Race report: National MTB XCO Series Rhebokskloof
As an XCO venue, Rhebokskloof Wine Farm works particularly well with good facilities for riders and lots of viewing options with spectators having the option of enjoying a boerie roll on the shaded lawns adjacent to the finish line, or braving the heat to watch the action on course at one of the many exciting technical sections. The feed zones are superbly placed in the centre of the course making it the place to be if you want to watch the race unfold as the riders enter and exit view.
We discovered at Friday’s practice that the drought has hit Rhebokskloof hard, resulting in a super dry, loose, and dusty course. Heated racing and some spectacular crashes were inevitable. Fortunately on Saturday temperatures were less sweltering than they were on Friday.
The first climb (as they usually are) was designed to tear the field apart and the gradient didn’t allow you to hide weak legs in the pack for a moment. A rocky undulating singletrack then took riders to the first A-line/ B-line split. The rocky sections here were lurking, waiting to catch tired riders, and some congestion was to be expected on the first lap. I found myself missing my line here on more than one occasion.
The A-line took riders sharp left, down what might have been a comfortable descent, were it not for the thick dust making each change in direction treacherous. A slightly off camber granite slab caught me out at one point, and I found myself upside down like a turtle, unable to unclip, blocking the line as the leading Elite ladies entered and passed me in the rock garden. Trust mountain biking to keep you grounded! In this case, the B-line was much slower and equally treacherously dusty. I thought and it made more sense to tackle the A-line cautiously than lose time on the B-line.
A jeep track descent then took riders down and through the feed/ technical support zone. From here, switchbacks took riders up to the next killer climb of the day: a steep jeep track ascent, which again left no room for slacking off. Fortunately, a fairly flat traverse to another supremely dusty descent provided a brief opportunity for recovery. Some sweeping switchbacks, in full view of the feed zone, and bridge over the course, made for great viewing for support teams.
The final climb for the lap took riders into the welcome cool of the forest, where they faced another A-line/ B-line split. I only noticed the split on race day, and had to ignore the B-line. The A-line featured a drop off with a bit of a slippery entrance, which had me worried on each and every lap.
A flowing and soothing switchback descent took riders out of the forest and back to the feed zone for the second time. Then it was on to the final challenges for the lap: a rock drop or a slightly awkward B-line around a tree. The rock drop could be rolled by the less skilled and adventurous, and I chose this option. Yet another awkward dusty turn and the course again split into a rock garden, which required a good set up and the right speed, or a slightly slower B-line.
Overall the event was made very challenging by the dust, and probably the pressure of sharing a course with some of the best riders in the world. I think I messed up just about every obstacle out there at least once during the race, and left some skin, my dignity and lungs behind, but it was a learning curve like no other! It would be fantastic to see the turnout continue to grow, and the standard of racing pushed up like this at every event.
The next WC series event will be held at Bloemendal on 1 April 2017. More details can be found here.
With UCI points on offer for the elite riders and being a World Junior World Series stop, the racing was stacked with international riders.
The Elite ladies race saw South African Cherie Redecker set the early pace but it was Swiss rider Kathrin Stirnemann who dominated the race, followed by Britain’s Annie Last, with Cherie coming home to take the bronze.
In the men’s field, a heated battle took place which saw New Zealander, and U23 world champion Samuel Gaze take first place. Followed by a sprint finish between Mathias Flückiger, and Nicola Rohrbach, both from Switzerland with Manuel Fumic narrowly missing a top three spot. Alan Hatherly was the highest placed South African rider, in fifth place.
Full results can be found here.