Varsity MTB Challenge, sponsored by FNB, takes place on 1 and 2 October with a first-of-its-kind two-stage race in Franschhoek. While five universities go head to head in the Varsity Sports MTB race, which will take place within the Varsity MTB Challenge race, alumni and the general public will join them on some of the finest track South Africa has to offer.

Photo credit: Boschendal.

Designer of the trail, Pieter van Wyk, has put together two stages that perfectly reflect the spirit of the event.

Stage One: An ‘Epic’ start

Stage one begins at Nederburg in Paarl, on Saturday 1 October, where riders will face a taxing start to the event. The spectacular Nederburg wine farm will serve as a picturesque start to the race. But riders shouldn’t be fooled by the calming, tall, lush trees or the beautiful rolling hills and vineyards; it’s a gruelling start to the race.

There is a gradual climb for the first 10km. From there riders will move into the olive orchards at Buffet Olives. And then the real climbing starts. “The track takes you all the way to the neck of Du Toitskloof Pass,” said Varsity MTB Challenge trail designer, Pieter van Wyk. “From there you can see the whole of the Boland and all the way down the N1 to Table Mountain. Spectacular views! That’s the highlight of the stage – to look down and see the whole Boland and Cape Peninsula regions.”

Shortly before the summit will be the first of a number of water points, 14km in. Then the single track fun begins. “There are a couple sections of single track in the pine forest and some more single track at Cascade Manor,” said Van Wyk. “It’s really wonderful single track going down there.

“The stage gets easier after that. The tricky part will be first 20km or 30km. The last 15km is flowing jeep track along foot of the mountain.”

Stage one will be the tougher of the two, with a fair share of climbing. From 134m above sea level, riders will climb as high as 755m above sea level.

“If you go hard you’re going to suffer,” said Van Wyk. “It’s quite a bit of climbing in the first 20km. From 134m above sea level to 755m. But at the same time, if you take it slowly it’s going to be a long, tiring climb up.”

What will have most MTB enthusiasts frothing at the mouth is the opportunity to ride a large portion of trail that forms part of the Cape Epic route. “Not a lot of people come out to ride here,” said Van Zyl. “There are sections of the plantation you are only able to do during races. Twenty-five kilometres of the track was part of the Epic this year, so it’s something quite special.”

Riders will end stage one with around 2km of single track before a bit of challenging jeep track with loose, rocky terrain and a slight climb. All in all a stunning but testing stage, with around 8km of single track to look forward to. La Paris Estate will be a welcome sight to rest the weary legs and sip on a glass of chilled white wine as the sun sets.

Stage Two: Unchartered territory

Waking up to a glorious Franschhoek sunrise at La Paris Estate, riders will gear up for the second stage of the race. Passing through Drakenstein Prison, they will enter through the main gate, past the iconic statue of Nelson Mandela.

It will be relatively flat riding to get to the other side of the valley, to Boschendal, where the real fun begins. Stage two will predominantly be on the Boschendal trail. “This is all new trail that Boschendal have been building over the past year,” said Van Wyk. “They’ve invested a lot of money there. Guys can expect to ride some of the best trails in the Western Cape.

“For most people it will be the first time ever out there. It’s an unbelievable experience. They’ve created some really manicured trails for riders. There’s some really fast-flowing track, where you’ll reach some high speeds, then there is a bit of flat with some burns – a little bit of everything really.”

Riders will pass across the Berg River, on a low-water bridge where Van Zyl guarantees they’ll get wet. The final 3km will be same finish as stage one.

“The trails through Boschendal are phenomenal,” he said. “The views from top of Boschendal as you look down into Franschhoek are breath-taking. There’s also a good 15km of single track to look forward to on day two.”

The stage is quite literally set, for the first-of-its-kind MTB race. It’s something experienced MTB enthusiast and trail designer Pieter van Wyk is looking forward to not only because of the route, but also the unique race format.

“I don’t think we (Capetonians) realise how beautiful it is,” he said. “The climb on day one is something to experience if you aren’t used to climbing. The brand new track on day two is spectacular and it’s been exciting to set out a route that for a lot of people will be something they’ve never experienced before.

“Then the fact that it’s encouraging both alumni, the general public and students to compete, adds to the event. No matter where you’re riding in the field, there is something to ride for. It’s a clever concept.”

Entries are still open for Varsity MTB Challenge. Included in the entry fee is:

  • University-specific bike numbers and a race goodie bag.
  • Welcome dinner on the Friday evening with music and live entertainment.
  • Lunch on Saturday with music and live entertainment.
  • Lunch and prize-giving on Sunday.
  • A Varsity MTB Challenge race jersey worth R800.
  • Bike wash each day.
  • Entry date closes: Monday, 12 September
  • To enter, go to:

Entry fees:

An early-bird discount is available for the first 50 alumni and general public teams to enter. Entry fee thus:
  • Alumni and general public – R4 000 per team of two
  • Students – R2 520 per team of two
  • FNB and RMB Private Bank cardholders will receive an additional 10% discount. Terms and Conditions apply*.

Regular entry fees:

  • Alumni and general public – R5 000 per team of two
  • Students – R2 520 per team of two

For more Varsity MTB Challenge information:

Facebook: Varsity MTB Challenge
Twitter; @VarsityMTB
Instagram: @varsitymtb