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’!