True to expectations, Andrew Neethling (Team Giant) won the pro-elite men’s downhill race during the African Mountain Bike Championship that took place at Jonkershoek, near Stellenbosch, on Saturday (12 February).
Apart from a crash during the seeding race, Neethling gave a near perfect display of what downhill racing should really be all about.
His winning time in the final was 2 minutes and 53.07 seconds. His brother, Jonty, set the second fastest time of 2:06.03 and Johann Potgieter was the third fastest in a time of 2:06.29.
Neethling was full of praise for the way in which his rivals performed.
“The standard of downhill racing has certainly improved since the last time I competed in South Africa. You definitely cannot take a victory for granted.”
According to Neethling he does not get the opportunity to race in South Africa as often as he would have liked because of his international commitments.
“As things stand, I am already on my way back to the USA for a team training camp. I will compete at the Sea Otter Festival in California as well before I return to South Africa for the World Cup event.”
Neethling said: “Travelling and living out of a bag for up to 6 months of the year are part and parcel of the life of a professional downhill racer. Yes, sometimes this way of living becomes almost too much to handle, but usually it is quite exciting. I get opportunities to see new places and experience different cultures all the time.”
Last year Neethling achieved quite a few good results. His victory at the US Open Downhill Race in Freeride Park, Vernon, New Jersey, was a definite highlight. The week before he also won Round 2 of the Pro Gravity Downhill series in New York.
A persistent back injury prevented him from winning any other major races.
According to Neethling, his goal for the rest of the season is to achieve at least one podium finish in a World Cup event.
His best World Cup result last year was finishing fourth in Italy. He also finished 16th overall in the series.
“If I could achieve a podium finish in a World Cup race this year and finish in the top ten overall, I would be satisfied. Would it not be wonderful if Greg Minnaar and I could both be on the podium at the World Cup in Pietermaritzburg.
“It is also important for me to defend my US Open Title. Actually it would be good to be more consistent when competing in the major races,” Neethling said.
It was Neethling’s dad who persuaded him to seriously take up cycling as a sport.
“My dad used to compete in cross-country racing and he even did some downhill racing. He took my brother and me on weekend rides. I enjoyed these rides very much and began to prefer bike rides to the other sports in which I participated at the time.
“I used to take part in all sorts of sports in primary school, i.e. rugby, hockey, swimming, tennis and cricket. I even played provincial hockey in my mid-teens, but when the cycling bug bit me, I abandoned everything else for biking.
“As a junior rider I represented South Africa three times at the World Junior Championship. My best result was when I finished 9th in Kaprun, Austria, in 2002.”
A bit of interesting trivia about Neethling is that his nickname in international cycling is ‘Needles’. This is because the international riders have trouble pronouncing his surname.