Riding the Dusty Fairtree Contour

Alban Lakata and Robert Hobson lead the field at the start of the Fairtree Simonsberg Contour MTB stage race at the Simonsberg Conservancy near Stellenbosch in the Western Cape of South Africa on 4 February 2018.
Photo: Chris Hitchcock

Stage races are popping up all over our beautiful country. Back in February I spent two days in the saddle as I participated in the annual Fairtree Simonsberg Contour race.

WORDS: FRANS LE ROUX

IMAGES: CHRIS HITCHCOCK

If, like us, you are lucky enough to live in the Western Cape, you would agree that we are spoilt with plenty of stage races right on our doorstep. At the beginning of February, I got the opportunity to sample one such event when I rocked up on the outskirts of Stellenbosch to ride the two-day Fairtree Simonsberg Contour. The event HQ was the Dirtopia Trail Centre which is situated at the Delvera farm. The routes included a long option for both days which consisted of roughly 60km, a medium option where a rider could do any mixture of the long and short (40km) route or a short option which included two days of 40-kilometre racing. I felt brave-ish as I opted for the 60km on the Saturday and the 40km for the Sunday. Let’s face it, no one wants to struggle excessively on the last day of their event.

DAY 1: 55KM | 1 380M On the morning of day one, I was greeted with a perfect warm and windless day. Judging by the 07:15 start time, the organisers knew that the temperature would be uncomfortable come the afternoon. The action got underway at a frantic pace and while I wanted to prove my fitness I quickly fell to the back where I aimed to enjoy the ride. Anyone would tell you that 60 kilometres in the Simonsberg area is no easy feat. Route planner and trail guru Meurant Botha took out some of the boring flat farm roads and tried to incorporate some new single- track. After we made our way around Klapmutskop we dropped into some gnarly new dusty singletrack. After a successful navigation we made our way towards the R44 which we crossed. Some fast-paced vineyard action followed before we reached the dreaded Kanonkop climb, which we thankfully did not have to summit. A proper rocky and loose climb took us up the Never-Ender climb – albeit only halfway. From here we bombed down towards Delvera again. Yet another terrible climb later we stopped at the last water table with about 15km left to go. Upon arrival, the friendly folk manning the table informed me and my fellow riders they only had some water, energy drinks and watermelon left. This is something that no one wants to experience especially if you know that the next couple of minutes will be a tough stretch towards the finish. A tricky, tight and switchback filled trail took us to the top of Klapmutskop. As they say, the best was left for last. We sailed down some spectacular singletrack and made our way towards the Dirtopia trail centre for a well-deserved beer.

DAY 2: 41KM | 1 050M

On stage two I was very excited to “only” be doing the shorter forty-kilometre distance. The same rookie mistake I’ve been making all along is, that I don’t take much notice of the route profile. We rolled off the start line at 07:30 and headed straight for Kanonkop farm. Luckily, I’ve ridden these trails, so for the most part of the first 20 kilos I knew where I was going. The trails at Muratie and Warwick were super fun as we got some respite from the sun while ripping it up on the twisty singles. I have to mention once again that the water tables were understocked. Never have I arrived at the very first stop to find an empty station. Yes, I know that riders such as myself should be carrying their own food (which I did) but those I keep for an emergency. Having no food to eat with more than two hours still to go is a disaster. I soldiered on experiencing some new trails between Muratie and Kanonkop. Due to the terrible drought these trails were dusty and loose which made the next few kilos rather tough. Myself and a couple of riders made our way up the KOM section as we knew that soon we would be heading back. Once again, the last few kilometres were by far the most enjoyable. One sharp climb stood in the way of me finishing the race. Thanks to my mate Murphy, I managed to get a flat right at the top. With tyre-sealant everywhere I tried to bomb the tyre which did not work the way it usually does. After losing about 20 minutes I managed to get going again and all I could think of was the cold beer at the finish. With just over 7h30m in the saddle over the two days I managed to get back to the Dirtopia trail centre in one piece. The massive chicken burger and various salads made up for the depleted water tables. Thanks to the folk at Dirtopia and Fairtree for giving me the opportunity to race in my backyard. I’ll see you in 2019!

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