For the first time ever, Zimbabwe was represented by a team at the UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships. Five riders traveled to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, for the first such event on African soil, accompanied by team manager and National Ladies Champion Linda Davidson.
Paul Collins, our Masters representative, was the first to race, coming in a respectable 14th in the Mens 55−59 category. Natasha Lawson (Hellenic) crashed out of the Junior Girls race, but having only been riding for four months was very happy with her World Champs experience. Alex Gifford (Falcon) and Michael Adamson (Peterhouse) finished 65th and 69th respectively in the Junior Boys category.
The team suffered a major setback before they even arrived at the event when their bicycle trailer clipped a shade-port at a stopover and two bike frames snapped. Thanks to the enormous generosity of the Giant Bicycle dealers in South Africa and the Durban Cyclesphere shop they soon had replacements and were back on course for practice.
In the months leading up to the event team manager Linda Davidson made sure that the whole team was fighting fit, with intensive physical and mental training. Davidson is one of only a handful of Zimbabwean riders with high-level international racing experience, having represented the country at continental level on the road and mountain bike.
Though the team was aiming high they were realistic about their chances against the world’s best. The only international experience most of the team members had was the 2012 final of the regional Spur Schools series in South Africa. The lessons learned there helped to focus their training strategies in the intervening months, particularly with respect to the demanding technical nature of the tracks.
Zimbabwe had no national mountain bike racing series from 2008 to 2012, and most of the independently organised events are multi-day marathons rather than the shorter, more intensive lap racing of the XCO (Cross Country Olympic) format at the World Championships. In order to prepare themselves, the team had to focus on hill climbing and tight, rocky trails, aspects the more socially oriented local events tend to avoid.
The recent revival in competitive cross-country racing in Zimbabwe is largely thanks to the establishment of the Spur Schools series, started in 2009 in South Africa by the African Mountain Bike Association (Amarider). The organisation’s mandate, “more trails to riders − more riders to trails”, has seen it focus on developing the sport in the areas with the biggest potential for growth: schools and disadvantaged communities. The huge success of the Spur Series in South Africa gave Amarider the strength to expand regionally, with Lesotho, Namibia and, since 2012, Zimbabwe participating.
Unfortunately the high costs of quality mountain bikes and equipment are prohibitive to many, but it’s still early days. Hopefully the rapid growth of the sport will bring an influx of sponsorship and investment.
The high turnout at the 20 July Zimbabwe National Championships at Lomagundi College (which doubled as the final for the 2013 domestic Spur Schools series) certainly bodes well for the future of the sport in the country.