22 Jan, 2015

From the Cradle to the Fair

This year’s Standard Bank Africa Cycle Fair had plenty to offer the “more than 6 000” people who attended the event. Naturally, being a fair, you could buy everything from beer to a R180 000 Pinarello Dogma F8. And there was plenty to do to, from a pump track challenge to a 60 kilometre mountain bike race. Modern Cyclist’s editor rode the 60 kilometre mountain bike “race”!

It started like most other events, except it was relatively late – 07:45 to be exact - and there was only one group of around 40 cyclists.

Just to add a bit of excitement, there were two other start groups. One at 08:00 for the single speed contestants and one at 08:15 for the shorter 30 kilometre event.

But, because we were aiming at being the first to complete the Standard Bank Africa Cycle Fair 60 kilometre mountain bike race, we were given the first start. When I say “we”, I mean the 40-odd cyclists who lined up to start the race … of course!

Before we were told to “go!”, we had the usual race briefing and one point stuck in my mind. There would be a water point every 10 kilometres. Good thing too, I thought at the time, as the temperature for today was predicted to be around the 30 degree mark.

Like most races, it started pretty normally with a short ride on the Cradle cycle path. A turn onto a farm road caused the usual peloton pandemonium with the racing snakes hissing at each other.

And then, as soon as we turned onto a single track … the climbs began. First with a few lazy uphill switchbacks, the climb led us to yet more climbing switchbacks, this time with even steeper gradients.

After plenty of huffing and puffing, the summit was reached and we could enjoy a fast flowing single track all the way to the first water point, which was situated at around the 10 kilometre mark. What followed after that was a piece of SA mountain biking history. A specially built single track section of a series of camel-hump/switchback combinations which took you through a ravine.

Popping out the other side, everyone had a smile on their faces, including the woman rider who didn’t quite make one of the turns and landed in a pool of muddy water. I still believe she did this on purpose to prepare herself for what was in store for us next.

A helter-skelter on the same farm road led us back to Nirox where, after a few twists and turns, we entered the Rhino and Lion Park property. This was a real privilege as this property isn’t normally opened to mountain bikers.

A monster jeep track climb led us to the summit where we joined another single track. This created a huge loop within the reserve and those of us who had the energy to look up and around us, would have seen much of the game that inhabits this property.

The 20 kilometre water table – actually at around 15 kilometres – was an “only water” affair with a friendly smile offering you something cold to quench your now-dusty throat and refill your bottle or back pack before yet another crazy jeeptrack downhill brought you back to the start again, which then took the shape of the 30 kilometre water table.

At this stage, it was also the finish for the 30 kilometre, single speed and 60 kilometre “bail out” riders, of which there were quite a few.

Race officials offered you a bail out, which they nicely “packaged” as a conversion to the 30 kilometre distance but I didn’t want to know about it, so I tackled the second half of the ride with renewed water bottles and a healthy bite of an energy bar.

As before, we rode out of the Nirox property and back onto the Cradle cycle lane. Again we turned left and headed up the same farm road. You guessed it, we were heading off to do the same route again to make up the 60 kilometres.

So, for the second time that day, we huffed and puffed those “now-much-steeper” single track switchbacks until we got to the top again. Then the swift flowing single track back down to the 10 kilom … sorry … 40 kilometre water table and, after another bottle refill and chat, another assault on that sublime bit of single track heaven through the ravine.

As I steered my Giant through the twists and turns of that awesome section, two thoughts came to me. Firstly, that it was only the participants of the 60 kilometre ride that got to experience this piece of the ride twice. And secondly, no one would be falling into any of the puddles in front of me as the riders ahead were well and truly “ahead” by now and the only rider behind me was truly behind me.

He bailed later.

As I climbed back into the Rhino and Lion Park a few kilometres later, I looked ahead to try and see my nearest competitors. They were quite a distance ahead so I resigned myself to a lonely hot slog of a ride through one of the most beautiful wildlife reserves in the area.

By this time, it was midday, my only protection against the sun was that strange little peak on the front of my mountain bike helmet, and the fact I had properly filled up my bottle at the 45 kilome … er … sorry … 50 kilometre water table.

While riding that section, there was also plenty of single track, which led me through ravines, bushveld of various densities and a number of quite challenging rocky sections – almost rock gardens in nature. We even had a dam wall to negotiate and, while riding on this raised section, I thought about how mountain biking has taken me to places that I didn’t even know were places!

As my trusty cycling computer told me we had just completed 60 kilometres, I thought to myself that the pain of a hot day’s cycling is amplified proportionally by the difference between what race organisers say your’e going to ride and what you actually ride.

After more than five hours, I crossed the finish line, confidently knowing I was the last rider to do so as the list of “bail outs” extended the 30 kilometre finishers’ list considerably. So my official result is 73rd overall and 28th rider home in the 64 … err, sorry, the 60 kilometre event.

So, as Standard Bank Africa Cycle Fair director Rob Heath put it to me afterwards, I was well positioned to report on “what went on in front of me”.
Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |