A few days prior to the event, a preliminary route was published suggesting a short 3km route with 150 metres of climbing. Not challenging by the high standards set in the first two events of the series. Come Friday practice sessions and it was clear we, the competitors, had all been Punk’d by the organisers. The full course had been lengthened and elevated to read 4.0km and over 200 metres of climbing every lap. It doesn’t sound too bad when you look at those numbers but the climbing sections were brutal on my granny gear. In fact, I think a whole lap could be done in the top sprocket without losing much time at all, such was the ferocity of the gradients.
Nestled on the hillside above Zevenwacht Wine Estate, the XCO course wound its way around Bottelary, utilising sections of the downhill course that hosted an event a few weeks earlier. Competitors were gifted a free bottle of wine with entry, which after practice, the Vets and Masters categories clearly filled their bottles with on race day, judging by the quality of banter on the start line.
Up, up and away. The start immediately got the lactic in your legs burning as you climbed to the highest point on the course, circulating a rather empty looking dam.
The first descent mirrored that of the downhill course but with the monumental gap jumps removed. This still posed a few challenges, skirting around the side of pallet jumps and working out the best rhythm over six fast rollers, a hip jump and some sweeping left right berms that you could really lean on and generate pace out of.
A quick refresh of fuel through the tech zone and it was back into granny gear as you regained some of that lost elevation from the previous descent. The gradients in general were steep but at least steady for the most part, allowing you to find a rhythm and push to capacity. Bar to bar dogfights ensued here all day. Some of the trickier sections on the circuit weren’t technical sections, but the off camber, slow speed corners, riddled with loose marbles, itching to snatch grip away from your front wheel and test your de-cleat reaction time.
The ups often brought out the best in competitors as with the open nature of the course, multiple lines were available seeing riders overtake and then get passed back before the end of the same hill. The youngsters really put in the effort of these sections, mimicking the styles of their World Cup and local heroes, stand climbing and whipping the bike from side to side. Good to see so many of the kids out there too as this is where our future stars are born and their skills honed. By the looks of things it won’t be too long before we see another Hatherly coming out of this series.
Getting back to the closing part of the lap, the only A or B line choice on the course presented itself as a rock garden. Nothing too difficult here, but as always, when the speed increases, so does the technicality. Tired bodies in the later laps were prone to mistakes here, losing time or having to take a nap in some nearby bushes.
From there, a bit more effort and concentration was required to get the bike home, upping the pace as you re-entered a flowy section from the downhill course. Back to granny after that as a serious climb tested morale and staying power as you crested the finish line to start it all over again.
As a whole, the course wasn’t overly technical, but provided skilled riders with opportunities to make up time both up and downhill. Line choice on steeper climbs was key to saving legs and keeping up momentum. A tough track on the body indeed but also very rewarding to complete.
The youngsters made up the bulk of the entries, which is good to see for grassroots mountain biking. Watching Nippers, Sprogs and Sub Juniors tear up a course like this is awesome to see and bodes well for future champs spawning from this series.
While the Elites were a bit thin on numbers (probably due to Joberg2C and upcoming Sani2C) the racing was really close.
A special shoutout has to go to Luke Moir, who bucks the trend by donning clothing designed for a rap video, yet laps faster than just about anyone out there, as a Junior. This kid will go places if he continues like this.
The last event and Western Cape Champs takes place on the 18th May, provisionally at an undisclosed venue, but keep an eye out on Western Province Mountain Biking Commission’s Facebook page for updates.