Van der Walt plans to do SA proud at junior world champs

Junior national champion Daniel van der Walt will be hoping to fly South Africa’s flag high at the junior UCI Mountain Bike World Championships cross-country event in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, next week.

Van der Walt won the national title over a month ago, beating Jamie Penfold into second place by just under two minutes.

Van der Walt, 17, was delighted to be selected, especially considering 2018 was his first year racing in the junior category.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to go to world champs,” he told In the Bunch today. “I started setting this goal at the end of last year already and with it being my first year as a junior I knew it was going to be hard.

“I’ve had some ups and downs this season, especially in the SA MTB XCO Cup Series.”

The Cape Town local, schooled at Fairmont High, finished third overall in the series after some mixed results.

However he aimed to do well in the races “that mattered”, which were the qualification events that would earn him sufficient UCI points.

One of those was the first SA MTB XCO Cup Series race in Coetzenburg – which formed part of the junior series – where he finished second overall and was the first South African home.

He then finished second in a junior world series race in Argentina, before being crowned SA’s junior champion, which played a key role in him getting selected for the world champs.

“I think everything came together nicely at the end and I was over the moon to have made it,” Van der Walt said.

“I’m glad that the races I aimed to do well at went smoothly.”

Looking ahead to the world champs, Van der Walt said he had high expectations for himself.

He is due to start in the second row courtesy of his UCI ranking and he said he would aim to finish in the top 10 and “perhaps in the top five as my ultimate goal”.

“I’ve been working really hard and we have been in Livigno [Italy] for about a week now specifically to do some high-altitude training.

“That should obviously benefit me for next week’s race, so I’m really hoping to do well.”

Keagan Bontekoning and Penfold will be the other SA junior riders taking part in the junior world champs, but Van der Walt gave the assurance that in cross-country each rider raced for himself.

“It will be every man for himself, unlike in road races for instance. We are all representing Team SA, but we will be racing against everyone.

“Keagan and Jamie will most certainly be my opponents on the day. It will be hard and the race will definitely be a game of tactics.

“It will be important to get a good starting position going into the single track,” he added.

He said he was “quite nervous” about the event, but also confident. “I’m quite excited and I just hope everything goes well.”