Words: Kyle Gilham | Photo: Anthony Grote
The race for the 2014 aQuellé Tour Durban cyclocross title on Monday 28 April was thrown wide open with the news that defending men’s champion Rourke Croeser will be unable to bid to retain the title he won last year.
The Kargo Pro MTB team’s shining star will miss the popular 55km blend of road and mountain biking due to his attendance of a funeral in Empangeni later in the day.
“It would have been great to come back and try to defend my cyclocross title this year!” said Croeser. “Stu (Berry) and his team also always put on such a great event so it’s disappointing not to be back in the mix this time.”
Croeser’s absence sees Andrew Hill now clear pre-race favourite after 2012 saw the TIB Insurance rider become the first person in the history of the cyclocross race’s predecessor – a traditional 45km mountain bike race – to claim a hat-trick of victories.
“It would be great to get a first Tour Durban cyclocross victory under my belt. I finished behind Rourke (Croeser) last year and you don’t mind losing out to a rider of that pedigree but it would obviously be nice to try go one better this time around though!” said Hill.
“Rourke not being there is also a far better scenario for me because now he and Travis (Walker) won’t be able to work together to try and rub off the rest of us, which can happen on a course like this one which is pretty flat and fast.
“Either way though, I’m up for the challenge!” he added.
The cyclocross event, which combines the speed of road racing with three short loops of off-road adventure, has enjoyed major growth in recent times and Croeser predicts even further popularity for the hybrid contest amongst the more recreational rider in the near future while still offering competitive racing up front.
“Mountain biking is huge at the moment and not many people these days have both a road and a MTB bike so the fact that the Tour Durban cyclocross event provides an opportunity for those without a road bike to still enjoy a bit of both worlds I think is great!
“The route is pretty flat so the style of racing all depends on who is there on the day really. Even though I won’t be there myself, my Kargo team mate Travis (Walker) will and I’m sure it will still be a good battle between him and the rest of the leaders,” said Croeser.
Hill echoed Croeser’s sentiments regarding the rapidly expanding Durban-based event. “The cyclocross event is a rare opportunity for cyclists, especially us mountain bikers, to ride in Durban itself. The weather is usually ideal too and, with it being a long weekend, the vibe is fantastic so the whole event is great.”
The tar stretches and relatively flat terrain should see a high tempo encounter unfold and Hill believes bike setup and, in particular, tyre choice could play a major role in determining this year’s outcome.
“Last year there was a lot of curiosity as to what type of bike to use and questions were asked about the use of a cyclocross bike or even a road bike. Having now competed once before, I can safely say a mountain bike is the way to go for this event.
“Some guys may opt for a softer, slightly slicker tyre but, being close to the sea, there are still some sandy stretches so you can’t afford to go too soft and there are also one or two fairly rutted downhills so you don’t want a very narrow tyre through there either!
“All in all it should be pretty interesting to see who is there on the day and what setup and tactical choices they go with,” added Hill.
The aQuellé Tour Durban road races and cyclocross take place on Monday 28 April 2014. More information can be found at www.tourdurban.co.za