The U kicked off on Friday afternoon with a 9 km Prologue which although optional, is a great way to get a feel for the terrain and hook up a seeding for the next stage.
Stage 1 or “Episode 1” is a 50 km route with 1500 metres of climbing. On paper, it might look like a gentle day out, don’t be fooled. A thrilling descent down Livingstone drops you around 400 metres to the Piketberg Valley floor, where after a short breather you head straight back up the Ossewa Pas, a 3.5 km climb with an average gradient close on 12%, bouncing into the 20% range now and then to test the legs.
And just when you think the climbing is done for the day the second half of the route winds you up and over just about every koppie in the valley in search of single track. And there is plenty of single track at The U, but you need to measure your efforts to ensure you can enjoy it.
Video: Highlights from the Prologue and Episode 1
The U Experience
With temperatures spiking in the upper thirties many had a tough day out on the first stage, but with a race village setting like this and the incredible hospitality, the efforts of the day were well rewarded.
Venturescape Events, a new partner to The U, put together a race village experience like none I've encountered. A full bar set up, outdoor lounges, bean bags and plenty room to relax.
For afternoon entertainment, among other activations, a pop-up Fitch and Leedes gin bar serving a special batch of Hope on Hopkins Gin made from Citrus on the Farm.
Topped off with an abundance of food, barista made coffee on the house and snacks pocketed around the venue. We didn't want to leave.
The second stage follows a 55 km route with around 1400 metres of climbing. Cooler weather and an earlier start were welcomed by the riders as we set off to the west of the race village. Where the previous day was characterised by heat, dry dusty trails and endless climbs, Episode 2 is all about the winding rocky trails on terrain were trails seemingly shouldn't exist.
When the Starke Family and their team at the Mouton’s Valley Farm are not farming, they’re building trails up in the hills above the farm. Much like all aspects of the event, the trails are unique, routing you across every inch of the mountain and requiring constant focus to avoid the array of rocks and fynbos ready to “welcome” you.
Video: Experience Episode 2
I joked with my riding partner that for most stage races single tracks are a feature, but at The U they’re pretty much the route. And that’s no joke: some rough maths guesses point to well over 90% of the route being some kind of single track.
Having attended three of the four editions of The U MTB Stage Race, each year has been an improvement on the last. The attention to detail in all aspects, from the route to the incredible hospitality and events within the event - all make it a truly unique and special race. This year the bar was set high for future editions of The U and every other event you’ll attend or consider after....