The last couple of weeks have been busy but fun for me. Since the 3 Towers mountain bike stage race I’ve been filling the days by either racing or travelling. From Mpumalanga I headed south toward the Ostrich Capital of Oudtshoorn for my second stage race in October.
The Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek is a weeklong mountain bike stage race held in the beautiful Klein Karoo. The event attained UCI status this year which always attracts more international riders eager to gain some valuable UCI points and bolster their rankings.
During the 7 day journey riders traverse two mountain ranges (The Outeniqua-and-Swartberg Mountains), cross the semi-desert Karoo and cycle through the coastal forests of the Garden Route to complete a total distance of 574km and 11 958m of climbing.
I teamed up with good friend Aurelie Halbwachs for the 5th edition of the event and this would be the 6th time we would race together as a team.
The Cape Pioneer started with a lung busting 15km prologue on the remarkable trails of Cango MTB Park just outside of Oudsthoorn. These trails were built by professional rider Matthys Beukes who sculpted a flowing course which made for exciting racing.
On day two the Trek officially started as we headed westwards from Oudtshoorn to finish a 100km later at South Africa’s Port Capital of Calitzdorp. The route included a few very rocky downhill sections which left many teams stranded with punctured tyres. Fortunately Aurélie and I had a problem free ride on our Continental tires to finish 4th on the stage.
The next day’s 86km route took us to our new camping ground in the charming little town of Prince Albert. The finish line on this stage is situated at the summit of Swartberg Pass making for the only mountaintop finish in mountain biking. This stage had every one abuzz as the first team to crest the climb would get to take home a whopping R125 000. Aurélie and I missed out on that particular prize purse, but race organiser Henco Rademeyer gave us some consolation in the form of delicious Ostrich droë wors he himself handed out at the summit to tired riders.
Day four was a sightseeing highlight as riders got to cycle through the magical Meiringspoort before finishing in the little town of De Rust. Unfortunately the wind also had its say and pounded us head on throughout the entire 107km stage making for a long day.
Day 5 was by far the most demanding stage of the race as riders set out to conquer the feared “Kammanassie Kanon”.
Kammanassie means place of water and with all the rain coming down throughout the stage I found it quite appropriate even if the conditions made racing arduous.
We started at the bottom of the Kammanassie valley and gradually climbed out and over its flanks. The final inclines are very steep forcing riders to dismount and push their bikes. After the Kammanassie we still had to climb over the Outeniqua mountains via Duiwels Kloof pass before the final stretch took us on coastal forestry roads to finish in George. On a dry day this 109km stage would be a very challenge route but in the tough wet conditions it was truly epic. It took Aurelie and me 7 hours to complete the stage, soaked to the bone and as hungry as anything.
George is situated at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains meaning there is only one way back to Harold and that’s up and over the Montagu Pass. With the rain drenching the earth on Thursday and continuing into the early hours of Friday morning, race organisers mercifully decided to cut out all the single track which shortened the day’s 6 route from 71km to a very welcome 51km stage.
Compared to all the miles already banked, the last stage was a relatively short 86km spin mainly on district roads and some of the trails at Chandelier Game and Ostrich farm to finish back where it all started at the town hall in Oudtshoorn.
Finally Aurélie and I placed 5th overall in die ladies category. Despite having fairly consistent daily placings, it’s hard for me not to be disappointed as I was hoping for more. The Cape Pioneer was a goal race for me this season and I really wanted to finish it off with a good performance. When it comes to achieving results you can be in great shape but all the little pieces of the puzzle have to fall in place. Our puzzle missed a few pieces but if all goes well, we will be back next year to give it another shot! That’s the beauty of sport.
The Cape Pioneer Trek is definitely my favourite weeklong stage race in South Africa. The Klein Karoo has warm hearted, sincere people, spectacular scenery and genuine hospitality which are all steadily revealed during the event. The entire organizing Dryland Team worked around the clock to make sure everything was running smoothly and riders were happy. As long as the Cape Pioneer Trek exists and I am able to pedal my bike, it will be a highlight of my racing calendar.
1st Catherine Williamson & Alice Pirard
2nd Robyn de Groot & Jennie Stenerhag
3rd Esther Süss & Theresa Ralph
4th Candice Neethling & Cherise Stander
5th Yolandi du Toit & Aurélie Halbwachs