Last year’s Potberg and De Hoop MTB Challenge sizzled when one of the historical buildings caught alight, but fortunately this year it was all about the riding for Seamus Allardice.
When my usual riding partner pulled out a couple of weeks before the Potberg and De Hoop MTB Challenge I thought it would be the perfect race for my old mate Jacques Rademan to join me on. It would be Jacques’ first stage race, and as it has got a far more of a chilled ride or tour vibe I figured it would be a nice low pressure introduction to multi-day riding. Plus, Jacques spent many a weekend pedalling around De Hoop with me back in our primary school days so he was keen to get back to an old stomping ground too.
Having done the race last year (when the De Hoop Collection restaurant, a historical monument dating back to the early 1800’s infamously caught alight and overshadowed the riding) I knew what to expect, but even so I was blown away again by the event!
I might have lied to Jacques – who was less than fully fit, as he was fighting off a horrible sounding cough and coming off a two month bout of chronic inactivity (not linked to the cough at all) – telling him that there would only be 750 meters of climbing per day… So there was a little more than that, but not much! Neither the 75km first day nor the 55km second crested 1 000 meters, the route also features plenty of easy gravel road kays, which makes it ideal for newcomers to do consecutive days of riding. Race entries are also limited by the amount of accommodation available on De Hoop Nature Reserve and there was hardly a rider present without their entire family in tow, which added to the very relaxed vibe.
The De Hoop Collection (the company which runs the accommodation and restaurants on De Hoop Nature Reserve) looked after the catering for the weekend, Mitchell’s Brewery was on hand to supply tasty craft beer and one of the local farmers, Neil Neethling who organises the route had a couple of new tricks up his sleeve.
The first day’s 75km route featured some of the most scenic views you’ll ever enjoy from a bike (okay I’m biased as I’m from the area…). The highlight of the entire race for me was the climb up the back of the Potberg from the Breede River, through pristine fynbos with a host of protea species in full bloom and the descent down the other side to the old Elandspad farmstead. That section of the route also boasts the best riding with the climb taking place on a 4×4 trail and the descent on a bit of manicured singletrack which seems oddly out of place in such a deserted part of the reserve. Apparently though it’s ridable all year, day passes are available from __ for __ and the route is signposted with permanent route markers too.
Day two was shorter at 55km, though race organisers Garden Route Events did add a new section from last year which took riders down to the old mole catcher’s house (yip that was a thing in the 1950’s) and offered great views of the De Hoop vlei bird-life and the iconic De Hoop sand dunes. Though shorter than the first day the trails are substantially more technical on day two, with lots of rough limestone jeep track, muddy tracks through the farmlands, an epic crossing on the submerged causeway across the top of the vlei and a dastardly singletrack climb – which comes a close second to the highlight of day one to my favourite part of the race.
As for Jacques and his first stage race – he thoroughly enjoyed it and was probably stronger on the second day than he was on the first. He doesn’t share my enthusiasm for that last singletrack climb though… but maybe the suffering will keep him on the bike now rather than taking another two month break from exercising…
Where are we?
De Hoop Nature Reserve is situated on the coast between Cape Agulhas and the Breede River, it’s one of the best spots in the world to view Southern Right Whales in the world (much better than Hermanus!). For accommodation information visit www.dehoopcollection.com.