Isuzu 3 Towers
My first race in South Africa since my return from the United States was the Isuzu 3 Towers stage race. This is one of my favorite races and I couldn’t have asked for a better event to kick off my local racing campaign.
Hosted at Mankele Mountain Bike Park just outside of Nelspruit and created by mountain bike fanatics Mark and Geoff, the event just oozes character. Over the 3 stages we covered 208km and ascended 4760m, making for quite a tough but very rewarding challenge. The climbs were mostly on open roads while the downhills were littered with single track and bush tunnels. The weather also played a role with temperatures in the mid 30’s (degree Celsius) adding to the challenge.
Marc Bassingthwaighte and I teamed up for the event making a good race even better. As riders we have different strengths and weaknesses but found that when we combined as a team we brought out the best in each other. Marc’s cross country power and technical skill guided us through the punchy sections while my endurance and experience helped us to measure our effort over the three stages.
On day 1 Marc and I raced smooth and steady netting us a 2nd place on the stage, a handful of seconds behind the youthful pairing of James Reid (Team 360 Life) and Lourens Luus (Valencia). Gawie Combrink (Westvaal/Columbia) and Philip Buys (USN) were the 3rd team home after a tough day’s racing which included a river crossing/swim within meters of a 100m waterfall!
Day 2 saw Brandon Stewart (Fedgroup) and Rourke Croeser (Orange Monkey) launch their comeback after a mechanical problem had cost them dearly on day 1. They were on track to win the stage when Rourke crashed near the finish, handing Reid and Luus the gap the needed to win a second stage and increase their overall lead. Stewart and Croeser clung to 2nd on the stage with Marc and me taking 3rd to consolidate our overall position.
Day 3 was short and sharp which suited the cross country racers. Rourke and Brandon blasted off the start line again chasing that elusive stage win. Despite a good warm up, Marc and I had a bit of a moment early in the race dropping off the leading pace. Experience counts in those situations so we settled down and soon found our rhythm. We worked together really well and with a huge effort reeled in the chase group behind Brandon and Rourke with about 12km to go. With 5km to go I must have been really hungry because I went down and ate some dirt – literally! The ensuing adrenalin shot was just what I needed and we raced to the finish for another 3rd place on the stage and 2nd overall for the weekend.
1. James Reid and Lourens Luus
2. Melt Swanepoel and Marc Bassingthwaighte
3. Rourke Croeser and Brandon Stewart
4. Gawie Combrink and Philip Buys
5. Paul Cordes and Arno du Toit
As always, it was a real pleasure to ‘play’ on the Mankele trails and I can’t wait to get back there.