In a discussion of any particular sport, the debate about who is really the best will always be an important issue. A conversation like this very often turns into a heated discussion.

But as far as mountain biking is concerned, the question of who is the best mountain biker in South Africa, will be answered on 25 August when the best of the best will battle it out during the South African National Championships at the MTN Gravel Travel in and around Wellington.

Evans elated with his win at MTN Gravel Travel 2011-0044.jpg

Photo credit: Zoon Cronje

One of the main challenges for the pro-elite riders will certainly be to bring the domination of Kevin Evans and David George (Nedbank360Life) in the MTN National MTB Series to an end.

The two Nedbank riders have dominated the MTN National MTB series over the past two years by winning half the races in which they competed.

Since the inception of the MTN Series Evans has been crowned SA marathon champion on four occasions and he has also been the overall winner six times.

George was last year’s overall winner of the MTN National MTB Series.

Max Knox, Brandon Stewart (FedGroup-Itec Connect), Ben-Melt Swanepoel and Jacques Rossouw are the riders who are capable of spoiling the fun in the dirt for Evans and George.

But the MTN Gravel Travel is not only about winning.

This becomes evident when the course designer, Pieter van Wyk, starts talking about the different routes.

Asked about the difficulty of the race, Van Wyk does not hesitate to admit that it is a tough ride.

“The riders who compete in the 75km marathon will do 1800 metres of vertical climbing and the pro-elites, who compete in the 110km ultra-marathon, will be challenged by 3000 metres of vertical climbing.

“But everything is doable. I can guarantee that the riders who are fit will be able to ride most of the way. The route is not that technical.

“What makes the MTN Gravel Travel a tough race is the constant climbing. The route goes either uphill or downhill all the time. The longest climb is only 5 kilometres long and the rest of the climbs are seldom longer than one kilometre.

“As far as I am concerned, the MTN Gravel Travel’s most exciting feature will be the 20km specially built single-track sections.

“They are fast flowing tracks.”

The main bunch shortly after the start at Diemersfontein winery MTN Gravel Travel 2011-0101.jpg

Photo credit: Zoon Cronje

As far as the scenery is concerned, the riders will be in for a treat. They will be racing through wine estates, Fynbos habitat, wheat fields, orchards and plantations.

It is interesting to note that the single-track section begins at the Welvanpas Wine Estate. This is the farm where the Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief, was born.

The farm has been in the Retief family for more than 305 years.

Welvanpas nestles between the beautiful Hawekwa and Groenberg mountain ranges. The route consists mainly of single track and it winds through orchards, vineyard, waterfalls and pristine fynbos.

Van Wyk is convinced that this is one of the most beautiful parts of the country through which any mountain biker will ever have the opportunity to ride.

Cape Winelands beautiful as ever at MTN Gravel Travel 2011-0067.jpg

Photo credit: Zoon Cronje

“Between the mountains lies a totally desolate area. There is nothing. It will be just the rider, his mountain bike and his thoughts.”

Riders should keep an eye out for wild pigs that roam freely in the valley.

Recently a pig weighing 190kg was shot.

Van Wyk said some riders were fortunate to see leopard in the area.

Rugby fans who took up mountain biking as a way of keeping fit, will be interested to learn that they will have the opportunity to ride through the wine estate that belongs to Schalk Burger snr, the former Springbok lock, and Schalk Burger jnr, the current Springbok loose forward.

The 45km race will be a pleasant outing for families who simply enjoy riding their mountain bikes while appreciating the treasures offered by nature.

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