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’!

Race Report: Die Boertjiefees (The Little Farmer’s Festival)

Until last week we had never heard of the Boertjiefees, but it just goes to show how riding a bike can lead to new and fun experiences.

It all came about when we were invited to my dad’s birthday party. As you can imagine, quite a few of my kin are partial to a bike ride and with the Boertjiefees taking place in close proximity it wasn’t long before a plan was hatched to race our bikes before the evening’s festivities.

With our spirits high and our thoughts on the coming celebrations, we piled into cars and drove to the tiny Free State town of Bultfontein where quite unexpectedly a highly organized showground awaited us. Trail runners jogged past us as we entered and lined up in a small field for a flat and fast course around the maize fields which stretched as far as the eye could see.

In stark contrast to the town’s name, there wasn’t a hill (Bult) in sight, but instead the landscape had shallow dips and rises which gnawed at our legs as we made our way around the race route. To make things interesting a strong wind picked up and sandy patche

s made the going tough in a few spots. As it turned out the sand and the wind were the main factors in splitting the main race.

I rode the 50km race with my sister and we had so much fun that we took a ‘wrong turn’ making our race 10km longer than expected. No stress – that just meant we had more time on the bike to catch up while getting in a few extra training miles.

Melt rode the 70km event with my brother in law and the 2 of them ended up in the lead group. Wimpie ran out of steam with 20km to go so Melt took matters into his own hands going solo to the line.

There was no other way to end an event like this but to have post race Boerie-rolls (South African version of a hot dog) and pancakes while trading war stories about the day’s proceedings.

You can imagine a day that starts like this was the perfect prelude to a pretty good evening and I’ll leave it at that…

Race Report: The Garmin MTB Classic – Bike racing for the right reason!

Yolandi joined Garmin in 2013 and has become synonymous with the brand. I joined her as a brand ambassador in 2015 and in 2016 I graduated to full Garmin colours when we formed Team Garmin MTB. Ever since then we have been competing as a team under the auspices of Garmin, providing us with the perfect platform to share our passion for cycling. This might not seem like a long time, but in sporting terms it may as well be an eternity. It is not often one gets a world leading brand like Garmin showing such faith in, and loyalty to individuals and we are proud to be some of the athletes they choose to support.

With all this as background you can imagine how much it means to us when Garmin sees fit to organise a mountain bike event and instead of us visiting the office, the office comes to us! It was really cool to see the whole gang come out to support the inaugural Garmin MTB Classic this past Saturday. Some took part in the race, some worked on the sidelines, but we all enjoyed a hugely successful first running of the event.

To get as many people as possible to join in the fun and make the race really accessible, the entry fee was a mere R50 with the excess being subsidised by Garmin. So for the same money you would normally spend on entry at a bike park, you got entry to the race complete with goodie bag and all the other regular trimmings of a Velocourse organized event.

The one factor no one can control is weather and as luck would have it a big storm blew in on Friday night and we feared the worst. Luckily just enough rain fell to turn the dusty trails into ‘hero dirt’ making a really fun course even more enjoyable. The cool temperatures might have had a few fans shivering in the early hours, but it was perfect for cyclists who worked up a sweat criss-crossing the Big Red Barn trails.

Team Garmin was seeded at the head of affairs and we did all we could to maintain our positions as the race started 7:30am sharp. Not knowing who was behind or what might happen out on course Yolandi pushed hard all the way around the 55km course, ultimately winning the ladies race in a time of 2h17min.

Constant pressure on the front of the race soon dwindled the leading pack to a trio of riders in the opening 15km. Jan Withaar punctured in the most unfortunate of circumstances leaving me to do battle with Kyle Brummer for the win. I got away from him with a bout 20km left to race and went on to record a very proud double win for Team Garmin MTB in ‘our’ race.

Last week we said how nice it was to be part of the inaugural running of an event, so you can imagine the pride we felt competing in and taking the spoils at the first ever Garmin MTB Classic. We couldn’t ask for more and even the sun came out as we spent the rest of the day hanging out with everyone that came to support the event. It was really cool to see Garmin’s vision for the event unfold as friends and families united around a bike race making for a fun day out for everyone!

Now that is what it’s all about!

TeamGarminMTB Race Report: The Bank Gaborone Quest – Fun on and off the bike!

The inaugural Bank Gaborone Quest was held this past weekend and Team Garmin MTB packed our bags and headed to Botswana for our first ‘international event’ of 2019  Granted, it’s only a car drive away but it sure feels adventurous crossing the border to get to a bike race.

Two stages of about 60km each awaited us in and around Gaborone, the capitol of Botswana. The typically flat terrain was fun to ride but as a race course it presented its own challenge requiring constant pressure on the pedals to stay in the game. Straying from the abundant singletrack was at your own risk with plenty of thorns lying in wait meaning equipment, skill and a bit of luck was crucial. Although there were a few sandy patches (aka Botswana hills), the trails flowed very nicely considering we were at the back end of a dry winter.

The race is called a ‘Quest’ and with good reason… The route was very well marked with little green markers, but following them while racing flat out proved quite a challenge. As soon as you lost concentration you would miss a turn requiring only a small correction, but a big effort to get back up to speed. After a while it became apparent that the best way was to stay calm and focus rather than go for the all out, guns blazing approach. Following the locals who knew the trails and using the markers as confirmation also helped a lot.

Talking about locals, Tim Hammond was on fire leading from the front. Like last weekend, Melt and Tim rode together for most of the way on both days but Tim proved stronger powering away at the end of each stage to win both stages and the overall with Melt in second on both days and on the General Classification.

I made life difficult for myself by missing a turn on day 1 and inadvertently following the green markers from another race. Luckily I could use my Garmin 1030 to get back on the correct route and chased back to the leaders. I managed to win both stages and the overall in the ladies category completing a successful weekend for Team Garmin.

Apart from the racing the event offered a variety of entertainment with bands playing live music, Dylan Victor wowing the crowd with his trials riding, an assortment of food stalls and a kid’s play park. It is not often a 2 day stage race is hosted in and around a country’s capitol making off the bike activities all the more important to keep non riders and fans engaged.

The icing on the cake for us was being hosted by the local Garmin distributor and race organiser. They took us into their homes and looked after us like we were VIP’s making it very hard to head home after 2 days of fantastic hospitality.

Being part of the inaugural edition of any event is special as it becomes the reference point for all that follows. We look forward to growing with this event and being back in Botswana soon for another Team Garmin adventure!

Next up is our very own Garmin MTB Classic to be held this Saturday at the Big Red Barn in Midrand. If you can, come and join in all the family fun!

Race Report: The @jockclassic – how to beat the winter blues! @GarminSA

True to its name the Jock Classic is one of the ‘classics’ on the local road race calendar. The race has undergone several changes in ownership, format and race route since its inception in 1983, but it seems to have settled on its current format of 3 stages in one day. The first stage takes riders from Nelspruit to White River, then on to Sabie for stage 2 and finally back to Nelspruit over Long Tom pass on stage 3 for a total of 154km with 2900m of ascent.

Proceedings got underway at 6:50 am on Saturday for the small field of Elite ladies. With a few of the age category bunches being pretty small, it would be nice if we started together to perhaps add another dimension to the racing which can become predictable as there was basically 1 ladies team (Demacon) dominating events with their superior numbers. Be that as it may it was encouraging to see some of the individual/privateer ladies willing to take the racing on and be positive throughout the day. Especially Zanri Rossouw (4th), Lauren Walker (5th) and Danielle van Graan rode particularly well taking the racing on and giving their all on every stage.

As expected the climbs made the difference and each stage finished in a reduced bunch sprint with the Demacon team having the strength and numbers to play tactics. I finished 2nd on the first stage and 3rd on stages 2 and 3 for a 2nd place overall behind Carla Oberholzer and ahead of Mauritian Kim Le Court, both from Demacon.

For every climb there was a descent and I loved my new Merida Reacto Team bike (Northern Lights special edition I might add!) which seemed like an unfair advantage every time the road tilted down and I went sailing past my competitors. By no means was the bike slow on the climbs either, it was just that it was ridiculously fast every time we went downhill.

In all the Jock Classic was a fantastic event with good organization and a tough route. Being held in winter in the Lowveld it is a fantastic opportunity to escape the winter cold which grips most of South Africa this time of year and get in some scenic miles on the bike. In between the stages everybody had a chance to socialize and share war stories before tackling the next stage with renewed energy. Long may this race continue to survive!

 

 

Race Report: The PWC Great Zuurberg Trek – Sour (Zuur) by name, but sweet in taste! @zuurbergtrekker

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.

The KAP @_sani2c – Team Garmin MTB bags a big one!

At 14 years old Sani2C is one of the grand old ladies on the mountain bike stage racing scene. The race derives its name from the route starting at Glencairn close to the foot of Sani Pass, flowing South East to finish at Scottburgh on the Indian Ocean.

The route hasn’t changed much since inception, BUT it has been refined, sculpted and polished to deliver one of the most rewarding experiences one can have on a mountain bike. As such it has become a must-do event and a fine feather in your cap should you manage to take victory.

Having been around for a while and with a lot of other stage races popping up, the ch

allenge for Sani2C is how to stay relevant, but luckily they have a dynamic and passionate management team to lead the charge. Glen Haw, affectionately known as Farmer Glen, and his team/family have managed to successfully combine the goals of the race with supporting the local communities and that has given sponsors plenty of return on investment while contributing to a world class event.

Being avid mountain bikers themselves, the Sani2C team also have an eye for detail when it comes to enhancing one’s experience at the event. Comfortable mattresses, clothes dry racks and plentiful ablutions might not sound all that luxurious, but after a hard day of racing these practical comforts become more important than a DSTV subscription!

We kicked off proceedings in thick mist as we rolled away from Glencairn en route to McKenzie Club. Yolandi and I managed to distance the other mixed teams early in the stage but as the mist gave way to glorious sunshine Joanna van der Winkel and Marc Rodrigues caught back up to us. Joanna is a former Olympian road cyclist and Marc a former professional runner so we knew we had a race on our hands. We attacked on a steep climb with 15km remaining, opening up a decent gap by the time we rolled over the finish line to take our first stage win. The time gained on stage one would also prove significant by the time we reached Scottburgh.

Stage 2 at Sani2C is the Queen stage, characterized by the infamous ‘Umko drop’ and daunting ‘Iconic climb’ which takes riders into and out of the mighty Umkomaas River valley. The precipitous plunge down the Umkomaas Valley was where we made our move, forcing open a gap to our pursuers. They slowly made their way back to us on the long drag out of the valley and the ridiculously steep Iconic climb, further aided by a big group on the interminable district road just before the 2nd waterpoint. With less than 20km to go they were within 10seconds of us, but we forced the issue in the finale and took a second stage win to bolster our lead with another 40seconds.

Stage 3 is normally a fast affair from Jolivet Farm down to Scottburgh and this year was no different. Being strong climbers Joanna and Marc threw everything they had at us up the first few steep inclines but we matched them every time. After the opening skirmishes they started sitting on and it became clear they were readjusting their sights and going for a stage win. That was fine with us and we continued setting the pace for the next 50km to the finish. In the final sprint they just managed to pip us to the line but we were satisfied to take overall honours and the strong competition borne out by our 19th place overall made the victory even sweeter.

The fact that Sani2C gave equal exposure to all the racing categories was very motivating. Looking at the steady increase in Mixed Teams at events this is surely a trend set to continue as more ladies enter the sport and couples view events as a weekend away.

Long may Sani2C prosper and continue to play a pivotal role in setting the standard for mountain bike stage races the world over.

 

@joBerg2C_ – A journey worth taking!

As the name suggests, joBerg2C takes riders from Johannesburg, the economic hub of South Africa, to the sea finishing at the Indian Ocean on Scottburgh beach after 9 days of riding and racing.
 
Craig Wapnick, Glenn Haw (of Sani2C fame) and Gary Green (of Berg & Bush fame) are the organizers and their philosophy about mountain biking permeates through the event endearing it with a unique feel.
 
Unlike other events the race starts and finishes with neutral stages where all competitors have to complete the stage, but time is not taken. This leaves the middle 7days to be raced and make no mistake – this is a race!
 
Taking riders from the Highveld, through rolling mielie (maize) fields of the Free State, down the Drakensberg escarpment, across the Natal Bushveld and finally to the Ocean, it is a 900km journey offering a complete challenge to riders’ fitness, skill and resolve while showcasing some of South Africa’s hidden beauty.
 
Along the way we made overnight stops in Frankfort, Reitz and Sterkfontein dam where true Free State farming hospitality awaited us. Emseni camp and Clifton school were next where the friendly Natal Midlanders did all they could to make us feel at home. Finally we were on to the Sani2C route where the seasoned hosts at Glencairn, Jolivet and Mackenzie Club did their thing to aid in our final push to the line. Each and every race village had its own persona but the commonalities were the extremely friendly hospitality, and the abundance (and variety) of food ensuring racers couldn’t go undernourished. In fact, most were complaining that they would put on weight through the event despite cycling around 100km’s each day!
 
Team Garmin MTB raced in the highly competitive Mixed Category, aptly named the AmaBokkeBokkie Global Mixed Category Championships. In much the same vein as last year we finished 4th every day to finish 4th overall despite delivering a much improved performance compared to 2017. Ahead of us were Team Dormakaba (Arno du Toit and Amy McDougall), last year’s champions Team Summit (Darren and Candice Lill) and Team Surgeons for little lives/Mitas tires (Johan Labuschagne and Catherine Williamson).
 
What stands out about this event is that the time spent racing each other was the only time people had their ‘game faces’ on. The moment we stepped off our bikes it was a relaxed atmosphere with the accompanying camaraderie borne out of the challenge of covering the 900km journey.
 
We are already looking forward to the 10th edition of this race in 2019!