The lead up to the event started well with a steady stream of riders from all corners of the country arriving in the Karkloof from mid-week. For those lucky enough to get time off from work and studies, practice of the stages certainly helped prepare for the weekend's toil, but riding blind or not, the choice of trails would allow for most to pin it full steam ahead, without risking life and limb.
190 riders rolled into the parking lot bright and early on Saturday morning, ready to tackle 5 stages in the ‘Outback’ of the Karkloof. The theme for the day was definitely heat, of the highest degree, and the fittest of the competitors were at an advantage being able to gun the liaison stages to complete the race before the blinding heat of midday. The first climb was the 6km killer of the infamous Lebanon climb, leading racers to the Sisonke trail. With the grinding ascent and swooping descent of arcs of trail under the belt, it set the theme for the rest of the day – epic stages and consistent climbing over 32km with 1241m of elevation gain. At the end of Day 1, Frankie Du Toit was leading the women’s field by quite a margin, and Keira Duncan was ahead of Tim Bentley by 13 seconds.
Day 2 dawned with clear skies and the promise of a proudly South African sunburn if one forgot to apply sunscreen. Riders were released 20 seconds apart in the order of slowest to fastest based on times of the previous day. This was done as a taster of Enduro World Series rules for the South African field, with an official start time for every rider at the top of Sunday’s Stage 1. The ruling provided for a much more interesting mix of riders at all parts of the day, with Greg Minnaar even arriving to join in the fun, being sent off just after the Sprogs and Nippers, much to their delight. While Day 2 was longer at 43km, the elevation gain was slightly more moderate at 1067m, and included two stages on the neighbouring Howick Mountain Bike Club Trails.
Due to the EWS style of timing that mixed the field up, the results were not apparent right up until the very end when Keira Duncan handed in his timing chip, surrounded by a crush of hyped riders eager to see if Duncan had held his lead. And so it was that the computer screen blinked Age Group: 1, Overall: 1, making Keira Duncan the 2018 South African Enduro Champ for 2018, followed by Tim Bentley in second and 2017 SA Champ Sam Bull in third. Fourth in the overall was Theo Erlangsen from Cape Town, with Luke Dinkel in fifth.
Asked about his experience over the weekend, Duncan explained “I am not one to do all that great in super-hot conditions as I battle with migraines, so I am just glad I had started hydrating a good couple of days before the weekend, and just kept drinking lots of water, so I pulled through without any issues. It wasn’t fun racing in +- 35 degrees, in fact on Day 1 it got to 38 degrees at midday, but it was such a good vibe that even the heat couldn’t ruin it! Everyone was in such a good head space and despite the really hot and dry conditions, I think everybody had a jol. Just to see all the happy faces and smiles, and shouting down the trails and what not, everybody was just so stoked, that was really a highlight of the weekend for me. And just to spend time racing with such good people”.
On taking the win, Duncan emphasised that it was not an easy task and had been a yearlong project for him. “I am beyond stoked to have taken the overall win, it’s almost unbelievable, but I have worked very hard for it, and prepared myself for this as best I could since my injury at the last Enduro Champs. Although they are my home trails, it was fair ground, and everybody had a chance to practice the trails. I would like to say a big thank you to all the organisers, and especially to PYGA Mountain Bikes, Leatt Protective and Dovehouse Organics. They have all helped me get to where I am in achieving my goals. Thank you so much for your support, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did this weekend without you all”.
The women’s race became steadily more competitive throughout the day, with 16-year-old Beani Thies and 17-year-old Zandri Strydom getting closer to Du Toit’s stage times than the day before. However, Du Toit kept it consistent and clean to bring home the prized overall title, with Thies and Strydom in second and third respectively separated by just six seconds. Steffi Grossmann from Namibia took fourth overall, and Kathryn Fourie fifth.
With this win, Du Toit now holds National Champ titles in five disciplines, road, time trial, cross country, marathon and enduro. Chatting about the event Du Toit said, “I rode the weekend with a really cool group of people which always makes the experience better. The trails here are amazing and this is where I started mountain biking when I was 12 or 13, so it was great to be back here. It was tough, the heat and the distance kind of made it difficult, and the fact that it was two days, you definitely felt the first day when you were riding the second day. To take the overall win was amazing, I am super stoked about it especially after my disappointing year. I am really chuffed that it was a very well organised event, it was a good turn out, and we had good competition in the guys, but also in the girls which is always exciting”.
Events like these are never possible without sponsor support, and the Karkloof Trails Club owe massive thanks to Specialized, Fox South Africa, Cooked Orange, Super Bock, aQuélle, Sappi, Stihl, Wolfpack Adventure Apparel, Pure Wellness Kloof, Karkloof Canopy Tours, Blaze Custom Innovation, Greg Minnaar Cycles, Ride With Zeal, Howick Security Superstore and Nkosi Nursery.