Matie cyclist Mariske Strauss, 24, overcame injuries and a bad tumble just the week before being crowned African cross-country champion, at the 2016 African Continental Mountain Bike Championships, held in Lesotho from March 30 to April 3 . This is her fifth continental title.
Cyclists were not only competing for continental honours, but also for valuable UCI points. UCI points determine not only a cyclist’s starting position in a race but ultimately also how many cyclists a country can send to the Olympic Games.
The week before, Mariske came second in the Elite Women’s race at the third round of the Stihl 2016 SA XCO Cup Series, hosted in Pretoria, after crashing twice during the race. Apart from some bruising, she sustained no serious injuries.
She was beaten by her Novus OMX Pro team mate Cherie Redecker, who came second at the African Champs a week later.
After the race in Pretoria, Mariske decided to follow a different approach at the continental championships.
“I decided to race my own race, have a blast and see how the field and I responded to the altitude.”
The riders had to complete five laps of a 5.4km course at an altitude of approximately 3 000m above sea level.
“The race started quite slowly. I then opened up the tap to the top of the first climb where I found myself in the lead. I kept things consistent and had a blast,” she adds.
Strauss has been struggling with injuries since 2014 – first she tore her abdominal muscles and then she tore her ankle ligaments. This meant she couldn’t defend her 2014 SA Cross Country or 2014 African Champs title in 2015.
“The past two years have been very trying, but I had unbelievable support,” she says.
She is now looking towards the future. Due to academic responsibilities, her next race will only be at the end of the month, when she will compete at the Pietermaritzburg MTB festival.
She also hopes to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games in Rio later this year.
Mariske is a third-year BSc Sports Science student at Stellenbosch University (SU).
Before starting her course, this former Stellenberg High pupil spent a year at Mars Hill College in the USA.
If all goes well, she will complete the final two subjects of her degree this year and graduate in December.
It has not been easy for her to pursue a degree while continuing with the sport she loves, but she believes it has been worth it.