Monthly Archives: October 2018

Race Report: The Momentum Health @CapePioneerTrek presented by Biogen – The culmination of Spring racing!

South Africa must be the Mecca of mountain bike stage racing and with the exception of a very short winter (July) and Christmas break, world class multi-day events litter our calendar. The last 4 weeks have been an especially busy period for us racing at Mankele 3 Towers, the Berg&Bush and finally the Cape Pioneer Trek. These are three very unique and distinct events but the one thing they all have in common is the extremely high quality of each event.

From the traditional mountain biking at Mankele to the sculpted trails of Berg&Bush and finally the The Cape Pioneer journey, it has been a fantastic month of racing. Not many people get to do any of these events making us well aware of how special it is to do all three.

The Cape Pioneer Trek is known as the ‘Race with Soul’ with the character of the Klein Karoo regions people infusing every aspect of the event giving the race its distinctive character. In its 10th edition, The Cape Pioneer Trek was sure to deliver something special and event organizers, Dryland, did not disappoint!

Mauritian Yannick Lincoln invited me to ride the Cape Pioneer with him giving me a golden opportunity to be back at the much loved Pioneer. Yolandi refused to miss out on the fun so we organised a last minute partnership for her with the ever reliable Catherine Williamson.

Having started their cycling careers on the road at the same time, the two know each other well but they haven’t raced together for a while. Catherine also came into the race uncertain about her form having just won the gruelling 8-day Himalayan Epic a week prior. Winning the race showed she was fit, but spending a week at altitude coupled with a taxing journey to South Africa no-one knew what to expect. Being the professionals that they are it didn’t take much for them to gel as a team and they soon hit their stride winning stage 1 after ‘warming up’ in the prologue. Unfortunately a stomach bug derailed their plans and they suffered through stage 2 losing a lot of time but doing enough to stay in the race. This is where teamwork is so important and the two of them got through the tough times as a unit knowing it would pay off later in the week. So it proved with another stage win on stage 4 and a 2nd overall placing by the time they crossed the final finish line in Oudtshoorn having traversed a total of 540km with 11000m ascent in weather conditions ranging from 40degree heat to temperatures below zero and sleet on the Swartberg Pass.

Yannick and I got things off to a reasonable start in the opening prologue around Mossel Bay. Still suffering from a head cold contracted 2 weeks earlier I was ‘governed’ at a certain speed in the early stages and Yannick had to nurse me somewhat. This is obviously frustrating but we made the best of the situation working together as well as we could. On stage 4 it felt like the tide was turning as we made it over the fearsome Montagu Pass with the 5 leading teams – time to roll the dice…

On an innocuous stretch of district road we proceeded to slice a tire on a piece of bad luck leaving us instantly frustrated at the side of the road. We did a patch job to make it to the tech zone, proceeded to mount a new tyre and set off in desperate pursuit only to realize the rim tape had moved during all the repairs. Cue a u-turn back to the tech zone where we luckily got another wheel to resume the dejected pursuit, only in a more annoyed state than before. We gamely limited our losses and fought well the next day at the summit finish on Swartberg Pass but by the final day the flame was flickering. We still managed to pull off a 10th place finish in a strong field, but we were left wondering about what could have been.

As a week long journey the Cape Pioneer Trek is hard to top with riders going from coastal forests, over the Outeniqua Mountains into the Klein Karoo delivering a truly diverse and complete challenge. Along the way the Dryland crew and hosting communities make everyone feel at home while fuelling us with food so good it felt like a daily eating competition!

So if you want motivation to train through our Southern Hemisphere winter just enter any (or all!) of these events – you won’t be disappointed and the fitter you are the more you will enjoy them!

Race Report: @bergandbush Descent – Descending into (MTB) heaven

This past weekend we headed to the Drakensberg foothills for the 13th edition of the Berg&Bush MTB stage race. As with Mankele 3 Towers last weekend an event that has been around this long is doing a few things right. ‘Farmer Gary Green’, his family and his management team put together a stunning event combining a fun route with a spectacular venue to deliver one of the best events around.

We had tailored our training program to target both 3 Towers and Berg&Bush, but fate had different ideas. Last weekend our ‘master plan’ was derailed by a mechanical and this weekend both of us picked up a head cold which made things tricky. We weren’t about to let fate have things all her own way and with a cough, a splutter and eternal hope we lined up for the 3 day adventure.

Stage 1 is a transitional stage from Sterkfontein dam to Emseni camp in the Natal Bushveld where the remainder of the event was hosted on the banks of the mighty Tugela River. The drop from Oliviershoek pass (1730m above sea level) down the Drakensberg escarpment via Solly’s Folly is one of the iconic trails in South African mountain biking. Once at the bottom the real work started as we made our way over the remainder of the 95km stage. Race batching worked perfectly for us as we spent most of the day in the company of another Mixed Team of Theresa Ralph and Tom Wetton. Close to the finish we made our move and opened a small gap to win the stage and take the lead over our friendly rivals setting up a good natured battle for the rest of the weekend.

Our plan on stage 2 was to be conservative, but in keeping with our recent trend that strategy went out the window early on! Countering a move from Theresa and Tom we found ourselves off the front very early and decided to roll with it. We kept our momentum really well throughout the rolling 60km stage taking a 2nd stage win and extending our lead as we raced over the engaging Bushveld singletrack.

Stage 3 was short and (very) sharp featuring the Spioenkop climb with pitches up to 25%. After battling a bit on the opening flat part we slowly found our rhythm to take another stage win along with the overall honours.

Given our profession, scoring a good result has its obvious merit but more than that it felt like repaying the event and its people for their hospitality and effort. Their kind spirit permeates through everything and everyone at the event. Sure, there is some rivalry but good sportsmanship and friendliness is valued far more than any sporting victory. Our kind of race then!

Race Report: Mankele 3 Towers – A dream race with a rude awakening

As a ‘home race’ organized on some of our favourite trails by some of the most passionate mountain bikers and people we know, the Mankele 3 Towers stage race is very close to our hearts. The fact that the event celebrated its 10th edition made this year’s race even more poignant for us.

Like most events that have been around for this long the race has evolved into its current, successful format featuring 3 stages all run from the Mankele bike park just outside Nelspruit. As the bike park is situated in a valley each day starts with a climb (towards a radio signal tower hence the name of the race), but in true Mankele fashion every climb is rewarded with a downhill filled with signature ‘bush tunnels’ and purpose built singletrack.

Apart from their infectious enthusiasm another reason for the event’s success is their reinvestment improving the venue each year. Gone is the old marquis tent replaced with a brand new shed complete with industrial sized kitchen and sparkling new ablution facilities and showers. This spread the field splitting competitors between the campground and the new race village making things easier for everyone.

Back to the race and this would be no easy ride for us and we had our hands full with some strong competition in the Mixed category. Our adversaries from Sani2C, Joanna van der Winkel and Marc Rodrigues lined up alongside the youngsters Pieter du Toit and Danielle Strydom. It’s been delightful to see the Mixed category grow in popularity and depth in the 3 short years since we started competing as a duo. As it becomes more accepted, fashionable and practical we are confident that it is a category that will continue to improve in relevance and importance.

Early on stage 1 we found ourselves leading the race but maybe we got a bit too excited resulting in an impact puncture on the infamous Bee’s singletrack. We managed a quick trackside repair but still had a big chase on our hands due to the speed of the race. We caught back to the leading teams near the summit of the day’s biggest climb, but a second impact

puncture due to our first repair coming undone dashed our hopes. Another cut sustained on the singletrack and a nail – all in the same tyre – had us scratching our heads. By this time we had literally run out of air but thankfully some Samaritans stopped to resupply us. We were obviously disappointed but we put our brave faces on pushing all the way to the finish.

We lost way too much time to be in contention for the overall battle, but still wanted to test our form and seeing that this is mountain biking – anything can happen. Stage 2 went well and we were right in the mix until the final, agonising climb up the aptly named ‘Straight is not great’ when day 1’s efforts caught up to us and our legs gave out. Maybe day 3 would be our day…?

The ‘neutral start’ of stage 3 was possibly the hardest 5min effort of the whole race and saw us losing contact with the leading teams. Experience kicked in and we paced ourselves well over the opening 19km climb to get back to 2nd place. Yolandi was on fire but despite our best efforts we couldn’t catch Pieter and Danielle. They ended up winning the race overall with Jo and Marc in 2nd ahead of us in 3rd.

Obviously we were disappointed in the way things turned out, but we know all too well how the wheel turns/stops/breaks/deflates/deflects/derails etc. We’ll take what we can form this experience and move on knowing that there will always be another race.

Hopefully they can all be as special as the Mankele 3 Towers event – here’s to another 10 years of ‘klapping it’!