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One aspect of XCO that I thoroughly enjoy is practice. Figuring out the fastest lines and plucking up the courage to attempt something new goes to the core of why I enjoy mountain biking. Coming back to Rhebokskloof after the race in February however, practice was a fairly straightforward, but worthwhile, affair. The course was largely the same with the most significant change being the start finish line which was now positioned next to the technical zone. This was a treat for the spectators as the whole race could be viewed from this area.

With many of the series final positions already decided (it is decided on the rider's best three results) and a host of other events taking place over the long weekend, the turnout was a bit smaller than usual. The sub veteran category in which I race featured a mere six riders. Thankfully, as usual, we set off with the veterans and masters in one group, making it more of a contest.

Thanks to the slightly smaller field, and the familiarity of most riders having raced each other throughout the series, the event took on a very relaxed vibe. The banter on the start line was at an all-time high despite a few looking to settle some season-long rivalries. Not much different to a ride out with your friends.

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I thoroughly enjoy the Rhebokskloof course. The climbs are real lung busters that will have you tasting blood while the technical descents are threatening enough to catch you out should you let your guard down. The rain hardened tacky dirt made it a very different experience to the dust storm of the race in February.

Starts are one of my weak points. This time, I got caught up a bit on the edge of the track for the opening sprint and was forced to take an uncomfortable line on the first corner. The first single track section was a bit congested through the rock garden so I decided to take the B-line to avoid the carnage. In hindsight, a bad decision as I came out 3 or 4 riders down.

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After a poor start, I set my pace and kept the laps ticking over. Unfortunately, the competitors in my age group were much faster than me so I set my sights on some veteran riders as competition. This lasted until they left the course four laps in. It was a bit lonely on the last lap and with no one to catch me I eased off the pace and enjoyed the open trails.

The hard dirt meant that it was much easier to pick and hold a line compared to the race earlier in the year and I dutifully completed the technical sections without incident. It was the climbs however where I was thoroughly underperforming. The Rhebokskloof climbs are not the longest but they are steep. I just didn’t have the power to keep up the pace, especially on the second climb out of the technical/ feed zone which is cradled in an especially warm corner of the farm.

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There was a huge disaster, ok, just very mild irritation when I pulled over in the technical/ feed zone. I did not have a feeder so I left my bottle on the ground in the technical zone before the race. When I arrived at the start of my fourth lap, someone had accidentally removed my bottle. I quickly siphoned some liquid from another bottle and was on my way again (thank you to this unknown donor). I left a bit under-provisioned considering the heat but with just enough fluid to finish the race.

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At the end of the day, it was a hugely enjoyable race. In fact, the whole Western Cape XCO Series has been a pleasure to participate in. The volunteers and sponsors that make this happen each year are a special group and deserve huge credit for their efforts.

Next up! The Western Cape Championships are taking place on 27 May at Bloemendal. Much like World Championships, this is a one off event where the winner takes the title. Even if you don’t have title ambitions, come along and share the experience with a great group of enthusiastic mountain bikers. Find out more about this event here.

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End of season reflections

This year was the first time I had completed the Western Cape XCO series. Last year, after feeding throughout the series events, I summoned up the courage and competed in my first XCO at the provincial championships event at Bloemendal. I got lapped by Renay Groustra in that event and was pulled off the course early. That was rather disappointing, so I set myself a simple goal for this season, do not get lapped. And so far, so good.

For some reason, XCO is an intimidating format for newcomers. It may be the technical courses, the unfamiliar lap racing format, the attentive crowds, or even the perception that it is for the best and fittest riders only. All I can say is, it's really not that hard, just take the plunge. The format is hugely rewarding and has quickly become my favourite form of racing. Every race you learn something new about your abilities on a bike. See you at Champs!