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The Mankele Mountain Bike Park is a favourite playground amongst mountain bikers. It is situated in the heart of the Lowveld, a mere 30 minute drive from Nelspruit, White River and Sabie.
Not that one needs a reason to visit this beautiful part of our country but this past weekend saw Mankele host their annual stage race event, the Isuzu 3 Towers.
The event is held over 3 days and started off with a 70km stage on day one. The highlight of this stage was the short portage section through a waste deep river. If you were unlucky like me, it turned out to be a short swim.
Stage two was the “queen stage” which included 1750m of climbing over the 70km stage. The race organisers are passionate mountain bikers themselves and never let a climbing effort go unrewarded. Subsequent to every climb they spoiled us with meandering cattle tracks, bush tunnels and forested single track.
The final 45km stage was short and sweet. It had the highest reward to effort ratio with loads of single track following a long climb at the start.
What added to the fun element of the race was that Mankele lies at the bottom of a valley. With all the stages starting and finishing at Mankele it meant that the final kilometres of every day was downhill and yes, of course it was on single track! No matter what happened out on route, you were always guaranteed to finish with a big smile.
For this year’s edition I teamed up with local cross country star, Samantha Sanders. Sam and I have become friends through cycling but this would be our first stage race as a team. Like all new relationships you spend extra energy at the beginning to make it work and hopefully it’s smooth sailing from there. Sam and I have widely differing strengths on the bike which added to the challenges but having the same goal made the job at hand a lot easier.
We got on well before, during and after each stage which surely contributed to our consistent riding throughout the event. From day one until the end we maintained our 2nd place overall in the ladies category while the other teams reshuffled the podium, often due to mechanicals.
When all was said and done Candice Neethling and Cherise Stander took overall honours with Vera Adrian and Irene Styne rounding out the podium in 3rd place.
3 Towers has always been a highlight on my racing calendar as it has so much to offer. Their trails are some of the best in the country, the food is delicious, the camping is quite pleasant and the organisers do their best to put on a great event. Thanks to the Mankele Team for a wonderful weekend of mountain biking. I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.
1st Candice Neethling & Cherise Stander (Time Freight Velolife – RE:CM)
2nd Yolandi du Toit & Samantha Sanders (Garmin/Valencia)
3rd Vera Adrian & Irene Styne (Namibia)
4th Ashleigh Moffat & Carla Van Huyssteen (Time Freight Velolife)
5th Heila Meintjies & Ruth Le Roux (Bells Cycling)
Northern Farms is one of the foremost mountain bike destinations in and around Johannesburg. On Saturday they hosted the 4th edition of the Believe MTB Race which is an event in charity of the CHOC Foundation. In sporting circles this childhood cancer foundation is mostly known for wearing their elaborate cow costumes while competing all across SA.
Marc Bainbridge invited me to participate at the event and I didn’t need any other excuses to go and check out one of Johannesburg’s original bike parks.
It first I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a race or a social ride, but any doubts were erased when the starter’s gun sounded and we went belting out of the start gate. Through a cloud of dust and a pack of elbow wielding cyclists, I made my way to the front – now quite certain of everyone else’s aspirations. Seeing as I made an effort to get to the front, I kept it going hoping to thin down the field. This worked and going into the first singletrack I was leading a quartet of riders. The four of us made our way through the tight, freshly cut single track keeping our lead intact.
A few more accelerations and it was only Julius Cobbet and me at the head of affairs by the time we reached the halfway mark of the 55km race. Going into a rocky section I hit my back wheel on a sharp edge causing an impact puncture on the bead of my tyre. Whether it was negligent riding on my behalf or sheer bad luck didn’t matter as I was forced to stop and inflate the damaged tyre. I got going pretty quick, but the tyre kept losing air forcing me to stop again, remove the wheel and shake it to allow the Joe’s Sealant to reach the affected area. The Joe’s did it’s trick, but by this time I was well out of the top 10.
This is mountain biking and anything can happen, so I got going and put in a big effort hoping to catch back up to the leaders. The flat course and winding nature didn’t allow for a quick chase back, but it sure was a lot of fun riding the sweeping trails. The loose surface and tight corners forced me to stay concentrated and if nothing else, it was a good skills workout.
I caught back up to 4th place, but that was as good as it was going to get. Julius Cobbet just held on to his lead winning the race about 40 seconds ahead of Craig Uria and a strong riding Shaun Baloyi.
Much more than any result or good training session the race was about a cause and it felt good to be part of something so positive. Seeing all the volunteers and sponsors unite and give their time and effort really put things in perspective and made the day well worthwhile.
I look forward to being back next year and racing some ‘cows’ for another shooter filled glass trophy.
Thanks to Marc Bainbridge and everyone involved with this meaningful event.
Until next time, happy trails!
Sabie, the ‘Sleepy Hollow’ of the Lowveld, was awakened by the York Timbers Enduro MTB Rally over the past weekend. 24 Corporate teams descended on the little town for 3 days of mountain biking, socializing and fun in general, all with the aim of raising funds to be used for York Timbers initiated community projects in the area.
As one of the biggest employment providers in the region, York Timbers has a strong sense of social responsibility and this was one way for them to give something back to the local community.
During a silent auction on Thursday evening, two dozen 4-man Corporate teams each ‘bought’ a pro rider who would then accompany them for 2 days of Enduro racing as well as a half marathon. The Enduro stages each had 4 timed sections (3 downhill and 1 uphill) which would count towards the overall team standings by the end of the weekend.
Day 1 was all about seeding as the Corporate teams raced each other on a newly built Cross Country course at the York Timbers office park, to determine starting positions for the first Enduro stage. In the afternoon the professional riders raced each other on a 3,4km downhill course to show off their skills to potential bidders at that night’s silent auction. Arno du Toit (ASG/Epic Sports Academy) was the fastest of the men, taking revenge for his second place from last year in spectacular fashion.
On Friday the event started with a 40km stage which included plenty of climbing. The reward for all this toil was some fast, flowing singletrack descents. I rode with the Timrite team and the boys (Kevin Bentley, Philip Cox, Pieter Le Roux and Theunis Bester) made the time fly by as we hammered the timed sections and rode comfortably everywhere else, chatting up a storm when the gradients would allow it.
Day 2 was a little shorter (35km) but not much easier as the Sabie mountains still took their toll before we had the relative luxury of racing the downhill sections back into town. In the afternoon there was also a spectator friendly dual eliminator race just to make sure we stayed on our toes.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy and in the evenings we enjoyed dinner while well known artists such as the Blues Broers and Jakkie Louw entertained everyone. This was a great opportunity for the professional riders and the corporate cycling enthusiasts to mingle and share ideas in a very relaxed environment.
Sunday morning dawned with a half marathon event which was also open to the public and finally a pro’s only Cross Country race straight afterwards. The XC race was good fun and a spectacular way to end proceedings with us busting a lung and the crowds able to see almost every minute of our painful effort.
All said and done this unique and innovative event is a great success in no small part due to the organizing team who did everything they could to make the weekend as enjoyable as possible. From the hand built trails to the food and accommodation at the Floreat Lodge, no effort was spared in pursuit of the finest hospitality.
Long may the York Timbers Enduro MTB Rally live and I look forward to being part of this ground breaking event as it evolves to reach its full potential.
Until next time, happy trails!
For some footage, please see the following links
The 5th edition of the Clover Lowveld Tour took place from the 6th to the 10th of August. The race comprised of 6 stages which included 2 time trials and 4 road stages, all run from one of the Lowveld’s Tourist hot spots – Graskop.
Day one was a 155km stage to Ohrigstad and back to Graskop via Pilgrim’s rest. Our ‘pilgrimage’ meant crossing Robber’s pass and the Bonnet pass towards the end of the stage after more than 100km of racing. It took about 25min for the break of the day to be established, after which the Bonitas and Westvaal BMC teams kept the break in check for the better part of the day. The break slowly got reeled in and then all hell broke loose on Robber’s pass. Dylan Girdlestone (Bonitas) and JC Nel (Westvaal BMC) rewarded their teams work and took it to the line where JC Nel took stage honours ahead of the newly signed Garmin Sharp stagiarre. I trailed in a few minutes later in 17th spot, semi-satisfied with the day’s efforts.
Day 2 was a 27km time trial from the bottom of Kowyn’s pass towards Hazyview. As the course was mostly downhill, the real TT (Time Trial) specialists on their TT bikes were sure to make the rest of us look average – and so they did! JC Nel again showed his class and won the TT ahead of a super strong Nico Bell (RE:CM) who surprised many with his 2nd place.
Day 3 was another 155km slog which included 3000m of climbing. The day’s break away got established very early on and back in the pack it was no easy ride as we rode at a strong tempo for the most part of the stage. I really struggled towards the end but had some good company in the last 5km as I finally caught up to Matthys Beukes (Scott Factory Racing) who had been in the early break and we rolled in just inside of the top 20.
Day 4 was a killer with a hillclimb time trial in the morning up Kowyns Pass, followed by an afternoon stage of 6 laps around the God’s Window circuit. The hillclimb TT suited me and I snuck into the top 10 on the stage, but paid for it in the afternoon when I ‘hit the wall’ on the 6th and final climb up God’s Window. By this stage the peloton was also in shreds after chasing Matthys for 4 laps. In a repeat of the previous day, Matthys and I finished the stage together but this time he was helping me in to the finish. It’s good to have friends.
By day 5 I was just hanging on and while the peloton raced on an out and back route to Blyderiver Canyon, I just made sure I finished. That in itself turned out to be quite an achievement as I later discovered that more than a 3rd of the field had called it quits before reaching the tour’s end.
What stood out for me was the performance of the mountain bikers at the event. Although not in the limelight much, Nico Bell did some sterling work and was super strong all week despite a nasty crash on the final day. Matthys Beukes animated the race with regular attacks and huge turns at the front of the bunch which had some roadies jealously asking if he was ‘retarded’ in response to his never say die attitude. Rourke Croeser (Kargo MTB) was also super strong and was close to winning stages on 3 occasions, just losing out to the superior numbers and tactics of the road teams at the event.
With a few exceptions it was also very refreshing to see the positive racing from the professional teams at the event. I think the guys realize that aggressive racing is the only way to improve and get to the level required if you want to be competitive outside of SA. It’s also an infectious mindset and if one team races positively and has success, the others will follow.
Congrats to all the organizers and competitors on a well run and hard fought event and long may it continue as a platform for developing our road racers.
Now it’s time to lick my wounds, recover and hopefully benefit from this block of hard racing.
Until next time, happy trails (and roads)!