The start this morning was staggered in 15 minute intervals to allow for increased gaps on the single track sections and we headed off at 07:15 and straight up a jeep track rise adjacent to the race village.
The group settled quickly and the first few kilometers were covered at a nice comfortable pace as we moved along the various dual track farm roads and then dropped into a shallow valley and a water crossing.
Back onto farm roads the pace lifted a bit as we swung left and right around the fields and were also joined by a few large cows and a bull for a short distance (thankfully a fence separating us). We entered a short piece of single track and passed a small dam on our left to the first leg tester of the day, a short steep gravel climb that then became more jeep track.
We were turned off this jeep track onto overgrown single track that crossed a few roads and started ascending again through fynbos and proteas. The going was tough as the track was uneven with grass clumps but eventually weaved its way into a forested area and continued to climb with the odd bunny-hop over small trees that had fallen across the path and occasionally negotiate some deep ruts.
The path eventually headed downwards again and was mostly single track, we joined an old abandoned motorcross track and were able to enjoy its high berms and picked up some nice speed. The single track that guided us towards Houwhoek was a great ride over tracks cut into the sides of the hills with drops into marshy wetlands that climbed again onto hard pack trail where tight switchbacks tested our agility.
Water point 1 was a quick stop as I hadn’t even used a quarter of my first bottle and we moved on to a stretch of unused tar which ran next to the N2 and then dropped down to a culvert which moved us over to the Lebanon side of the road.
Loose climbs on wide dual track now led us into the mountain, with quick dashes into the forests on some single track but the eventually coming back to the forestry roads that crept upwards. A nice group formed for a while as we climbed and there was a nice bit of chatter and we were even joined for a short while by Joel Stransky pondering if he had done the right thing entering Ironman next week.
We reached the top, crossed onto some tar road for a short distance until a marshal pointed us down a loose rocky jeep track road with multitudes of washouts, sand pits and large rocks to keep us concentrating. Although tricky to ride, this stretch was fast and we picked up some quick kilometers along here.
A flat section of forestry road took us to some orchards which we rode along until we got to an eroded path that was about a meter deep and 3 meters wide but had been filled in with rocks. The rocks were uneven and super sharp so I decided to carry the bike over rather than risk a puncture or dinged rim.
A sharp left dropped us down a long opening between two orchards, over a farm road and straight into a steep loose climb along the orchards, a crowd had gathered at the top where a super steep embankment lined the road, the crowd cheering and urging riders to make it over. Apparently only a single rider had succeeded by the time we got there and only a single had succeeded by the time we left.
We rode on top of an embankment that circled a small dam and entered waterpoint 2, it was getting hot so we exchanged bottles (explanation, the race offers a service to transport two chilled bottles to water point 2 every day), grabbed a banana and pushed on.
We immediately started climbing up loose jeep track in the pine plantations and riders weaved from side to side to find the best line and avoid washouts until we were taken on single track that worked its way up the mountain between the trees. Steep switchbacks that leveled out then climbed and turned steeply again climbing up through the plantation until we got to a marshall that was letting us know “this is what you’ve been waiting for!”
I heard a faster rider coming up behind and as we were approaching a section where we crossed a forest road I took the wide route around and slowed, my front wheel jammed into a rock and I went over into probably the rockiest, hardest patch of ground in the area.
Up again and a quick bike check I started the single track again with elbow throbbing, the elbow worked so it had to be okay.
We eventually left the forested single track and started on the more exposed single track at the bottom which also swerved left to right but was much looser but hard on the hands.
As we left the single track a forest road took us around a small dam through a small forested section and then down into a river bed, through another culvert which was low and packed with debris as we crossed under the N2 again.
On to more farm road and we turned off on to a single track climb etched into the hillside that went on for 2kms with tight corners and narrow straights between trees. At the top we navigated some fast hard packed farm roads that dipped and climbed, we entered a forested section on sandy single track, sometimes a little off-camber it undulated through the trees.
Lebanon forest, need I say more.
Product of the Day:
Mediclinic, patching me up quickly and with a smile.
Lebanon forest, need I say more.
Watching a fellow riders calf being stitched back together, the cut ran the length of his calf and was about 1cm deep. <head swims a little>
25km to go and we headed out over the farms roads with some loose turns as we followed the roads back to the Oak Valley area, we crossed over one of the many stiles into a field where we rode hard single track that crossed the hills back and forth.
Over another stile and back onto farm roads we circled a large dam and took a sharp right that climbed steeply over an uneven grassy surface for 2km’s. Once at the top it dropped us like a rock over smooth hard single track with high berms and fast straights through ferns and reeds. Onto a short jeep track section and we turned into a 2km section of single track the followed a river under a thick canopy of trees, the section was fast and smooth as it passed in between trees and rocks, just sublime to ride.
After a short rise we dropped into more single track that was a bit more sandy with tight corners and then a quick drop into the valley and into the Oak Valley finish area, 85km with 1800m of ascent in 4:55.
Looking forward to tomorrow.
Rob's weapon of choice:
KTM Myroon Master 29er
VRV Cycles carbon straight bars and bar ends
Selle Italia XR saddle
Rockshox SiD XX 29er
Hope Pro Hubs with ZTR Arch Rims
GEAX Saguaro 29x2.2 TNT