How do I start describing stage 1 of the Tankwa Trek? I wish I could swea,r as I’m sure a lot of other riders were thinking the same. With no rain in Western Cape the terrain on this year’s Tankwa Trek is well … (INSERT SWEARING).
I’m not sure of the number but riders dropped like flies, as 46 degrees in the Karoo took its toll on the guys who have not put in enough hours on the bike. With heavy loose climbs, you were rewarded with some downhill but with terrain that will scare many a skilled rider.
The single track is the highlight of stage 1. Landowners and Dryland have put in a huge effort to add more flowing trails, except a few bottle necks in the beginning, but these gave riders a bit of time to recover. The heat was also a huge factor on stage 1 and reached over 40 degrees taking no mercy on the suffering riders. Ryan from Ryan’s Car Wash who was doing his second Tankwa Trek said to me: “I feel like a small fish in big kettle.” I would’ve loved to hear what the others were saying.
I had a bad day with some technical issues and our Co2 adapters; Ashley’s (Haigh-Smith) one failing altogether (which has worked on previous Epics) – the leading to my tyre getting knocked off the beading which became very difficult to seat, so we had to put a tube in. With the heat and these niggly problems (which normally happen to Ash – and he had to give me his spares which made him grin from ear to ear), I quickly lost my sense of humour when I got my sixth flat 2km from the finish. (Add another swear word!)
We were woken up by a thunder storm at 04:00 on the morning of stage 2. It’s not a regular site out there, as it’s not often that you get those conditions on the Tankwa Trek. The rain that fell added a perfect amount of water to the dusty trails, making the ride a lot faster and cooler for a change.
This was a miracle specially for the first descent (which was pretty sketchy in the beginning but if you just let it roll you would have aced it! The section reminded Ash and I of the famous Umkomaas on Sani2C) before we made the long cruise to the start of the Merino Monster.
The Monster lived up to its name: 1 000m ascent in 10km or so is not easy to take in and the climb is a sufferfest. At the top however you are greeted by a crew from Dryland giving you full support and smiles which makes you realize how lucky you are for being able to ride a mountain bike. Not only that, but the best part of the day is that you are rewarded with some insane trails all the way down the back-end of the Monster. Some speeds on our GPSs read 43km/h down the natural rock trail. Just superb! Even while typing this the chills of how rad that section was comes back.
One thing that eased our suffering on stage 2 is that the crew of Dryland had enough water points to keep you hydrated for the nasty climbs and afterwards as your heart rate seemed to reach the same reading going down!
It was a much better day (you may have noticed a lot less swearing! -ed) and with the hard work done the only thing left to do was attack stage 3. It was affectionately known as the play-day!
Stage 3 of the Tankwa Trek was a full-tap race to the first water point as everybody wanted to get to the single track in front of their rivals; it is called the ‘play- day’ after all. There was no neutral zone this year making the first 30km super-fast and riders worked together on the district roads to get averages up a bit.
After the first water point it felt like we were riding on the moon with landscapes that will blow your mind. The trails are open for general rides; if you can get out there I highly recommend visiting the area. The single track did not disappoint, from riding through caves to crossing over so many bridges that you lost count, it is clear to all that a lot of work has been put in here by the locals.
Right before the second water point we were spoiled with another great section of single track. We saw one of the hard-working farmers picking up stones off the trail to make it smoother! (Ps. give that man a beer from us.)
The breaks of utilising district roads taking us through the apple farms were a welcome relief but also kept things interesting as we were never bored out there and always knew there was something fun waiting around the corner.
The finish was a treat with more single-track taking us around and to the back of Kaleo through the rock faces that made stage 1 so rad.
Massive thanks to the Dryland crew and to the landowners who were involved. At every water point the supporters where amazing, from lubing your chains, hanging up your bikes, filling bottles and most of all to the competitors for having a good laugh. I cannot wait for 2018!
Overall stage 3 brought some welcome relief as stage 1 and 2 were brutal showing us why this in one of the toughest 3-day stage races in the country. If you are planning to ride the Tankwa Trek, put in some good technical training and get used to riding in the heat. A word of warning for the roadies, this is not an easy three days and if you only train on the road … well good luck.