Fizzing with anticipation we headed out early to check out the new course, and enjoy the XCO format of racing for the last time this season.
Initially, some very welcome rain put a damper on things, but this cleared up before 10 am and left the track deliciously grippy.
The new additions to the course involved a lengthy jeep track climb, favouring the stronger climbers. We then dropped down through the vineyards on a freshly cut trail with a series of rollers and step downs. The challenge here was finding some flow and rhythm on the bike: the overall effect was jarring, but it was a lot of fun bouncing down the hill like an overexcited rabbit.
After this, we were back in familiar territory: a short vineyard climb, followed by a rough, off camber descent and a tricky right-hander up to the feed and technical support zone. Then we were onto the Lombard’s Terra (Terror?) climb. This climb snakes up the hill and is unrelenting. A scattering of switchback turns, and rocky sections lurk, waiting for a slip in concentration from tired riders, but the ensuing descent down Lombard’s Terra makes it all worthwhile.
I would argue that of the courses we rode this season, including Rhebokskloof and Slanghoek, this course is the most welcoming for beginners, and those trying the sport for the first time. The main descent is a good illustration of that. It offers an endless variety of options for riders wanting to push their skills a bit or simply trying to get to the bottom safely. There are little jumps to help build up confidence: as well as some big ones for the more skilled. These are linked by big looping, flowing berms, and the smooth hardpack surface, made grippy by the rain on race day resulted in comfortable, fun descending.
The remainder of the course was much the same as the previous iteration. A square loop around a block of vineyards added a nasty extra climb before the course flowed down to the BMX section at the start finish area.
The final touch was a new gap jump on the grassy drag to the finish which was easy enough to roll, but still could be jumped to make you look and feel pretty cool in front of the spectators.
Disappointingly, the turnout was low, and I was alone in my category. Fortunately, all the ladies started together and I had company out on the course and took the opportunity to really relax and enjoy the riding.
Once again, I can't give enough credit to the organisers for the amount of work they put into these races, and what they achieve with a small team of volunteers. It has been a pleasure, and huge learning curve, participating in the series this year. Every event has offered new challenges and encouraged riders to push themselves a little further.
I have been humbled more times than I care to think about by the nippers and sprogs, as they tackle obstacles that frighten me, on bikes that would frighten me. I have seen them fall, and bounce back and keep going, with no time for self-pity. This, in turn, has helped keep my head straight when things don't go to plan.
Well done to every rider who has participated along the way. It has been a great adventure.