The 3rd annual Fedhealth MTB Challenge took place on Sunday 17 September at Boschendal just outside Stellenbosch. Tough but beautiful trails awaited the participants and we caught up with some riders who shared their experiences after completing the 60km event.
SIMONE VAN AARDT
This is the second time that I’ve taken part in this event and let me inform you – they don’t call it a challenge for nothing. Last year, the race organisers let us suffer up the quarry climb in Meerendal Wine Estate while the most of us were running on empty. This year? Well, they took it up a notch in a brand-new venue. The marathon took us through the stunning Boschendal Wine Estate and neighbouring Banhoek Conservancy trails – and despite being only 60km, they managed to include all sorts of terrain: gravel roads, jeep track and for the most part – single track ft. rocks (big rocks, little rocks and everything in between); roots, tree stumps, sand, mud and some grass while challenging us on: Ascents: These included gradual climbs, steep climbs, steeper climbs, punchy climbs. And just when you think that you can’t possibly climb more, you climb a little more. Luckily, the views did offer some respite. Descents: Can you descend? More importantly, can you corner, and how tight can you go while descending? After finally reaching the top of the Botmaskop climb, you start the descend with “Luiperd se Fyndraai” – I soon realised that I can’t descend and landed on the ground. After this, we then dropped into Bartinney’s renowned Skyfall singletrack, followed by some more daunting singletrack. Flats: Even the flats hurt! Overall, it was an awesome day out: could not have asked for more perfect weather conditions and the
organisers did a great job with route, water points etc.
It truly was a weekend for everyone! Fedhealth and Stillwater have a great recipe going here. Mom and the two boys did the fun ride and had a jol. Mostly flat with loads of single track and a proper river crossing just to wet their appetite for future similar events. I rode the marathon event and started in A batch (I checked with the organizers to see whether someone was taking the Mickey). Beautiful riding conditions greeted us at the start with temperatures in the mid-teens and no wind to speak of. The race left “Die Werf” and headed westwards into the vineyards for a couple of kays under neutral racing conditions. The route followed the Boschendal black route (about 21km total). With just enough blood in the legs we started the first of many shorter climbs. The first named “Black climb”. This was the first time that I was riding Boschendal and what a treat. Back to the ride … all good things come to an end and this wasn’t more true when I hit a short sharp hill, it may have been called Rocky Horror or Swart Op? Whatever. It didn’t matter what it was called. It was about 20° gradient and a proper ball-breaker. A bit more climbing and we exited onto Helshoogte Rd at Tokara wine farm. Following the hard shoulder, we exited onto the Old Helshoogt Pass and WP2. After a kay, we ducked left into a culvert that runs under the Helshoogte Rd. That was a weird experience! For 300m we rode staring at a circle of light in the distance whilst riding through a small stream of water. Once back into daylight and like a character from The Fugitive we ducked and dived our way up a bit of steep jeep track that led into the climb of the day aptly named “mother buffer”, so named after the 700m of elevation gained through riding a series of switchbacks. At the top, we were treated to a magnificent view all the way to Table Mountain. Just when it could get better, it did! We dropped in on Bartinney Wine Farm’s famed Skyfall. Super kiff bermed switchbacks – a proper adrenaline infusion! We eventually skirted around a dam and a hit a wriggle of singletrack which was followed by a lekker long river crossing as we rolled into the finish. After a beer, a burger and prize giving we made our way to the fenced bike park and collected our steeds. What a day we had and we left with some lekker memories.
Several years ago Boschendal was the venue for another popular MTB race. How times (and routes!) have changed … Gone are the limited facilities and makeshift trails to reveal a beautifully built spacious venue (which only earlier this year hosted the Cape Epic), with a myriad of trails suitable for all talents. Stillwater, along with Fedhealth, have teamed up to make this a “must do” on the mountain biking calendar. And after having done last year’s Fedhealth Challenge (also the marathon distance) at another infamous venue I am pleased to report that Boschendal truly rocks! But don’t get me wrong, this is no “soft” trail … in fact I’d go as far as to say this year’s marathon (60km) is as good a test of stamina and technical ability than most other similar distance races. Once the race got going it took us meandering through the beautiful Boschendal farm on fast and hard dirt roads eventually revealing a jeep track for the slow climb up. It kept going up, up and up taking in the full black route trails and spectacular views over the valley. After about 10km we eventually dropped down the valley through the infamous “Inferno” and “Sugar Bowl” superb fast flowing singletrack. It was then on past the dam (and the 28km split), before another and much steeper climb back up the valley and along the neighbouring Simonsig Nature Reserve. We then cut through the Zorgvliet Wine estate before a quick descent down the old Helshoogte Road, and then under the new one (through the pipe!), for the long climb up Botmaskop. This climb certainly took its toll with a number of riders feeling the heat too but they were rewarded on the other side with the descent into the pretty Banghoek Valley via the aptly named Sky Fall trail at Bartinney. With the last 20kms beckoning we then followed a jeeptrack past Oldenburg & Rainbows End vineyards, then after crossing the Banghoek River, taking the last singletrack climb and out the valley. Finally, we got views towards Boschendal before another fast singletrack descent before the final water stop of the day. At the finish, we were greeted by cool drinks and beer in a lovely setting under the big shady oak trees. What a way to finish an awesome day on the bike!