Words by Nigel Hicks
Photography by Dominic Barnardt
2019 saw South African Downhill racing return to Afriski Mountain Resort for the South African National Downhill Championships over the weekend of the 4th and 5th May. Situated in the heart of the Drakensberg-Maluti Mountains, the venue is one of only two lift-assisted downhill venues in Southern Africa, and at 3222m above sea level poses a serious high altitude challenge for the riders. Put into perspective, the start of the National Championships downhill track is 300m (1000 feet) higher than that of the glacier start of Megavalanche on Pic Blanc at Alpe d'Huez.
The natural volcanic terrain provided a rock-strewn course that tested the minds of the riders and the metal (or carbon) of their machines. The track prepared by Kapoko MTB Park was brilliant, with a variety of open fast bike-park corners and jumps interspersed with natural rock gardens and a very technical mid-section. After a great days practice on Saturday, riders awoke to cold, icy conditions on the top of the track which soon turned to a mud-fest in the first few corners. By mid-track however conditions were prime with variations of grippy loam interspersed with deep sandy anti-grip sections in some of the bike-park turns. To win here, riders needed to be on absolute top form and not put a wheel wrong. The main test however was who could handle the windy top section the best, with the first minute of track consisting of wind-swept open turns, jumps and drops on the high plateau.
The event served as a double-header, with the first run on Sunday counting towards the South African National Cup Series (Round 2), and the second run counting as the SA Championships Event. In the SA Cup Series round, Johann Potgieter from the Eastern Cape took top honours, but when the dust had settled it was defending champion Theo Erlangsen from the Western Cape who came out on top winning the SA Championship. Theo put in a blinding run, sending the final drop into the finish to full flat, but even with a near crash in sight of the finish held on to take the win by over 2 seconds. Johann Potgieter took second in the Elite Men, with Stefan Garlicki closing out the podium in third a further half a second adrift of second place.
The Junior category was dominated by defending champion Jasper Barrett, who took the win in both the SA Cup Series and SA Championships runs. An amazing feat as he lost his chain in his SA Championships run in the main rock garden half way down the track and still posted a time 2 seconds faster than his Cup Series run. Kayle Seaward took silver with Matthew Uhlmann rounding out the podium.
In the Ladies, it is unfortunate that South Africa currently does not have any Elite Downhillers, with only Namibian rider Stefanie Grossmann participating in the category. In the Junior ladies however, Sabine Thies took the win over Ongeza Mini (VeolosolutionsIzimbali/Peschl_Sports). Sabine having placed second in the IXS Rookies World Champs in 2018 has her sights set on the Junior World Cup, and World Championships this year, and with an overall 22nd position for the day she seems to be on track for some great results. Elite Men Results:
1st Theo Erlangsen 02:14.22
2nd Johann Potgieter 02:16.81
3rd Stefan Garlicki 02:17.21
Full results for the SA Cup Series (Leg 1), and the SA Championships (Leg2) are available on Elite Timing
Cycling South Africa and event organisers KZN Gravity MTB would like to thank Afriski Mountain Resort for hosting the 2019 SA Downhill Championships.