Transbaviaans 1-2-3-4

One of the best MTB races in South Africa, 230km with 2800m up and 3500m down to the coast. Check out the amazing scenery as you enter Nuwekloof.

Full circle. The Transbaviaans is the reason I stumbled across Randonneuring. We were at the 2011 OFM Classic MTB & Road Race weekend in Bloemfontein when I saw a poster at the expo for ‘the toughest single stage race in the world’, or something to that effect. I entered without hesitation and having never done a 200km+ bicycle ride, turned to google. Enter Audax. We’ve come a long way since.

This was my fourth Transbaviaans. With the exception of 2014 (when each of us did his own thing at the check points), we’ve always completed it in around 13¾ hours. Then came a two year gap — in 2015 I was doing PBP and in 2016 I was enjoying time with Number One Son at home.

Grab a team. This year we had a last minute shuffle of team members. Antonie couldn’t make it, nor his mate who had an operation.

Enter Chris and Jamie. Chris is much stronger than us and we would surely test his patience. Jaime and I have spoken over the phone before, but I’ve only met him in person the day before we departed — he promised to bring his British wit.

Eugene have shared many miles with me on a bicycle and I knew that irrespective of whether he’d trained or not (he didn’t), we’d have tons of fun. The four of us made a good crowd, without any hang-ups.

We left Vrede the day before the race and took Route 62, passing the snow-capped Swartberge to Willowmore. Registration was busy, as always. Essentially, we queued for an indemnity signature and a t-shirt — keeping it simple by not using any drop boxes at control points as all you need is a light, really.

Lisa se klavier and the never-ending playlist

We arrived in Willowmore without having booked accommodation and ended up at a biker-type backpackers, Jumpers Place, hosted by Lisa & Rony Desodt. Note to self: never judge a book by its cover. That man has some amazing experience as a marathon runner.

It was freezing outside, but there was a fire inside, so we decided to ditch the tent idea and camp in the entertainment area. Our hosts we easy-going, but warned against their nocturnal customers. We took our chances and slept through the music. How ironic, as I threw away my LEL ear plugs just the day before.

The start

We arrived early and hung around until the national anthem got things going. Our starting position was good and we set off in front of the vast majority. The first seven odd kms out of town really opened up the lungs.

Soon as we hit the open road it became apparent that the headwind wasn’t just a rumour. I’m the slowest climber in our team (to the extent that I don’t think the title applies at all), so got a nudge from Chris up the hills. He operated like an ant, pushing many times his own body weight over the first 30kms. I’m sure his upper body is going to take much longer to recover from this ride than his legs.

To CP1 at 52km. I smiled as we came to the last corner before descending into the nature reserve. This is where I bought a piece of land in spectacular fashion during our 2013 edition. Won’t make that mistake again. And now the fun started. We flew to the first checkpoint and had some roosterkoek, while waiting for everyone to regroup.

To CP2 at 102km. This 50km stretch was pretty much all down when looking at the elevation profile, however it didn’t necessarily feel so with the wind and the corrugated road surface. Went past the police station and our English friend saw some horses running alongside us. We reached CP2 soon enough and sampled some melkies.

To CP3 at 123km. With only 20kms between checkpoints 2 and 3, there had to be a climb and it came in the form of the Baviaans Back. On the descent we passed a crash, stopped to offer help and heard the medics were on their way.

When we regrouped at the bottom, Eugene & Jaime said the saw a second crash on the descent. This control is one of my favourites and the the venison sosaties alone is enough reason the enter again for next year.

To CP4 at 140km. This was the big one. The two fangs were freshly resurfaced, so the steep gradients felt easier than before. The mother of all climbs also had a facelift since our previous encounter, now complete with cement jeep tracks all the way to the top.

Even though slow, I really enjoyed the climb, especially since we were ahead of schedule and would have a bit of daylight on the descent. We found Chris at the king of the mountain flags  just before the checkpoint, where he took a 20 minute break while waiting for us lot.

Bergplaas. The pit stop was brief. I had two cokes, filled my water bottle, put on a warm layer and was ready to go, without even sample the soup. Englishman sure did, going back for seconds and thirds.

Although we switched on the lights by now, it wasn’t completely dark and definitely easier & safer coming down the Big Dipper. We reached silly speeds on the descent. I would love to do this every weekend.

To CP5 at 172km. We were out of the Baviaanskloof nature reserve. Our group split into two, Chris & myself and Eugene & Jaime. The stretch to Hadleigh (which I always remember as Patensie) is nice and fast and by now the extreme corrugation was behind us. We came into town on the tar road and I had a chip roll with a side serving of hiccups at the checkpoint, but felt great.

Earlier on I had to bomb my rear tyre. Then Eugene & Jaime replaced the former’s rear derailleur cable. Now Chris had a front wheel that kept on deflating. Before we left CP5 he tried the foam on hand at the mechanics, but it failed and we noticed a sidewall cut just after leaving the checkpoint. I handed him a tube with sealant and he went back to the light, while the three of us slowly carried on, as the last big hill was around the corner.

Up until now the pace was fast enough for us not to have many conversations, but with Korporaal momentarily out of the picture, us three inmates promptly slowed down and talked some rubbish. Eugene was congratulating Jaime on his personal best in terms if distance, every couple of kms.

Nipples. The tiny elevation profile sticker on my top tube made it look as if we had to cross two nipples before the last big climb, the Never-Ender, but on closer inspection of the RWGPS map afterwards there was clearly only one. Such was my delight when I thought we’re still busy with the second nipple but realized we have finished the whole thing.

Chris caught us before the secret control at CP6. Turns out the tube I gave him was faulty, so he had to find another, and when he eventually left the tar road outside of CP5, he realised his sling bag was still at the mechanics so had to turn around yet again. This gave him ample time to pedal fast, while we were taking taking it slow.

Secret CP6. I have missed this secret control on previous occasions, however tonight was perfect outside with clear skies, no wind and great visibility and we got our secret control point sticker. It must have been no more than 5kms to the last checkpoint.

To CP7 at 199km. Jaffles and melkies. It was around 21:45 when we reached the last checkpoint, with 25kms to go. With a bit of luck we could finish under 13 hours in stead of 14. We left at 21:58 and pedaled towards J-Bay’s lights in the distance.

To the finish at 230km. The jeep track section was much faster than what I remember from previous years. We went over Mini-MAC without any much fuss and sprinted down the fine white  gravel section while overtaking a couple of teams before the tar road. And then the train tracks. It was slightly uphill and took longer than anticipated. I checked my watch and we approached the finish line at just over 13 hours.

Done. We finished 54th out of 450 teams. My fastest, Eugene’s unfittest, Jaime’s longest and Chris’ slowest one — we appreciate his patience.

I heard the winning times were much slower than before and the conditions weren’t easy, so very pleased with our result. Thanks chaps, great weekend, let’s do so again. Pics by Jacques Marais and Anton Havenga.

  1. 2012: 13:47 #128 with Eugene
  2. 2013: 13:46 #163 Eugene, Antonie
  3. 2014: 14:16 #142 Coenie, Antonie
  4. 2017: 13:10 #54 us four here
  5. When can I do number five?

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