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Slotted in the day before the Epic start was the 2nd round of the Western Cape XCO series at Rhebokskloof, Paarl. This event last year was the jewel of the series playing as a precursor to the Epic with international pros aplenty on the start line. Non-riders sipped on the local produce with the whole event feeling like a family-friendly location for mountain biking.

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This year, being too close to the Epic, the Elites and older classes were somewhat depleted but the junior categories still turned up in their numbers and with plenty of vigour. What was left was a reasonable turnout of enthusiastic XCO riders taking on a shorter but severe course with 3.7 km with 150 metres of climbing per lap under the hot Paarl sun.

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The track


The lap is characterised by two punchy climbs linked by powdery, washed out descents. To many riders, the lack of extreme technical features came as a bit of a relief after round one at Coetzenberg, where finishing a lap was worthy of a Sam Gaze victory cry.


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It's no simple track though, as you never seem to be on any sort of level ground. You’re always pointing straight down or towards the sky with no time for recovery. It’s absolutely flat taps from the whistle.

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The powdery nature of the descents led to some tricky single rut lines forming that have a habit of taking you where they think you should go, rather than where you actually want to go. This must be what it feels like to be a Scalextric car, sucked into a groove with a predetermined route.

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The most technical part of the track comes at the top of a typical Paarl rockface where a massive boulder has been designed as a drop in point before launching through a tree-lined gulley with a few smaller rock drops along the way. Nothing a few practice runs wouldn’t overcome and the track as a whole would fare well as a starting point for riders looking to enter their first XCO.

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The two climbs both tested the upper reaches of the cassette, all the while riders were being beaten on by the 30-degree plus sun. A brief stint in the forest allowed for some respite and cover from the heat, but not for long as the second and near vertical climb loomed a few metres after the shade.

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The shorter track did result in most races being completed in under an hour, but being on the limit all the time, it’s hard to say that the races felt shorter than usual.

The racing


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The riders can be seen for most of the lap at Rhebokskloof so the crowd can be heard from any part of the circuit. This probably helped create close battles in the field with a few sprint finishes occurring throughout the day; some obviously channelling Sam and Nino for their finishing line antics.

Full results available here.

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