In motor racing parlance, top South African mountain biker Jan Withaar would probably be referred to as a “privateer”.
However, after collecting silver medals at both the national marathon and cross-country championships in recent weeks, it is difficult not to rank the rider with the limited budget and big engine alongside the country’s very best.
Having earned selection to the national team on the back of these performances, the 37-year-old has now set his sights on the big stage as he prepares for the XCO world champs in Mont St Anne, Canada, in late August.
It has not been an easy road for the reluctant star from Johannesburg, who races without the support of a management structure or sponsor and who is forced to do “everything I can with my savings”.
“This is my reality,” he says.
“As with any lofty ambition that a person takes on, it is a painstaking process that unfolds steadily.
“There are many small victories that those who carry me noticed but have passed unnoticed by others before the achievements became notable,” he says, with his fourth and sixth place finishes at the national XCO champs in 2017 and 2018 backing up his statement.
“The process certainly does not pay any attention to my timeline.”
“Having had him in sight for the first three laps was extremely motivating. He is an excellent gauge as his consistency is impeccable,” says Withaar.
“These little things are reinforcing our thoughts off and efforts away from the race track. Personally, I am delighted with the time gaps and how consistently I maintained them.”
A couple of laps in and as Hatherly slowly but surely stretched his advantage, the race for second heated up. This left Withaar in a tussle with Philip Buys.
“Philip was the person who sent my anxiety levels through the roof but, somehow, I managed to keep it together although it was way too close for comfort.”
His intention is to prepare as well as he can so that he can make the most of the opportunity in Canada.
“The plan is to take in as much as I can of the race track beforehand and have as many of my training efforts mimic what I will be subjected to on the day,” he says, pointing out that his focus is on improving his conditioning more than anything else, while also getting himself to remain calm.
“The immediate goal is to put together a fantastic performance at world champs. This is an incredible opportunity that I need to honour correctly.”
It’s been a long time coming for the cross-country specialist and he is not about to get too carried away.
“I will start to focus on the goals that follow on from this one as it can, finally, be ticked off.”