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!
Report by Enduren Athletes: Ben-Melt Swanepoel and Yolandi du Toit