York Enduro Rally, 13-15 Sept

York Enduro MTB Rally, 13-15 September

My first race since the disbandment of my former team bizhub, was the York Timbers Mountain Bike Rally in Sabie. It was refreshing to finally leave behind all the off-the-bike stuff from the last month and get back to doing what I enjoy most – riding my bike.

The first of its kind, the York Enduro Rally offered a unique 3 day mountain bike stage race which saw corporate riders and professional riders teaming up for race honours. Each team would consist of 4 corporate riders and one professional rider which they chose during a gala dinner.

Friday’s opening stage started off with a new and thrilling addition to stage racing – a 3.2km downhill event.  We all could do a practice run in the morning, a seeding run early in the afternoon followed by a final timed run to decide stage honours. Much more spectacular was the rally car versus mountain bike race which closed proceedings on day 1.

The downhill course wasn’t the standard UCI course meaning we could all ride the trail with our hardtail/full suspension race bikes, without the need of any special downhill protective gear (although helmets were compulsory for some reason J). The course was especially designed for this event and the amount of planning and effort that went into building the course is actually quite staggering. If you ever find yourself in the Sabie area, do yourself a big favour and go ride it. It’s one of the best tracks I’ve ridden and its heaps of fun.

On Saturday 17 teams set off to tackle a daunting 60km stage which included a total of 1800m of climbing. Within the 60km stage there were 5 timed downhill sections which counted towards stage and overall results at the end. These downhill sections were the only timed portions so however fast or slow you wanted to ride in between, was totally up to you and your team.

I paired up with the corporate guys from IDC (Jaco, Ian, Gerrit and Willie) and riding with them was a nice change from the norm of racing flat out. During the day’s stage, I gained a lot of respect for my team. The way they fought through cramps and pain just to reach the top of every ascent was a lesson in determination. It showed that just finishing an event is as important to some, as winning is to others. The way my team motivated each other and made jokes to keep spirits high truly showed a kind of solidarity that everyone could learn from.

Back to the race… We set off at 8am from Floreat Lodge to tackle the Sabie Mountains that lay in wait.  Slightly after 12pm, with 3 timed sections of fast downhill fun under the belt, we reached the half way mark and lunch spot at Cuddle Puddle. The name says it all. It’s a romantic little spot next to a pond on the lower slopes of the surrounding Mountains. Leaving Cuddle Puddle and all the delicious food behind was much harder than the 5km ascent that followed, but it had to be done.

Just before 3pm we reached our final 8.9km timed section which would take us straight to the finish line at Sabie Country Club. I set off for my last run feeling a bit weary from a long day in the saddle and on my way down I had a small fall with a big landing, trying to break a rock with my hip in the process. The rock won!

Instead of finishing at Sabie Country Club, I ended up at the Hospital in Nelspruit via a trip in a rescue 4×4 and a Netcare Ambulance.  It was only afterwards that I heard my team not only gave support during the stage but also till the very end, refusing to leave me until the rescue 4×4 had taken me away. Thanks so much to my team for looking after me and staying with me after I fell despite being told several times by the emergency crew that they could go as there wasn’t anything they could do for me. They insisted that they couldn’t leave a fallen soldier behind and so stayed until the rescue 4×4 drove off.

Sunday’s 40km stage included much of Saturday’s stage and was open to the public offering a little taste of what the event was about.  After the morning’s race the pro riders had another event waiting, a short cross country race laid out on the Sabie Golf Course. The ladies were set to do one lap of the 3.2 km circuit and the men two laps. Unfortunately I missed out on Sunday’s riding but from what I’ve heard, it sounded like the event finished off as it started – with a whole lot of excitement.

I think this event is a great initiative from York Timbers as it gives pro athletes an opportunity to meet and ride with recreational riders without the racing element getting in the way of the social aspect, thus reducing the perceived gap between pro riders and social riders.

Thanks to York Timbers for making this event happen. The event has a bright future and I hope to be part of it again next year.