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14 Jul, 2015

Monster racing in Magalies

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Riders experiencing the FNB Magalies Monster can expect to ride through some pretty spectacular scenery, and over a few awesome bridges. Photograph by Volume Photography.

I’d heard quite a bit about the FNB Magalies Monster, but I went and rode the monster out of the Magaliesberg anyway. This is how my race went.


But it’s called a monster.

The word “monster” swirled around my brain for a while.

Thoughts of sipping a “clawed can” energy beverage were quickly replaced with a hill. And not just any hill. My thoughts turned to the worst, longest, most “technical” hill I’d ever climbed and I multiplied that by plenty.

Uggh!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not petrified of hills. There are some hills that I quite enjoy.

There are a few in the Cradle which I use to get more speed/strength/endurance by either crunching or spinning up them. Like most, I can’t wait to see the effort on Strava. To see if I actually managed to get the little PB cup (Strava-“ites” will know what I’m talking about) or even a Strava ranking.

And there are yet others, like Twin Peaks at Thaba Trails or that rather nasty but rocky hill before the S-bends at Avianto, where I honestly try and improve my effort.

But anything labelled “monster” will get me … er … I think the right word is anxious.

“So do you want to do it Raymond?” asked Jacky Maclean from Newsport Media/Stillwater Sports.

My mind rushed. I probably wasn’t thinking straight. I said:

“Yes,” and then I paused, “but I don’t know whether I’m going to make it.”

“Then do the shorter 45 kilometre,” she interjected. Well, that was shorter and I should be able to do that.

“Ok, the 45 it is.”

So that sealed my fate. I was entered into the 2015 FNB Magalies Monster. The race that even the professionals I know describe as “tough”, “very hilly”, “lots of ascents” and “phew”.

Prompted by an email saying that the earlier you get there for registration and not knowing exactly where the ATKV Buffelspoort resort was, I got there just after 05:30. And after shuffling around the race area for a while – I was cold - I found the registration tables and a few of those gas heaters and warmed my cold knees and fingers.

I then registered.

I then had a while … I was due to start at 09:10 so I had plenty of time to take a few photos, do a bit of mingling and then get ready.

At that point, I spoke to a few “big names”. The standard comment was “Oh, you doing the 45? Very wise. I think I should change to that distance and join you.”

When someone like Erik Kleinhans tells you he thinks he should have entered the shorter distance you kind of realise how difficult the race really is.

Yip, even among South Africa’s elite mountain bikers, the Magalies Monster has a reputation of being a monster.

Max Clur, the race announcer, said it.

“It’s not called the monster for nothing,” was one of his first comments on the mic.

At 09:10 sharp, I started with a whole bunch of B-start-batch riders. It took a while for us to filter under the start blow up bridge thing. And then it took even longer for us to ride through the “neutral” zone, passing the resort’s caravan sites, bungalows and other facilities.

Then we started to climb. And the wheels fell off, somewhere ahead of me. A few fell. I got my foot de-“cleated” and onto the ground. Progress was slow. Until it wasn’t. A few technical climbs (with their associated bottle necks) and we were away.

After crossing a tar road, “thank you marshals”, we hit some rather sublime single track. Really nice. Then, the pace slowed. I looked up. A mountain, complete with a line of mountain bikers taking their bikes for a walk all the way up the hill.

Brave me. I pedalled forward. Across the rocks and stuff, until the wheel in front of me slipped, the rider said “Arggghhh f*&$” and he fell over. There was no way past, so I clipped out and walked solemnly behind him.

Every now and then, a candidate would mount up and try and ride, only to slip on the loose rocks and tumble down again. Or another would follow someone else and start riding again, only to quickly dismount as the rider in front of him tumbled.

So I resigned myself to the sedate but safer walking pace, only mounting up when I saw a gap of at least a few hundred metres (which didn’t happen often).

Strava says that hill gradient varied from just over one percent to over 30%. In less than four kilometres, we went from 1 278 metres above sea level to 1 503 metres above sea level. And that, dear reader, is why they call it the monster.

Now, as any student of Sir Isaac Newton will know, what goes up has got to come down. So, shortly after reaching the summit and that amazing vista, we started heading down.

The decline angle got more and more exciting. Soon I was in full downhill/drop off stance with my rear end way off the rear end of the saddle and my bike’s shocks working overtime. It was steep with a capital “S”. At one point, again according to Strava, I descended 130 metres in less than a kilometre.

And, like the uphill, the monster downhill wasn’t exactly plain sailing. Littered with rocks, loose stones and a few rather scared looking mountain bikers, it was one of those descents where you just hang on and hope the bike works as advertised.

My bike got me down in one piece. I fear other riders might have crashed, but luckily I wasn’t counted as one of the crash statistics for the race.

Strangely enough, the rest of the 30-odd kilometres were just like any trail. Fun, sure. Excitement, plenty. But with the monster hill behind, the pace increased and average speed increased from around eight kilometres an hour during the walking/hill climbing phase of the race to normal race pace.

I started chatting to other riders. The atmosphere was relaxed. The pace was quick, but not too quick. I found a group of riders that were pedalling my pace and joined them for a while.

With only a few kilometres to go, I started increasing speed. Still chatting (as always – I like talking to other mountain bikers), but I definitely picked up the pace a bit.

Finding someone I actually knew, I chatted to her for a while. Until Robyn de Groot went past me as if I was looking for parking.

“Hi Robyn … Go for it Robyn!” I shouted as her Team Ascendis SA Marathon Champion jersey disappeared into the “bush-covered” trail in front of me.

It must be said that Robyn rode the 75 kilometre version of the Magalies Monster and, although she started more than an hour before me, finished the race well ahead of me. And now we know why she represents South Africa!

I started increasing speed again, only to hear a rather awful scraping sound coming from my front wheel. When I looked down, a nasty branch poked its ugly head between the wheel and the fork. I had to stop to pull it out.

But like any semi-brave mountain biker, I got going again and finished the race in a sub-3:00:00 time – not bad for a rider firmly ensconced in the “buffalo” herd.

And then I found out something very interesting. The FNB Magalies Monster has a certain vibe to it. When you finished the race, no matter what distance you tackled, you’re accepted into that “finishers’ club”.

After the fist-bumps and high-fives are over, there is a definite case of camaraderie … a “we’ve-conquered-the-monster” camaraderie that descends on the race village and affects everyone who finishes, whether they are professional or weekend warrior. It is a good feeling … but you’ll only know it when you know it. Sorry, but it is just “one of those things”.

Bring on next year’s monster!

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |

Editor