“This has been one of the tightest seasons I’ve had since I started racing! It’s really good for the sport and spectators when it comes down to the wire like this…” – Ross Branch
The final race of the National Cross Country Championship is about to unfold in a new and exciting format. The prestigious event is doubling up with Gauteng’s popular cross country series – GXCC Racing, and will bring both National and social riders together for an epic day of racing on Saturday.
Riders are preparing to be taken out their comfort zones with a mass start according to championship standings. This has only added to the already heated atmosphere of the Brother Leader Tread KTM camp, where two riders are bracing themselves for a ‘winner takes all’ championship fight.
All eyes will be on motorsport legend and defending champion Ross Branch, who has held the coveted OR1 and overall title for the last two years.
As he edges painfully close to achieving his dream of a hat trick victory, Branch will take his place at the start line as a marked man with Husqvarna’s Kenny Gilbert only just behind him on the leaderboard.
While an impressive list of results this season will give Branch some breathing space, he’s not out of the woods yet and will still need to finish high up in the ranks on Saturday to secure the coveted title.
Undaunted by the immense pressure at this crucial stage of the series, Branch commented:
“Carletonville is a rocky but also fast terrain, and that suits my style of riding. There’s not too much to say at this point – may the best man win.”
Senior rider Juan ‘Bollie’ van Rooyen is entering a similar battle on Saturday.
The rider will attempt to snatch up the championship for the fifth consecutive time, but will have to finish ahead of arch rival Wade Blaauw to do so.
His competitor managed to narrow the gap to just a three point difference after van Rooyen’s disappointing ‘Did Not Finish’ in Swaziland. With years of experience to draw from, the KTM star explained:
“If I think too much about what’s at stake, the pressure will become unbearable. I know what I need to do, and I put in extra training to prepare for it. But other than that, I’m going to take the same approach I always do to racing – get out there and enjoy it!”
This weekend will bring a particular reason for the orange team to celebrate.
According the point standings, Jarryd Coetzee has already wrapped up the OR3 Championship.
After two years on the sideline due to an ongoing knee injury, the rider opens up about what has been the most rewarding season of his career:
“It was an extremely tentative start to the season going it to the first round in Eshowe. I was only cleared to compete after another knee reconstruction three days before the race! That was stressful to say the least, but I made progress and improved with every round after that.
The turning point came at the Toyota 1000 Desert Race where I secured a back-to-back win – that gave me the red plate and a solid foundation to work from. It’s an indescribable feeling to be on the cusp of my second national title… what a journey it’s been! I’m reserving my excitement for after Carletonville though, where despite a small shoulder injury I hope to get a solid finish.”
This weekend will mark the finish line of an incredible journey for Kirsten Landman, who signed up for the 2018 National Cross Country season for the first time since a horrific crash five years ago.
Fans have watched in awe as she has gone from strength to strength with each round, with a stand-out finish at the Toyota 1000 Desert Race – the very event where her accident took place.
As she prepares for what is sure to be an emotional season finale, Landman commented:
“I held onto a lot of fear after my accident for far too long. It's taken a lot of courage to get here, but I know that this the season where I'll leave all of that behind me and move onto the much bigger things in store!”
Rounding out the team is OR1's Louw Schmidt.
With his current fourth place in the prestigious class, the rider will be elated to finish the year strong after a 2017 season that was riddled with injuries.
"Racing has been a big part of my life for the last 10 years, and more particularly the last 5 years with Brother Leader Tread KTM. I really want to make them proud this weekend! I'm so excited for the GXCC style of racing - an important start is going to be crucial if I want to stick with the top guys. To finish the last race on the podium would be incredible - it's what I've been working towards, " said Schmidt.
Published by: KTM Media
Picture Caption: Ross Branch sets his sights on the finish line.
Photography by: www.zcmc.co.za
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