The start was spot on 7:10 and we turned left up a grassed hill without even so much as a warm up and the heart rates went through the roof immediately until we turned onto some district road that undulated for 4kms.
Brakes squealed and rear tires slid as the road narrowed over a concrete bridge, the sad face of Karl Platt and Urs Huber (Team Bulls) standing on the other side. They were obviously out.
The district road undulated for a few more kilometres till we turned onto smooth jeep track that climbed steeply up the hillside, flattened and then skirted the edge around the hills. The pace was high as everyone wanted to reach the narrow sections of the route early.
As we turned left out of a farm gate a rider was down bloodied and lying very still clutching his arm. His partner frantically pushing the emergency button on the Tracker device we have to carry with us this year.
We rounded another gate at the top of a hill and started descending flowing switchbacks down into a valley where we crossed a stream and started climbing a path up the next hill where a multitude of hard packed switchbacks awaited.
Next we crossed a grassy field with no real track following only orange tape placed on trees and rocks then onto a long narrow path along the bank of stream. We crossed the stream and followed a similar hard packed path on the opposite side. A winding jeep track climb covered in loose stones next to some pines followed and tested the legs as it got steeper towards the top. Eventually topping out with a view of rain in the distance.
The off camber descent was tricky in places but hard and rocky and again switched back on itself half a dozen times. Eventually it became a grassy trail lined with proteas and fynbos at shoulder height, we popped out onto a district road and to water point 1.
A quick refill and a snack and we were on our way again, a few grassy trails later and we started a gentle climb through more high proteas, as I topped a small rise a rider in front of me waiting for his partner pointed up.
What a sight, in front of me was a mountain and etched to it was the most amazing trail that seemed to go on and on and on. Bikes glittered the whole way up as riders swept left then right then left again on this steep hillside. About half way up there was a noise on my left and Urs Huber passed easily on a path that didn’t exist, no Platt.
My partner took a kick out the fact that Urs was behind him for some time until he passed and will be telling his story to his friends back home.
The path crested on top of this mountain and moved through a dip only to start climbing another set of these incredible switchbacks, where it levelled off and started a fast descent through high grass, off-camber single track and Protea bushes.
A few small stream crossings kept us cool and the threat of rain had disappeared. A short stretch of tar road led us to more district road where the speed increased and we made up some good fast kilometres till we reached Genadendal. School children lined the streets cheering as we crossed the roads though the outskirts of the town, eventually turning onto farm roads where two short but tough climbs waited for us.
Overgrown jeep track on the first climb had us avoiding small ruts and rocks in the long grass. Then turning left onto more hard packed single track that swept from side to side on the hills, a muddy little river crossing and we were climbing again and now the legs started to feel every change in gradient.
This climb started gently but then got nasty. We kept a steady pace passing team Tanzania for the 3rd time as they were struggling with punctures the whole day. I suffered my own face full of sealant as we descended even more rocky single track and something pierced my front tire. I kept going and fortunately the sealant did its job quickly with very little pressure loss and I was able to ride the very fast weaving track that entered Greyton and water point 2.
Greyton main road was packed with cheering spectators making the stop quite special, unfortunately we didn’t have too much time to take in the atmosphere so bottles were filled quickly, stocked up on nutrition and headed out.
We rode along a very uneven trail next to the river and eventually entering a pebbled river bed and crossing the river 3 times in different places, before climbing yet more single track that swerved over the hillside This levelled out but then took a sharp left up a very steep section of overgrown jeep track that had many, including myself, walking.
I didn’t feel too bad as I was in good company, passing Hanli Booyens on the way up. Once at the top - as if we didn’t have enough for the day - more single track descents. This time a bit more tricky as it was slightly off camber and overgrown in places with a few surprise step ups onto and over rocks.
A long section of tree-lined single track headed gently upstream, as we hopped over tree trunks, climbed slippery rocks and crossed the stream a few times through muddy puddles and over bridges. This ended abruptly as we headed up a washed out farm road that tested the legs once more.
Over the top and we descended gently along the sides of the hills on hard single track, avoiding the sharp pointed remains of recently cut trees and into water point 3. Hardly a stop here but for a quick cup of coke and we were climbing a farm road again. A quick descent on dual track and onto the next climb that was short but had the legs screaming.
Coolness: The participation of local communities, it’s a great feeling getting cheered through small towns
Product of the Day: VRV Bar ends, I spend a lot of time on my bar-ends particularly on steep climbs and I have found the VRV carbon bar ends light and the moulding is super comfortable.
Highlight: A ridiculous amount of single track.
Lowlight: Platt and Huber out of the Epic.
Reaching a patch of pines we turned onto a really enjoyable stretch of flowing soft forested single track bobbed through the trees, great fun. Farm roads took us past some smaller farms and then we were guided up a gentle ascent towards some pines, my partner exclaiming, “Oh, thats quite steep.” I looked right and a steep road loomed. We rode it almost half way but sadly it beat us. We dismounted and walked the remainder of the way.
On the bikes again and it was an easy 2km ride into the finish area, 88km and 1850m in 5:02. A day with the most insane amount of single track, I feel I may have used it too much in my descriptions, there really was that much. A total of almost 30km in single track I am told.
A fun day but the climbs were tough and steep, now to rest for the big day out 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