I entered mid last year, but was placed on a waiting list and completely forgot about the race,
As such it was quite a surprise when I received the reminder email in January. But there was one phone call I first had to make —
The race clashed with our five year wedding anniversary. Which is kind of a big thing. But my loving better half gave the thumbs up, on condition that we do something beforehand. Which we did.
Happy days. I was looking forward to it because it was something new, would be my longest MTB ride at the time and also another opportunity to look a the route for the upcoming Cape 1000km. Plus I love going through the Huisrivier pass.
I left Stellenbosch on Thursday afternoon, arrived in Oudtshoorn after dark and checked into an AirBNB. Next time, book a spot at the start venue as the atmosphere is great and you can soak up the experience.
Friday morning was spent in a moment of quiet reflection. A mate of mine lost his mom during the week and it was her funeral at 10am. I sat on the outskirts of Oudtshoorn and jotted down a few words of encouragement. He went through the same just a year ago when his dad passed away and we haven’t seen each other since. Time flies. Make the most of it.
I went for breakfast and flipped open the laptop to get a good morning’s work done, while charging the battery pack for my light. Thereafter I popped into the only cycle shop in Oudtshoorn to buy two water bottles, as I left mine at home.
At to Kleinplaas I found a parking spot right outside the gate and was happy to take it. Then followed a few hours worth of faffing with the bike. I phoned Rob, who did the event last year, for a few tips and he offered some valuable input on clothing.
I tossed the drop boxes aside, opting to take everything I need with me. If it was to get cold while racing I would simply rely on my built-in blanket.
Even in the shade it was ridiculously hot, so I went for a cold shower before jumping into cycling kit. But moments later it proved to have been an exercise in futility. In the words of the Honey Badger, I was sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage.
I saw Markus and friend. They stayed just down the road, also doing the solo event. And Chris rolled in nonchalantly, just minutes before the start. He wasn’t phased at all, mentioning ‘groter dinge’ in the form of the upcoming Cape 1000. He went on to finish 7th in his category and 15th overall. Well done.
Friday 6pm. We lined up to get underway. They mentioned 800 riders but I only saw 530 names on the results afterwards, meaning one in three riders wouldn’t finish. Not sure if this is correct. Anyway, thanks Pawel, I found your route map on RWGPS.
The route is split into four quarters, with checkpoints roughly at 80, 180 and 280 kilometers. Q1 has the highest point, Q2 is rolling hills, Q3 has the most climbing and Q4 packs a punch at the end. There are ten water points in total, roughly every 30kms. This is how it went.
In through the nose and out through the mouth
The start was a dusty affair and you’d really struggle without sunglasses. There was hardly any wind, which is great, but the dust hung around indefinitely.
We switched on our lights within the first hour of riding and continued into the night. The weather was great, not too cold, but a welcome relief after the heat of the day.
CP1 at 80km
First hill done. I got in at 22:30. I used Rob’s time as a gauge, as we ride at the same pace and remember him mentioning midnight, so I happily sat down for a coffee and a hot dog. Fully aware of how much time one can waste at controls, I didn’t linger too long and was off again.
Onto half-way we ended up on a field next to the road. We were forced onto railway tracks and had to cycle on or alongside them for a stretch. This proved rather tricky as there was very little grip on those loose rocks. I’m sure Mannie Heymans would have loved this on his fat bike.
CP2 at 180km
I made decent progress through the rolling hills and got to half-way well before 5am. They offered great lasagna, for which I’d happily cycle back there any day. I later saw Markus, unfortunately not in his cycling kit anymore as he had to abandon due to his chest. Must have been all the dust.
Leaving the halfway mark before 5am, I still had time in the bag for a sub 24hr stint. But I also knew that these great conditions won’t last into the day and things would get considerably tougher and slower in the heat.
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the third quarter of the race, as it contained two huge climbs, the latter being the biggest. The first one went by without too much fuss. But the second one was real value for money. And felt vaguely familiar.
After a few false summits we finally reached the top of Rooiberg. I now had to make up time. Without a trip computer I didn’t have the total kilometers traveled on hand. After the climb both water bottles were empty and I could do with a drink. I asked how far to CP3 and was assured “just 10kms and it is all downhill”. All lies.
It started with the best downhill of the day. By the time you get to the bottom your brakes are boiling. That part was 10km, yes, but there was another 15 kilometers to Calitzdorp. It was hot and dry and I pedaled hard, expecting an oasis around the corner,but it never came.
CP3 at 280km
As I came in I saw Markus again. My sense of humour was fading after the previous stretch and it was good to see a familiar face, but at the same time I was too tired for much conversation and immediately made my way to find a drink and something to eat. Have I mentioned they had the best koeksisters ever?
A number of people bailed at this checkpoint and I wondered what the failure rate was for this race. On my way out I saw someone with a Kroff shirt and asked whether he knew Gerhard van Noordwyk, which he did.
I’ve spent much more time at this checkpoint than I normally would, but even so, didn’t feel as refreshed as I would have liked. I also made a quick call to Valerida.
Sometimes you are more productive on a bicycle than in the office.
Joggie was part of a group of four cyclists. I remember his lime green Cannondale as we have been passing each other all day. This time we struck up a conversation and discussed our hobbies. Turns out we have mutual interests and a seed was planted.
The last climb should not be underestimated. It was around 3pm and still 40 degrees outside. It was a long stretch into the heat of the day. I ran out of water. As did many others. Tempers flared.
I went off course in order to find a tap. Found one at farm workers’ houses and traded some snacks for two full bottles of water — an absolute bargain at the time. A few kilometers later we arrived at the water point.
The penultimate water point sits in the middle of those fangs. On the side of the Swartberg mountains everything looks familiar again. Just about ten kilometers before you start winding down to WP10 and then the finish.
Mirage. After the last water point we traveled on a long flat gravel road, heading towards the flashing blue lights of a police car in the distance. This would be where we turn left onto Route 62 and head back to Oudtshoorn for the last time. But those lights never seem to get any closer.
When I got onto the tar I switched on my lights again as it was just getting dark.
to be seen by traffic. It was just getting dark. This stretch was very fast and just the way you want to finish, on a high. I saw someone on the horizon and tried to chase him down. Nothing like healthy competition.
The last bit in Oudtshoorn to Kleinplaas was a little further than we thought and after a 90 degree right hand turn I had enough in the tank to pass and slip away. Carel Bezuidenhout announces your name across the finish line.
I finished in 24 hours and 40 minutes. Under a day would have been ideal, but I know what to expect for next time. This was, after all, my first mountain bike ride for the year.
The route took its toll and I had to replace a jockey wheel — this was also the first time I attempted anything more advanced than a wheel change myself, so I hope the next blog entry is not one about me crashing down a mountain because of equipment failure.
PS, check out movemybicycle.co.za. Told you some of the best ideas are borne from cycling.