The third instalment of the annual EzelEnduro went down this past weekend, delivering the predicted intensity and a record attendance with another new face on the top of the podium.
A shortened distance of 36 km and a reduced number of stages meant things were a little easier this year-round compared to 2016, however, the traditional EzelEnduro-sting-in-the-tail that is stage 4 and 5 still remained in place to separate the men from the boys. A brand new stage 1 eased riders into a fast and flowing introduction before heading off to stage 2 which was last year’s stage 1. Stage 3 wrapped up the easy side of things before riders traversed to stage 4, which included an hour’s hike-a-bike over some steep terrain to the top of the stage. The extremely rough and sometimes invisible, rocky stage took riders anywhere from 8 to 34 minutes to complete before heading back up the same mountain for the start of stage 5 to do it all again. From the 96 brave starters, 71 persevered and made it to the bottom, doubling last year’s number of 37.
At the sharp end of the field, it would be the day of the 16-year-old KZN local, Keira Duncan. Suffering only one minor mechanical in the form of a broken spoke, he put together the perfect combination of speed and preservation and finished in a total race time of 25:25. Only 49 seconds behind him in 2nd place was the always flying, always here-to-win Gary Barnard with a time of 26:14. And an even smaller margin of 15 seconds separated him from 3rd placed Chris Nixon with a time of 26:31. An incredible 4th place went to the youngest rider of the day, Luke Moir. The 14-year-old put in the race run of his life but lost out to 3rd position by less than a minute.
Camp vibes, food preparation for race day and discussions about just how treacherous stage 4 and 5 will be.
A record number of entrants made their way to Ceres for this year's EzelEnduro. It's great to see the number growing and that riders are after a more challenging event.
What was awesome about this year’s Ezel, is the numbers are here, more female riders, more youngsters - which are at the top of the field - and a lot of people volunteering to make everything work. It just validates what we are trying to do in offering a more technical and challenging enduro scene.
An early evening for most, as race day started at 5:30 am and the predicted finish time for most riders only in the late afternoon.
Up at the crack of dawn, and the obligatory gas-burner coffee.
I couldn't believe how many people got to the end of stage 5 - it's pretty gnarly. There's a nice mix of riders, from the usual guys, to guys who just started enduros and more women. And I don't think the stages got easier, I really think that the riders got better, and people are pushing themselves. So congratulations to the riders who got down some pretty gnarly stuff - because that stuff doesn't exist anywhere else in South Africa.
Rupert von Tutschek
The morning started out super nippy, however, the temperatures soon soared as the sun peaked over the eastern peaks of Ezelfontein.
Route profiles... a reminder of what's to come, and how you haven't prepared enough.
Rocky, scary, long, intense, unrelenting, descending madness. That’s basically what it was. The technique for this event is maybe not so much to go fast, but to go semi fast, and save your bike and body and not try and be a hero.
Race briefing by Rupert von Tutschek to make sure no one gets lost out there. The event piggybacked on the same weekend as the Eselfontein festival, so multiple events briefly made use of the same trails and liaisons, and getting lost was a real possibility as Theo Erlangsen found out.
Liaison 1 golden hour goodness. A mild 5km climb took riders to the top of Stage 1 to ease into the day with a nice, fast and flowy section of dust and speed.
This one was by far my best feeling EzelEnduro. It’s the first time I’ve done it on a full suspension bike. It’s also the first time I haven’t crashed on the actual race - although I did have a big crash last night coming back from the party. But what a fantastic day out. Stage 5 was quite something to behold - it was amazing. The new bike felt great. It was a big weekend for me cause I had serious concerns about coming out of this one with the bike in one piece - and it all held together beautifully, so I’m a happy man.
The Red Bull truck providing beats and motivation during the last steep climb of Liaison 1.
Matt Lombardi lighting up Stage 1 and going for gold. Misfortune in the form of a broken jockey on Stage 4 would see Matt's chances of taking the win, fly out the window though. Winning it in year one and coming 3rd last year, Matt was looking to take back the top spot, but the rock gods of EzelEnduro had decided his fate.
My ride was going well up until a few hundred metres down stage 4. Something on my bike hit a rock and sent me over the bars (I think) and broke my handlebars and tore my derailleur off the hanger. Stages 1 to 3 were good. I really enjoyed stage 1 - it was fast and flowy which is nice. It was a lovely day, except for stage 4!
Adam van der Ploeg
Dave Hartley - full gas down Stage 1.
Dust, dust, dust. The surface would soon change into a rocky, bouldery nightmare.
Race went well. Was a bit easier than what I expected, but by the end of the day I was wrecked. I ended up cramping as I came to the finish of stage 5. The trails were super rad, nice and loose and unfortunately a bit drier than last year. I’m chuffed the bike held together and I held together. The only mechanical I had was a broken spoke on stage 4, which I just taped up to the spoke next to it so that I could finish. This whole season I haven’t had any major mechanicals or any punctures. It does come down to how you ride at the end of the day - what lines you ride, how smooth you ride etc.
Keira Duncan | King of EzelEnduro
Luke Moir - 4th.
Keira Duncan - 1st
Dave Mercer on his hand-built, steel frame, full suspension steed. What a way to test and a prove the capabilities of this bike!
Chris Nixon - 3rd
Gina Nixon - 1st female.
No amount of asking people what it’s like can actually prepare you for what it’s like. During the first 3 stages I thought, yeah I can do this, but then getting onto stage 4 was something else. You get going and then soon realise you won’t be able to cope as your arms start to pump up. The riding is just so different - all the different types and size of rock, really make for a challenging ride. Concentration is absolutely key, and when it lapses, that’s when it all goes wrong like I discovered. Apart from knocking my brake levers upwards in a crash, I had no mechanicals - even with single-ply casings. Overall the event is excellent - it’s like a mini-festival. You arrive and you plonk in the green field, set up your tent, chat to people you haven’t seen in ages. Everything is really well done from a race perspective.
Kath Fourie - 3rd female.
Adam van der Ploeg showing the battle scars of EzelEnduro. Clipping a rock on Stage 4 sent him over the bars and left him with a snapped handlebar and without a drivetrain.
Gary Barnard - 2nd.
This is my 2nd time at EzelEnduro. This one felt way easier for me than the first one I did. Because since then, I’ve done a whole lot of things that were quite difficult, that has made me better. Like after stage 4 (the first time I did EzelEnduro), I remembered looking at my hand wondering what I had just done - I thought I’d never be able to write, I’d never be able to hold a drink, I would never be able to use this hand for anything functional again. But this time, I felt like I could take 30 seconds off my time so I went a bit crazy. I launched off course 3 times and ate sh*t at the end, unfortunately. I was just so happy to be on a 29er. The bike was phenomenal and everything felt so much easier.
The winning bike and rider of the 2017 EzelEnduro.
Post race potjie kos and ice cold beers - the way it should be.
Top 10 overall:
1. Keira Duncan - 25:25
2. Gary Barnard - 26:14
3. Chris Nixon - 26:31
4. Luke Moir - 27:24
5. Andre Steinfurth - 28:05
6. Andreas Ewald - 28:53
7. Julien Louw - 29:04
8. Andrew Savage - 29:08
9. Matthieu Hamel - 29:08
10. Stiaan Swart - 29:35
Left: James Coetzer winning some brakes sponsored by SRAM. Right: Danie du Toit winning the hardtail category, again.
Team podium. Too many names to mention.
Podium for riders that have completed all 3 EzelEnduros and every single stage.
Ladies podium. 1st: Gina Nixon. 2nd: Rika Olivier. 3rd: Kath Fourie
Mens podium. 1st: Keira Duncan. 2nd: Gary Barnard. 3rd: Chris Nixon
Download the full results here.
Get the full race gallery here.
A big thank you must go out to our sponsors and people that make this event possible. To our title sponsor SRAM and Cape Cycle Systems for cash and prizes, Red Bull for wings and music, and Cape Brewing Co for post race beers. Deon Malherbe for again allowing us to make use of his land, and providing the camp grounds and ablution facilities. To David Hartley for providing number boards and hooking me up with his E-bike, without which I would have not been able to do my job. To Robert Starke for the after party keg. And lastly to Stephen, Tanja and Adele for providing an amazing dinner in the form of a prize-winning potjie.
All images by Ewald Sadie | instagram: @ewaldsadie | www.esphotography.co.za