A month prior to the finale, the trail building crew at Diamant Estate were happily plodding along with their new Black marked trail build. Then, the call came in with the proposal to host the WC Champs and would they mind speeding up the build a tad so the race could be held on the new trail?
Plodding was no longer the right word as heavy machinery, compactors and an array of labour were drafted in to complete the new black route.
This route makes excellent use of natural elements, shimmying through forests, nicking bars on bark and slaloming through the trees like a gymkhana. Rocks, boulders and embankments, we went over them, climbed onto them and even through them - yes, at one point we actually rode through a boulder. This track is unlike any of the other courses we attempted this season.
It was flowy and faster in the beginning, with forest singletrack and switchback climbs best to carry momentum through. This section was interspersed with rock gardens that required precise line management and log jumps which were easier the faster you attacked them. It was where you could get into a rhythm, strumming out pedal strokes with aggression. Just as well, as the second half of the 4.8km lap is the polar opposite.
The course really cranked the concentration levels up to the max after the second climb. It tested balance, bike handling skill and line precision. I witnessed a few riders tumble on obstacles at speeds of less than 1kph. An old toppie even took up jogging with his bike at one point to free himself from the snags of the Paarl Rocks. I am, of course, indulging a bit, as I watched the Juniors, Elites and even the real lighties scream through these same obstacles with no mechanical sympathy or self-preservation.
Climbs over boulders would lead into sharp corners with concealed drops on the other side, something you had to get right from the first pedal stroke or you would struggle to line up the rest and find yourself frantically unclipping as spectators happily yelled ‘Timber’.
Did I mention how fun this track was? It was technically devilish at points, but an amazingly fun challenge. With 165 metres of climbing it should have been a breeze compared to some of the monsters we had to contend with earlier in the series. However, the technical nature kept speeds low and the lap times crept up, shortening (thankfully) the lap count of a few races.
The rush to finish the build may have meant that the ground has not had time to really firm up with a year's winter rainfall under its belt. It was blown out in sections but added to some of the intensity and high concentration load riders were under. Next year, this will be some trail, and it's open to everyone who gets themselves a trail permit. Go ride it, you won't be disappointed.
The kids came out in large numbers, showing that this is the chosen form of mountain biking they want in on right now. It looked like they had a lot of fun out there, while the parents chilled on the shady grass cheering them on.
I can't help but give a shout out to the older and officially old lads and ladies for bringing more numbers to the start line this year, squashing the notion that XCO is too technical for the average rider. They had a blast out there riding side by side at max heart rate with relative smiles.
Now, it's on to the marathon season, again in partnership with Tygerberg MTB Club, who continually grow and support the sport we love so much. Until next year, send it!