I’ve been very fortunate to spend the last 2 weeks at The Mankele MTB Park situated just outside of Nelspruit. This mountain bike park offers a variety of fun trails and the surrounding roads are safe to train on which makes it ideal. I was truly spoiled with the variety of training options available and as a bonus I always found myself in good company on the bike.
As luck would have it, I also had the opportunity to do a local race while in the Lowveld. The Nkomazi MTB challenge was hosted by Laerskool Malelane and with an attractive prize purse the event was sure to attract a strong field to the start line.
Without a map or race profile I didn’t know what to expect from the 65km course created in the Nkomazi Valley. The only information I did have was what I learned from the heated debate surrounding the ‘Downhill run’ feature of the race. This downhill is so fearsome that some locals opted to rather take part in the 35km event which excluded this technical section and others to skip the race entirely. Needless to say I was apprehensive about the course even before leaving the start line.
Whilst standing on the start line there were still questions being raised about whether or not this downhill run was included or excluded from the 65km event. In truth, it was quite liberating to finally leave the start line and just focus on the racing side of things.
I was very pleased to lead the race from the start but at kilometre 18 I took a wrong turn while following the other competitors. After a brief stop and discussion we retraced our tire tracks and got back on course not quite knowing who had passed us or not. A few kilometres later we ascended a brutally steep 2km climb only to turn and go back down the same hill, BUT via the infamous ‘downhill run’. Surprise! It was still incorporated into the 65km course.
As the saying goes: ’Discretion is the better part of valour’, so I opted to run down most of the 2km ‘Downhill run’ instead of risking injury or death (as the warning stickers always say!). As I carefully made my way down the trail, my fear turned into frustration as Amy McDougall came riding/sliding past me with her bum almost touching her rear wheel as she got her weight back on the bike for the steep descent – very impressive! Amy has exceptional biking handling skills and those that know her will confirm that technical trails are very scared of Amy J
With plenty of technical riding all the way to the line Amy’s superb bike handling skills netted her a deserving win on the day while I had to settle for 2nd place. Kirsten Gillespie rounded out the podium in 3rd place.
I really enjoyed the pleasant atmosphere of the event and I think the race has a lot of potential for growth. Beforehand the ‘Downhill run’ was a highly contentious topic and after experiencing it myself, I think it is a bit too extreme for a marathon event. I would love to be back next year but that all depends on that downhill trail… 🙂