Carving a unique space somewhere between road cycling and mountain biking, the rise of gravel bike racing is a no-brainer, given the many spectacular gravel roads currently made inaccessible by existing trends in the SA cycle racing scene. Meaning “Big Ride” in Italian, a Gran Fondo typically involves long distances with tough climbs on difficult terrain such as cobblestones or gravel.

The route of the Swartberg100, taking place on 30th April 2016, starts in the picturesque Great Karoo town of Prince Albert and includes some of the most beautiful scenery in South Africa, including the iconic Swartberg Pass. The most famous of road builders, Thomas Bain completed the pass in 1888 and today, much of the Swartberg is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Challenging climbs (totalling 2800m) are interspersed with exhilarating descents and riders require a bicycle capable of a combination of tar and gravel – perfect terrain for a gravel bike.

Swartberg100 founder, John Swanepoel says, “Road racing enthusiasts hanker after smooth well manicured tar and mountain bikers want kilometres of challenging single track. Both of these desires tend to limit the choices of where races can be held and unfortunately are limiting our cyclists in terms of their discovery of the broader Southern Africa. In fact, the majority of our road network is gravel and most of it is ignored by our cycling community.”

SA has a large bicycle racing community, with globally recognised events such as the Cape Town Cycle Tour, the largest timed bicycle road race in the world and the Absa Cape Epic, the most televised mountain bike stage race in the world. Gravel bike racing presents untold opportunities for new adventures on new routes.

“Mountain bikers find tar repulsive and roadies never venture onto any form of gravel lest their carbon girlfriends get chipped or dusty! There are many cyclists who love and do both disciplines and all they need is an excuse to buy a new gravel bike, and the Swartberg100 is that excuse,” says Swanepoel.


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