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As always it was a great honour to start with names like Sauser, Lill, Pfitzenmeier, Rabon, and Evans to name a few. The raw strength of these riders became clear as they immediately pulled away from the rest of the field. The start was flat and sandy for the first few km’s. The groups that formed on the dry dual tracks kicked up clouds of dust which lowered visibility and coated us with layer of fine dirt.

The first few hills were short and sharp and kept us looking out for the best lines with wash-aways and patches of thick sand. A recurring characteristic of the elevated farm roads was off camber 90 degree turns on hard clay that had a light covering of gravel. These caught a handful of riders around me off guard as front wheels slid out from underneath them. Admittedly my tire pressure was slightly off and I almost ended up the same way a few times.

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There was a short single-track section as we crossed farms that had 3 very tight little switchbacks. These were also off-camber, which claimed a few riders before the track joined up with a paved road again for a short while and then back on to farm roads.

The various sections of single track that were scattered throughout the route (apparently 8km’s worth) were great fun to ride, from flowing tracks that zig-zagged under tree canopies, narrow paths that snaked up the hill sides and small rock gardens. I didn't feel like there was anything overly technical and I would like to think that very few people would have had to get off the bike to walk a section.

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Where I was placed during the race there were no bottle-necks or hold ups. The biggest fall I witnessed was a rider being thrown off the edge of the really great Simonsberg Conservancy single track by a deep rut and into the dead trees below. Fortunately he managed to climb back up and continue on his way with only deep scratches on his thigh.

The climb that weaved its way up around the 43km mark was steady but not too steep. And although not the highest point on the route it opened into a stunning 360 degree view of the area (if you took the time to look around). After that it was just about downhill all the way to the finish with a few minor little kicks and again a few short fun sections of purpose built single-track that weaved its way around the farm buildings dropping us onto a ramp and into the finish area.

The finish area itself had a great atmosphere but was a narrow area that became very crowded very quickly and I am told that the shuttle service between the start and finish (1.5km apart) worked well for spectators.

This was a very enjoyable ride just on 53km with 1234m of vertical ascent according to Garmin. It was technical enough to keep most riders interested but tame enough not to scare others away. The route also had enough climbs to keep you honest.

While previous editions of the race at the old venue have been referred to as a "suffer fest", this route was much more manageable with the terrain and difficulty open to an intermediate skill level and up. The lack of bottlenecks on the new route stands out over the old route and the water points were well spaced if needed. Overall, it was a good day out on the bike.

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Words - Rob Bateman

Images - Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum MTB Challenge