With just under 2 months to go before the first round of the XCO Cup Series kicks off in the Friendly City, I took up the offer to attend a pre-ride on the new course. The Baakens Valley Nature Reserve is actually an extraordinary place for an XCO course – Two reasons: It’s a valley, able to deliver countless short steep climbs, and its a nature reserve – stunning scenery (except for some litter that I’m sure will be cleared out before race day).

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Dropping into Baakens Valley.

The first 200m of the course is relatively flat singletrack with one or two short climbs before you descend into the valley for the first time. Here some natural rock gardens and drop offs gets the adrenalin flowing early on in the game. At the bottom you make your way over one of the 3 bridge crossings that keeps you dry from the Baakens River (they were not yet completed at the time we rode, but things were looking promising with structures already in place). It was a bit muddy as you approached the river and it will make for interesting riding in wet weather.

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The natural rock garden is a nice addition from mother earth.

On the other side of the valley you find yourself on singletrack paths that will make it difficult to overtake for a long stretch. Getting a good position before you drop into the valley will be crucial. As you make your way down again to the 2nd river crossing you are greeted with, in my opinion, the most enjoyable section of the course. A rock face descent (not as daring as the first rock garden, but the right line choice could borrow you some valuable time) followed by a nice flowing descent with natural berms making it possible to really get things up to speed!

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As you go over the bridge and up again you’ll have to navigate some of the steepest parts of the course. Sharp kicks and loose gravel make them even more technical. Keeping your eyes focused ahead, maintaining good speed and body position will carry you over these climbs.

Now heading back in the direction you came from for the first time since you begun, you make one last dip into the valley. Again you’ll have to get yourself up some sharp climbs on the other side in order to make it back to the start area for another round in the pain cave.

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There is definitely some work left on the course before we’ll see fast lap times on the STRAVA competition, but the grunt work is finished. It’s now time to hone the course in and get it smoothed out, as well as to upgrade the technical sections so they can take the beating of some top racing which we no doubt can expect.