Ride report: Single track stoke at The U

The third edition of The U mountain bike stage race took place in Piket-Bo-Berg from 19-21 October 2018. Billed as “SA’s Single Track Stage Race”, the relative newcomer is a small boutique event which lives up to the hype.

 

The U is a two and a half day mountain bike stage race which kicks off on the Friday afternoon with a short 7.9 km prologue to get in tune with the trails and set your seeding for the first true stage on Saturday. The event traverses the vast network of private single track laced across local farms around Moutons Valley.

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Both stages are around 50 km long with approximately 1600m and 1400m of climbing on stages one and two respectively. Don’t let the distances fool you, though. There are few restful kilometres in those figures, but that’s a good thing. The U talks proudly of its single track density and so it should. Over the two (and a half) days riders are treated to absolute single track delight.

 

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Episode 1 (Stage 1) is 49.8 kilometres long with 1567 meters of ascending. It features the 5 kilometre “let the brakes go” descent down “Livingstone & Stanley” followed immediately by the long climb back up the “Ossewa Pas”. That morning we emerged from our battered tents to an uncharacteristic gale force wind pummelling the race village. With parts of the route placing riders precariously on the mountainside, safety was the key concern. After a slight start time delay, some route checks and calls for additional medical support, it was announced that the “race” would go on as a neutral, untimed stage.

 

For the large majority of the field that didn’t change much. We were there to enjoy the trails and challenge ourselves. And so we did! “Hello Kitty”, “Dammit”, “Fairy Meadows”, “River Run” - just a handful of the single tracks of the day, all meticulously date stamped and marked by sturdy engraved wooden panels.

 

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Craig Kolesky sporting the official The U trail shirt provided to all participants courtesy of good folks at Enjoy Fitness.

1-24.jpgA good spread at the water points.
1-71.jpgAnd even a little something to numb the pain.

 

 

After a great day out on bikes, it was all about the beanbags and beers beside the dam. Sharing stories of stoke with fellow riders and high-fiving the trail builders. When it eventually came time to call it a night riders moseyed off to one of three accommodation options available at The U: standard tents, luxury tents, and deluxe tented cabins. The wind aside, each offered its own comforts and even at the entry-level it was comfortable with always clean ablution facilities and minimal shower queues.

 

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An idyllic race village beside the dam.

 

Perhaps the only criticism to be had was that there just wasn’t enough food on the dinner tables to fully satisfy hungry bike riders. The restaurant-chef prepared food was delicious... most people just wanted a little bit more. For a young, growing event it’s no doubt a pain point that will be swiftly addressed, especially considering the sharp attention to detail paid to all aspects of the event.

 

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The CBC beer station watched over by Ewie, the official unofficial race mascot often (or not) found hiding out on route.

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Truth Coffee helped to kickstart the day. Each rider received a complementary The U / Truth takeaway mug along with two coffee vouchers.

 

Episode 2 (Stage 2) took riders on a 51 km route across the opposite side of the valley with 1418 meters of climbing. Thankfully on Sunday morning, we awoke to less wind and clear skies signalling a hot day ahead. After some dusty and loose trails on Episode 1, the day’s stage provided some contrast with its natural rocky trails threaded between giant boulders and dense fynbos.

 

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Despite having experienced the magic of these trails at the same event in 2016, it’s almost impossible to comprehend how many of the trails were imagined, let alone crafted. Criss-crossing the hills above the race village, the trails weave audaciously over, through, between, and under rocks to create a near perfect flow on terrain which quite often shouldn’t be rideable.

 

One of the defining features of this event is the trails. For most riders, they are physically and technically challenging, but generous in their rewards. Between the frequent rushes of stoke and fragrances of Buchu, you can’t help but think “Who on earth was bold enough to build out here?”.

 

 

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Wait! Is that an E-bike? Participants could book a slot to test out a Specialized Turbo Levo on the 7.9km prologue course on a separately timed lap. No e-assistance for your race seeding, but it was a great opportunity to test out an E-bike in the wild with some prizes on offer for those atop the leaderboard.

Turbo Levo Winner Adrienne Moolman.jpgAdrienne Moolman was the leading Turbo Levo in the Women's category.
Turbo Levo Winner Fritz Pienaar.jpgRenowned mountain biker Fritz Pienaar claimed the Men's Turbo Levo win.

 

DSC03300.jpgEven the race number boards each had a personal touch.
DSC04242.jpgA nice take on a race "medal". Custom plates and all.
DSC03302.jpgA creative take on a seeding board. Find your photo to see your start batch.

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It's (mostly) a family affair! Moutons Valley farm owners Eric and Michelle Starke, along with their daughters & partners were instrumental in keeping the wheels turning behind the scenes and providing warm hospitality to all.

 

DSC04230.jpgSome parting gifts from members of the local community who benefit from the race.
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11 Comments

Jacquers, Oct 25 2018 11:16

That looks fantastic!

Meezo, Oct 25 2018 12:15

would really love to do this race, but imo that price tag is a reach too far...

Headshot, Oct 25 2018 01:29

Just did a double take and I'm still confused. Were the winners on eBikes? What about the people who actually pedalled themselves all by themselves?

 

The cost of events like this is prohibitive. And then there isn't enough food? No way.

Nick, Oct 25 2018 01:34

Just did a double take and I'm still confused. Were the winners on eBikes? What about the people who actually pedalled themselves all by themselves?

 

The winners were not on ebikes. There was an optional ebike race on the 8km prologue route.

Jewbacca, Oct 25 2018 02:48

Just did a double take and I'm still confused. Were the winners on eBikes? What about the people who actually pedalled themselves all by themselves?

 

The cost of events like this is prohibitive. And then there isn't enough food? No way.

It's the first time they used a caterer like this, so there were some shortfalls. There were a lot of between meal snacks provided that some people missed unfortunately.

 

While I do agree that it is 'expensive', it is also sold out so 'prohibiting' might not be the best term.

 

It isn't a money making racket and it isn't an effort to fleece the clients. Every single cent made over the weekend goes towards education and sustainability in the community. It ALL goes back to support those who keep the farms operational and their families.

 

The initiative is fantastic and hats off to the Starke's, the Ince family and the Joostes for their amazingly awesome brainchild.

 

Such an great group of guys and gals out there this year in trying conditions. Cramps were real!

 

Always a privilege to be a part of an event like this. 

Brenden73, Oct 25 2018 03:54

The best trails I’ve ever ridden at any event. There isn’t even a close second. Great people and fantastic organization. Very clean facilities. Spectacular setting. A true privilege to participate. However, please get rid of cauliflower, beetroot and couscous. Cheeseburgers and pasta would have been sooooo good.

Chain-L, Oct 25 2018 07:05

Must agree...a greasy cheeseburger for Sunday lunch with a huge Coke would have been the perfect ending to a perfect weekend!!

Will the results be published anywhere?

MikeyB, Oct 25 2018 08:40

I was lucky to get a late entry from the waitlist and my only regret was that I wasn’t in better shape to enjoy the incredible trails! Value for money is in the eye of the beholder, and in the words of Farmer Glen, the trail is King, so long live the King!
Seeing the enthusiasm of the staff assisting in all departments to make our weekend so enjoyable & now knowing that all funds raised go back to support the local communities and MTB projects, it looks like an absolute bargain...and I’m sure next year will be a vleis festival!

Lighthouse, Oct 26 2018 08:43

Looks really incredible.

 

Where do you find 2019 entries and what is the cost?

Master216, Oct 26 2018 01:50

Had such a amazing time, unreal bike riding!

 

Only improvement would be for supper/dinner size to be upsized  at least 3 times (not all of us like being skinny like Rikus)

 

Anyone know where we can find the results?

Today's Plan, Oct 29 2018 09:50

Rivals some best trails in the country and location for any stage race (globally???). South Africa set's the bar when it comes to stage racing and this is a boutique event which offers proper mountain biking for SkillFit riders ! Food was delicious.