This past weekend I took part in the annual ProNutro Magalies Monster MTB Event. There was the option of a 20km, 40 km or the 75 km route which included the Monster 9 km climb up the North side of the Magalies Mountain Range.
The race was born through very humble beginnings, with Karl Schubert taking out friends over weekend mountain bike sessions in the Buffelspoort area. These weekend rides started out more than a decade ago, until some of Karl’s friends suggested to transform these cycling sessions into a big and tough cycling race. From there on Harry Schubert (Karl’s dad), Still Water Sports and many other stakeholders got involved to create this wonderful race weekend at ATKV Buffelspoort. The race is without any doubt one of the toughest single day events in South Africa. Very rough, rocky and at some parts dangerous. This recipe is normally what South African athletes crave for in a race. No wonder the morning of the event thousands of cyclists pitched up for a real adventure and challenge. All self inflicted I will recall…
Since my success at Joberg2C (3RD overall in the Solo race, 950 km mtb in 9 days) a few weeks ago I have calmed down a lot concerning pre-race anxiety and doubt.
With the start of the 75 km race I did not worry too much that I was three rows from the front, or the serious knee pain I inflicted upon myself from a stupid bump against a rock the weekend before. I was just excited and keen to start and push myself to the limit. I managed within the 1st km of racing to get myself into the leading group and that’s where I stayed for most part of the race. Mountain Bike racing is much different from Xterra racing (I learnt this the hard way). With Xterra racing you go as hard as you can from the start of the bike leg. Where in mtb racing you just don’t do that… You stay patient and wait (given that you are fast and strong enough to stay with the leaders in the race) for the other cyclist around you to make a mistake. These mistakes can vary from punctures, technical bike problems, crashes and athletes expending too much energy at the wrong time which will lead to early fatigue settling in his/her body. Thus my strategy: Pedal and ride within my own physical and technical limits for as long as possible.
The front group stayed about 8 – 10 men big until the 1st real technical climb 15 km into the race in Mountain Sanctuary Reserve. This climb is around 2.6 km long and extremely rocky and unstable – a good 15 minutes of climbing. Shaun Nick Bester (Son of the Comrades legend – Nick Bester) rode in front for the whole duration of the climb followed by myself and then Henry Uys (last year’s winner). Only one more cyclist managed to stay with us ascending this climb – Andrew Gray. The rest was about 2 minutes off the pace when we started descending a gravel road that looks like a rock garden littered with lose coconut size boulders.
With the start of the Monster 9 km climb we were still cycling in a group – the four of us who managed to break away from the rest going up the climb in Mountain Sanctuary Reserve. This climb is really very deceiving. It doesn’t look steep or that tough, but every kilometer of the climb, it gets more rocky and steeper. Shaun Nick Bester rode in front trying to split up the group in the beginning. Unfortunately for him he rode into a light head wind making it a little more difficult to achieve. Mid way up-hill Henry took the lead with me following in his shadow. He looked the weakest of us four battling it out for the win, but somehow he managed to keep on setting the pace up the Monster. This continued all the way to the top of the mountain.
When you reach the highest point of the race you make a right turn into a narrow tear in the Magalies Mountain. This is where I took the lead going really bonkers through a very dangerous and yes, rocky single track descent. After the descend you had to jump off your bike and climb over a rock barrier to get onto the Breeds Nek gravel road. Once on the road, you had to cycle another 500 m to the top of the pass to earn the King of the Mountain Prize. Thus when I saw that I have opened up a gap, I tried to gun it for the KOM… this was my mistake in the race. This is where I lost the win. I went flat out – for 1 min only! – yes stupid me! – and my whole body rebelled. I started to cramp and felt extremely weak. I had to stop at the top of the mountain pass for a few seconds – just to give my cramps time to settle down. I was second at the KOM check point but started the 8 km descent down the pass in 4th position.
This is where I lost Henry in the race and never really saw him again. It took me another hour to recover from my 1 min effort and to make up the 100 m gap Shaun Nike Bester and Andrew Gray had on me. With 10 km to go I saw a gap onto the other two cyclist and took it. By this time I was already flat and fatigued, not to mention the pain I have endured in my knee for the whole race. Luckily I managed to hold on and came 20 seconds in front of Andrew for 2nd over-all position and less than 2 minutes behind Henry.