challenging and technical course.”
The course was somewhat rocky and dusty with the wind making it more testing, Strauss added.
“It was a nice little rude awakening for the season to kick off with,” she quipped. “I’m hoping we can get some drizzle tonight to settle the dust a bit.”
Strauss is set to take part in the second edition of the race tomorrow, which is optional for riders and will be held on the same course.
“It’s going to be fun to see how my legs react on day two and I’m excited to do it all over again.”