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Isuzu Three Towers 2013 - Race report

Stefan Cremer

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2013 Isuzu Three Towers report

I’ve driven past Mankele a couple of times and always made the same comments that it looks really cool and I would really, really like to kill some trails there. Little did I know just how stunning the trails there are, there really aren’t any really good superlatives which adequately describe how awesome the routes, but mainly the single tracks and the bush tunnels are!

Big up to the Mark and Geoff show for bringing the MTB community in RSA the best bang-for-your-buck stage race, their organisation of the entire event was fantastic. For R6k you won’t find any other race with such awesome trails, excellent food, friendly smiles all round and proper accommodation.

Stage 1:

So on day 1 I rode stood on the start knowing two things – 1: I had no idea of what form I was in, 2: I was going to climb a lot!

True to form, the stage started out with a proper climb into the plantations, luckily the first kilometre or so was behind the lead-out car and gave us some time to get the legs sorted before hitting the climb with earnest. My partner, the legend that is James Ross Marsh was a little stronger than I was going into the event, so that motivated me a lot to try and stay on his wheel going up the climbs, I sort of managed that, but climbing with him up those long climbs made me realise that I was going to dig really deep for three days to try and stay with him going up the mountains, luckily the guy is such a teammate and never once complained when I pulled in on the reins when I started fading.

Once you get to the top you were hit with breath taking scenery and superbly beautiful landscapes as you went through one plantation after the other, always on super lekker singletrack. Pushing one as far as your guts allows you through those singletracks is such fun, as the wheels slide out through the corners, roots sometimes become launch-pads for jumps and rocks flying all round while the wind is bashing your face. Suffering up those mountains, being burned with lactate in the legs and continually pushing to try and stay ahead and attempt to catch fellow riders is rewarded with so many awesome singletrack induced smiles, that all of the pain is forgotten in an instant!

Back to day 1’s racing, at the KOM we attacked the two teams who were riding with us up the mountain, the move stuck, but we weren’t even a ¼ of the way into the race, so I knew it was going to be really tough hanging onto the lead we had build up over those guys. At some point on the plateau we saw the Kleinhanse, but I was not able to pedal any faster before we hit the descents, they stayed in front of us for the entire stage by quite a margin in the end. Going down the mountain was so thrilling, hitting speeds of 70km/h+, thrilling stuff!

Unfortunately I hadn’t been paying enough attention to my energy intake and became a little hypoglycaemic before the sting prior to the Sudwala caves descent, going up there sure was tough, but I managed to hang onto James’ wheel. The sudwala descent was really tricky and we hit some proper traffic going down there, but still managed to enjoy some respite for the legs…

The last stretch of single track to get back to Mankele really was a lot of fun and the day turned out to be stunning!

We did stage 1 in a time of 3:41, I was happy enough with the result in the end, but more importantly, we enjoyed the ride massively!

Stage 2:

So, standing on the start of the second day stories were shared of our various experiences the previous day, ready (or not) to take on the second stage.

The okes went flying when the lead-car pulled away, I tried my level best to hang on to the coat tails of the leading bunch, but my diesel engine still needed a little bit of two stroke to run smooth… The mine shaft and following bush tunnel was fantastic, the trails through the tunnel were nice and smooth and there were so many nice corners and berms you just could not help but smile all the way!

The vets we broke away from the previous day were really looking strong, a bunch of eight of us, including the Kleinhanse and two youngsters from Nelspruit and Sabie had formed and I was hanging on for dear life! At the start of the main climb of the day, I told James to hang on a little, as I was afraid of burning too many matches early in the day. It worked out okay, as the bunch surged ahead of us, however we managed to almost catch the Kleinhanse at the KOM, but we needed to get some refreshments to ensure that the legs were not going to cave in at a later stage. The downhill was a little rougher than that of day 1, but still we hit some properly high speeds and loved the wind in the faces!

Riding into Schoemanskloof we passed Erik and Ariane and I wanted to make this stick, so tried to hide the pain from James, but the man was going! The was a hill of 2.6km long after a relatively long drag that really tests one as the wind was blowing slightly from the front, plus it was straight, dead straight…

However, shortly after this hill we hit SAPPI and Junior’s bush tunnels hard, properly hard! That was probably the best 15 minutes of mountain biking I have experienced anywhere in our beautiful country! Ripping down there without thinking of any consequences for decisions made in milliseconds and shredding through corners like I was on rails was so fantastic I would encourage any mountain biker I meet to go to Mankele for a weekend, even if it is only to ride those two bush tunnels.

I had eaten better on the bike on the day and managed to have some power for a good kick to the line in the last sections, finishing the ride in a time of 3:27.


Stage 3:

Truthfully, I was terrified! This was by far the shortest stage of the race, but knowing that also means knowing that we would be gunning from the start to the end without any respite for the by now tired legs.

Going up the little tar climb on the XCO course really didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would and James and kept on hammering up the mountain, eventually going past the tower in 46 minutes, however I had burned a couple too many matches at the start and in the climb to the tower, so I was really having a tough day on the bike.

I was hoping for some respite from the route, knowing full well that it would not offer me any, but a man can only hope!

My hands were shot to pieces by the time that we went through the culvert under the road, with blisters in both hands and my left thumb numb to the core.

However I never, ever give up and really fought like a dog with the route and myself in order to complete the stage as fast I possibly could. I managed to ride up “last legs” which really was a major personal victory for me at the time, it still is as that climb is quite steep, loose and technical.

Unfortunately my hands refused to play along going down the avalanche and snakes and ladders, we ended up losing somewhere around 5 minutes going down there, which really was disappointing for me personally as I am quite competitive by nature.

Luckily though the finish is smooth and we were privileged enough to ride the BMX track and push the bikes through the berms one last time before riding across the finish line in 2:18.


We finished in 12th position on the overall GC for the race, which is something wasn't aiming for, the main aim was to enjoy the ride.

We were so fortunate, never once did we have punctures or tumbles or really bad technical issues costing us time or fun. I had some issues with my front derailleur, but could ride with it at least.

My fingers are a little swollen from the hammering the route handed out going down the avalanche yesterday and the legs are really happy to enjoy some time off the bike today.

Lastly, a big thanks to Christo Fourie, my MD at Professional Cost Consultants for sponsoring our kit and entries for the race, it was epic!

I can really highly recommend this race to anyone, this is probably the best three days of proper mountain biking one can enjoy consecutive in South Africa!

Edited by Stefan Cremer
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