(Stellenbosch, 28 February 2016) There a few things by which to measure the success of a mountain bike race – the length of the queue outside the portaloos at the start; the dustiness of the faces at the finish and the hand animations during the post-race war stories.
There was a music festival-sized queue outside the long line of loos as the dawn broke crisp and clear at Le Bonheur in the spectacular Greater Simonsberg Conservancy. (Due to nerves rather than need, you must understand). Fast-forward 55km (and 40km) and a substantial time in the saddle on a day that heated well into the high 30s to the jovial finish line where, when riders removed their eyewear to hug and kiss their loyal supporters their eyes were the only dustless bits. From there, the hospitality area sounded like a communal weavers’ nest.
Boxes ticked then.
Sunday saw over 2000 riders tackle the 40 and 55-kilometre routes at Le Bonheur in the spectacular Greater Simonsberg Conservancy. The 55-kilometre route had some 1250-metres of climbing, just a fraction less than in 2015.
According to route designer Meurant Botha the fire didn’t have too much of a detrimental effect on the route. “We had to reroute a couple of sections because of it, but it didn’t affect water point placement so we were fortunate that we didn’t have to redesign the course – we’re probably on 85% of the original route,” he said.
“We also made a change or two, to cut out a couple of climbs, so I think it rode a little bit easier,” Botha added, joking how that might just have been something of a blessing in disguise due to the heat (the thermometer read up to 41 degrees Celsius on some riders’ bike computers and had all tapping the Powerade and Coke-Cola at the water points).
At the sharp-end of the field it was James Reid (Team Spur) and Jennie Stenerhag (Ascedis Health) who dominated the men’s and women’s races respectively to claim the top spots on the day.
Reid – who raced the SA Cup Cross Country series event in the Helderberg the day before – out-sprinted Michiel Van Der Heijden (Scott-ODLO) and Matthew Beers (Cannondale Red-E) to cross the finish line of the 15th annual MTB Challenge first, in a time of 02:14:33.
“I’m very happy with the win,” commented a dusty Reid after the finish. “Especially considering yesterday (he finished an uncharacteristic fifth) – I’ve been putting in a lot more work in than what that race showed, so to take the win here is great,” he said.
According to Reid, the route was exactly what you’d expect from this iconic event and that despite the recent devastating fires in the region. “Hats off to the organisers, there was so much singletrack – 60% was like, on-the-edge, dusty and loose…that is what this race is famous for,” he said.
“The route was spectacular – even though the forest burnt down, there was crazy good singletrack,” commented Van Der Heijden, who is out in South Africa to train, his fourth time here. “I always enjoy these types of races. I did them a couple of times in the US as well and always enjoyed it, you never really know the course and what’s coming next – a climb, or singletrack, which makes for some different racing,” he said.
“We love having the top guys here,” commented David Bellairs, Marketing, Media and Sponsorship Director of the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust, “but really this is a family event and the main aim is getting folks out on mountain bikes and enjoying what we have to offer,” he said.
“The fire was very concerning, but we are pleased with the way it turned out,” agreed David “The route offered some fantastic riding through some really beautiful wine farms,” he said.
If Sunday was all about the racing snakes and serious enthusiasts, Saturday was a family affair. The 14km, 20km and 30km routes offered something for everybody and ideal conditions early on saw riders of all ages (and on all manner of bikes) take to the trails.
The event attracted a number of first-timers who wanted to test their newfound skills on the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy route a testament to the focus on this first day of Cape Town Cycle Tour Lifecycle Week.
The shorter routes had a great mix of scenery – from sheltered forest sections to open vineyard on a high hill. Everyone seemed to be in very high spirits, despite the soaring temperatures later in the morning.
Ultimately, the morning was owned by the kids (one boy even did the 14-kilometre on a Unicycle) with most of the winners for all three of the routes sitting in the 12 – 16 year old age range.
Mountain biking the real winner on the weekend. No doubt…and perhaps next weekend too. “I hope this time next week you are also interviewing a mountain biker as the winner of the Cape Town Cycle Tour,” James Reid joked.