The Great Zuurberg Trek – what a fantastic name for a race wouldn’t you agree? As the name suggests, this 3 day stage race takes place in the Zuurberg Mountains just north of the Addo Elephant National Park. The area is as beautiful as it is diverse with the Eastern Cape shrubbery in stark contrast to the Karoo landscape on either side of the mountain range.
The race is a boutique style event with a mere 125 teams who are pampered with luxury accommodation, a generous menu and several add on services leaving participants to ride their bikes and forget about the rest. The race village was situated at the Zuurberg Mountain Inn at the summit of the Zuurberg Pass and the remote location meant there was limited accommodation available. The race organization saw this as an opportunity with a luxury tented village erected on the hotel grounds to accommodate more people and a second race village in the Addo Elephant Park, complete with race briefings, dinners and game drives should you be so inclined.
For us the race came at the end of a long summer packed with racing and although we were running on fumes, we were buoyed by the excitement of doing an event for the first time. The race had 3 distinct stages starting with a relatively short and sharp day, followed by the long ‘queen stage’ and a final day of play with enough singletrack to put a smile on tired riders’ faces. Along the way competitors were treated to everything from forest singletrack to semi-desert riding. The Hayterdale trails were a particular treat but the real key to route success lay in the immense variety on offer keeping riders engaged and eager.
Defending champions Yolandie de Villiers and her partner Neill Ungerer were incredibly motivated using their experience and strength to win all 3 stages and take the overall victory. We fought gamely, especially on day 2 keeping them in sight right up until the last climb, but ultimately we had to settle for 2nd on every stage and 2nd overall. The good thing is that now we have unfinished business and we’ll have to come back to this unique event next year!
What stood out from the event was that the small field made for a very intimate atmosphere with participants racing on the bike but making time for each other off it. This is a fast growing segment of the sport and The Great Zuurberg Trek is a shining example of how it can be done.