The DUTOIT Tankwa Trek takes place in the Koue Bokkeveld region of the Western Cape province and covers a total distance of 268km with 5 340 metres of vertical ascent. This offers a similar distance:ascent ratio to the Cape Epic. The Tankwa Trek also has a blend of long climbs and fast descents, rocky and hardpack terrain and farm roads, jeep track, historic ox wagon routes and singletrack – all of which combine to form a stimulating mountain bike racing challenge.

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And that’s one of the reasons a high percentage of top contenders will be on the start line of the third annual Tankwa Trek, which runs from 13–15 February. That and the fact that after only two editions, the event has developed a reputation for top hospitality and fine food, essential when most participants stay in the Kaleo Manor race village for both nights.

Topping the list of entrants are former Cape Epic category winners, Stefan Sahm (Men x 3), Ariane Kleinhans (Mixed x 2, Women x 1), Andrew McLean (Grand Masters x 1, Masters x 2), Nico Pfitzenmaier (Mixed x 2, Masters x 1). Erik Kleinhans (Mixed x 2), Nic White (Mixed x 1), Yolande de Villiers (Women x 1) and Catherine Williamson (Women x 1). Between them, they have a total of 17 titles. The Tankwa Trek entry list, which numbers 600, sees a veritable who’s who of committed stage racers that have managed to get Valentine’s Day pass to tackle the three-day challenge.

Sahm, who races for the German Team Bulls outfit, will be competing as a solo rider. There are over 200 riders entered in the solo category, another strength of the event, which caters for both two-rider teams and solo mountain bikers. The three-time Cape Epic champion is the firm favourite to claim that title, but will undoubtedly not be racing on his own and will be in the thick of the action with the top teams. Solo riders are permitted to race alongside, but not interfere with the tactics of the teams, which form the majority of event entries.

And the top men’s teams are likely to be Team RECM’s Erik Kleinhans and James Reid, Lourens Luus and Adriaan Louw (Contego Swift), Gawie Combrinck and Johann Rabie (EAI Cycling) and Darren Lill and Waylon Woolcock (Red-E Blend) – all sure to be gunning the for top African team title at next month’s Cape Epic and also chasing the South African dream of finishing on the overall men’s race podium.

In the women’s Tankwa Trek team category, the 2014 winners, Ariane Kleinhans and Cherise Stander (RECM) are back to defend their title. They’ll have some tough competition though from the likes of the Ascendis Health pair of Jennie Stenerhag, the current Swedish national champion and Robyn de Groot, the current South African national champion. Another strong team likely to be battling for podium finishes is the Sasol Racing duo of Yolande de Villiers and Bianca Haw.

The highly competitive Veteran men’s category at any South African race will also be hotly contested at Tankwa Trek. Expect to see most of the daily podiums filled by these three teams: CHIC Flyers – Geddan Ruddock and Neil Bradford, Bus Boys 1 – Nic White and Warren Squires and Dorma Robert Daniel – Nico Pfitzenmaier and Robert Sim.

The Master men’s title should see a duel between the Cycle Lab Toyota pair of Andrew McLean and Greg Anderson and the Pitstop duo of Glen Haw and Waleed Baker. The Mixed category will also be a hotly contested title at Tankwa Trek with prominent performances expected from the likes of Catherine Williamson and Nizaam Esa (Asrin Cycling), Johan Labuschagne and Leana de Jager (Sasol Racing) and Michael Posthumus and Yolandi du Toit (Garmin).

“The timing and location of the Tankwa Trek have seen it quickly become the perfect preparation stage race for the Cape Epic,” said Henco Rademeyer of Dryland Events, the company that organises the race.

“We’ve got a very high quality racing field again this year at Tankwa Trek, but as with all our events, we treat every entrant with the same level of respect. Yes, the pros have the pressure to perform well and earn the rewards for that, but the majority of the entrants are full-time employees with families. We want to make sure that each one is challenged and rewarded. The best way to do that is offer a great race route and premium hospitality,” smiled Rademeyer.

The Tankwa Trek’s three stages have each been designed and developed by local farmers that are also keen mountain bikers. They’ve been successful in creating a comprehensive ‘tour’ of the fruit-growing region where DUTOIT Group, a leading producer of fruit and vegetables and the event’s title sponsor, is based.

DUTOIT Group provides employment and social support for a large number of the local residents, some of whom will also be given the opportunity to compete in the annual three-day stage race, via a DUTOIT Group upliftment programme.

“While most of the entrants see the Tankwa Trek as a premium personal challenge, the local community looks forward to showcasing the region and its people to over a thousand visitors (including supporters) to the area each year.

“The economic boost is welcomed but it’s the experience of spending quality time on a bicycle in one of the most geographically diverse parts of the country that was our original motivation for the Tankwa Trek. Judging by the rapid growth of the race, we’ve achieved that. We can’t increase the quantity of the field, but we’re always looking at ways to improve the quality of the experience,” added Rademeyer.

To secure an entry to the 2016 DUTOIT Tankwa Trek, keep an eye on the website: www.tankwatrek.co.za. Entries will open in April 2015. To follow the action of the 2015 edition, like the Facebook page: Tankwa Trek and follow @tankwatrek on twitter.