Words by Max Sullivan / Images supplied
With some food prepped, a one-man tent and some cycling kit packed, myself and riding partner jumped in the car after a half-day of work on Friday, the destination? Eselfontein. The scenic drive was less than two hours from Stellenbosch; the venue is nestled in a beautiful valley only a stone’s throw away from Ceres along a one-way road to a mountain bike mecca. The area was new to me and I had little expectation concerning the riding, one thing that I had heard (and became apparent very quickly as I gazed upon the mountains) is that the terrain is rough and rocky.
The format was new to me, but it was incredibly convenient and I can see more events heading in this direction. The 3 day stage race started on Friday evening at 6pm, seeing as it is in the Cape and the days are getting longer, it meant that at least the first half of the 40km route (well for me at least) was in daylight, whilst the second half would be ridden in darkness. A full day of leave away from work wasn’t necessary to compete in the 3 day event, most Capetonians clock out at lunch time on a Friday anyway, there was the option of skipping the night ride and doing just Saturday and/or Sunday if need be. We were greeted by friendly faces, a bunch of doggos, a nice goodie bag, an event shirt and a packet of juicy Tru-Cape Apples. We then parked in one of two campsites, setup the one-man tent for the both of us, unpacked our bags in the car cupboard, mounted a small light on the handlebars and got ready to race!
The day/night race was probably my highlight of the weekend, it was 40km’s of pure mountain biking with an exceptional amount of single track, although the terrain was rocky and challenging at times, it was exhilarating tackling the rocks, ruts and soft sand corners in darkness. Day 2 and 3 was very much similar terrain, however we traversed all sorts of climbs, descents and dam walls, I don’t recall a dull moment on the bike (even when suffering with my 38t chain ring up the main climb on day 3). I could not quite believe that there was so much single track in such a small radius, as we never ventured too far from the venue. Distances of 40km on day one, 55km on day 2 and 45km on day 3 does not sound too tough, however the terrain and nature of riding definitely makes you work for those kilos.
In-between the stages we found ourselves lounging under the trees and/or around the pool, making tough decisions such as whether we want Seattle coffee or beer, are we going to eat a freshly made pizza or Roosterbrood. There was a wide variety of food and beverages on offer for riders to graze on, available throughout the day and evening, before or after a nice hot shower in the campsite. The organisers had clearly thought through what us as cyclists would need over the weekend, with Breedenet wifi all over, wood for the braai available and a bike wash to sort the steed out post stage. The combination of the riding, amenities, venue and all round good vibes will definitely bring me back next year, Eselfontein is most certainly a hidden riding gem of the Western Cape, I highly recommend spending a day out there exploring the rocky tracks.