A similar course was used to the one raced at last year’s Western Cape Champs. It starts off with a relatively rocky, medium incline climb, that on the opening lap turned into one mammoth max sprint interval that just would not end. After being congratulated by my Garmin on a new max heart-rate record, the first tech section gave riders limited options for recovery. The choice of A or B lines represented big gains here and during practice sessions, A-liners could string out as much as 14 seconds over the B-liners.
I spent much time during the week sussing out the A-line and dialling in the fastest and safest way through it. Once you fully committed to the mountainous boulder at the start of the A line, the rest of the section comes at you like a flurry of blows from a young Manny Pacquiao. 20 seconds after dropping in you’ve negotiated three drop-offs, two high walled berms, a flat out rock garden, a floaty gap jump (I lost count of the wipeouts I saw here during practice), three more drops and a whoops section that reminded me of my old motocross days.
A quick look down at my Garmin and apparently there was another new heart-rate record to be congratulated about, although probably more from panic than exertion.
Five climbs a lap! And a lap is only 4km long. The climbs aren’t steep as you would see at a World Cup course in the mountains of Switzerland, but the course builders made up for that with technical features. In Durbanville’s case, the abundance of rocks makes every corner a balancing act and traction test. It never feels like you can build a nice climbing rhythm as you’re constantly fighting your bike and balance, but that’s how an XCO course should be right?
Good old Lombard’s Terra came in for some serious abuse over the two days of traffic. It is the main descent line on the course, with high berms that at this time of year are dry and dusty resulting in lumps and bumps mid-corner from back brakes and sliding rear tyres. I’m sure I saw the local Tygerberg MTB Club chief trail builder, Patrick Roberts having some sort of seizure out on course as he logged all the maintenance requests coming his way. Also, to all the competitors, check your brake lines, he wasn’t just cutting off the cable ties of your number boards at the finish…
As a whole, the course rode well and with its locality to Cape Town drew in a big crowd over both days, thanks no doubt to the international field in both men’s and ladies’ Elite fields. If you want to see some pretty epic start line videos, have a browse through Instagram as the dust storm created by the huge elite field at the start looks incredible, and also impossible to see through if you weren't on the front two rows.
Our local riders certainly put on a good show against some of the world’s best riders. Alan Hatherly was the top placed South African rider in the Elite Men on both days, placing 5th on day 1 and getting a podium (3rd) on day 2. The first day was won by Matthias Stirnemann and the second day by Henrique Avancini - he only raced on day 2.
Britain's Annie Last won both days in the Elite Ladies category, with Kathrin Stirnemann and SA’s Mariska Strauss picking up second and third respectively on both days.
There are certainly some exciting juniors coming through the ranks as their times were not that far off the elites and the huge fields (50 plus in the Junior Men) will only strengthen the crop of upcoming XCO talent.
A final shoutout to the ‘older’ categories who turned out in record numbers too, not only in quantity but in unsubstantiated smack talk on the start line.
Don’t forget to sign up and enter round 2 of the SRAM WC XCO Series in association with Tygerberg MTB Club, brought to you by the Western Province Mountain Biking Commission. Little is known about the next venue, but whispers are around of a new venue in Stellenbosch for the 16 March. Be sure to keep an eye open on Western Province Mountain Biking Commission’s social media for more details shortly.