A Family Getaway to the Sondela MTB Classic

Sus the Sondela MTB Classic

Dates: 28 & 29 June 2014

Location: Sondela Game Reserve, Bela Bela, Limpopo

Stats: 40km and 60km

By: Martin Vos @MartinvosVos 

Lining up for the Sondela MTB Classic
Lining up for the Sondela MTB Classic

The Sondela MTB race was held over two days, 28 and 29 June 2014, and riders had a few of options to race on the Sondela Game farm near Bela Bela in the Limpopo province. Riders could choose to ride on Saturday 28 Jun 2014 the 40km or the 20km race or Sunday 29 Jun 2014 the 60km race or a combination of the races. There were also kiddie’s fun ride 5km for bigger kids and 500m fun ride for the whole family. I choose to ride the 40km on the Saturday and the 60km on the Sunday.

The Sondela Mountain Bike classic was truly an event for the whole family. There was a kiddie’s area where kids could go play and were kept entertained. For the bigger kids there were all sorts of stalls with various items and foods were on sale. All round, it was a great event, which was well planned and professionally executed.

The road to Bela Bela, which most of the riders took on the Friday after work, was very busy but fortunately we made it there without incident. I was accompanied by my wife and kids and we arrived in Bela Bela shortly after 16:30. We had initially wanted to book at Sondela Game Reserve, however they were fully booked and with 1 400 entrants in the 2013 race it’s not surprising that the accommodation book out quickly this year. Word to the wise if you decide to enter the 2015 race and want to stay at Sondela ensure you book accommodation well in advanced. We found accommodation 25km outside Bela Bela on another game farm, so accommodation was sorted.

Vossie on the start line of Day 1
Vossie on the start line of Day 1

Day 1

The 40km race started at 08:00 and I was fortunate to be batched with my friend Robert Scott Peters in the A Batch. The race was well organised by ASG Events and started promptly on the hour. The route consisted mostly of wide sandy single track with some district roads and some jeep track and if you really paid attention there was one tiny climb, which was over before it really started. Riders loving technical sections, either technical climbs or rocky technical descents would be disappointed as there was none of that. The single track was wide sandy with lots of turns where I lost most of my speed and could not carry my speed through the corners. This was not so much due to the single track, but rather due to my own abilities and confidence, after taking a tumble on a scouting ride with McNab’s FeelGood at the Spruit in Johannesburg weekend prior to the race.

The first 10km or so of the race I did not enjoy my heart rate was racing and struggled to get it under control. Once my heart rate settled I started enjoying the beautiful flowing trails. Even though this was a race and I really was riding hard to improve my seeding, at a point it really felt like time stood still and I started enjoying the singletrack and the route in general. During the race at about 27km in we were forced to stop for “traffic”. This was no normal MTB “traffic stop,” there were no riders holding us up in a technical section; it was a herd of about 30 or so Wildebeest running across the trail. It was a pity I had no action camera to record it with, it was a spectacular sight.

I finished my fastest half marathon mountain bike race to date I came in 101 in my category, my best result yet, and the official time was 1:38:39. Officially the race was 40km long however my GPS showed only 35.51km.

Vossie with riding partner Robert Peters after Day 2
Vossie with riding partner Robert Peters after Day 2

Day 2

Day 2 for me started rough, due to the fact that my little one had ear ache and did not sleep well. I basically slept from 3:00am to 6:00am so I really could not have done this race without the support from my family and my sponsor Mcnab’s there product Supercharge really pulled me through the race. I’m sure without it I would not have performed as well as I did.

The Day 2, 60km, race started at 09:00 and I anticipated a time of about three hours for the distance. So with a fair amount of time on the bike ahead Robert and I decided to ride together.

The first 5km followed a similar route to the day before’s 40km, after which the route split and went into new singletrack. The track for the next 10 or 15km was on very loose sandy soil which the race organisers had done a great job in clearing most of the soft surface sand. Their hard work made the ride a lot more enjoyable and the few sections of thick sand which they couldn’t clear were manageable if you kept your speed up going into them. There were also a few rocky sections in between the sand, but nothing too technical.

A superb innovation by the race organisers was to have a compressor on standby just after the sandy section, so we could rapidly inflate our tyres for the remainder of the race.

The route then took to open district roads with a few jeep tracks. There were a few long, gradual climbs to conquer too. The difference between the Sondela Mountain Bike Classic and any other race I’ve done thus far is the fact that in most other races you have climbs followed by descents, which allows you to work hard and then recover. The Sondela MTB Classic is nearly completely flat (in terms of mountain bike races at least) and you have to work 100% of the time, with no rest except at the water-points.

The last 10km once again followed that same route as the 40km, on wide singletrack, Robert and I finished the 60km race in category positions 37 and 38 respectively and I came in a time of 2:54:26.

During the race I came to the insight that life is very similar to a bike race. (It must have been the lack of sleep that inspired some philosophical introspection…) During the race many people had technical problems such as flat tyres, broken chains, etc. or fell of the bike. In life we to have “technical problems” we sometimes fall we can sometime either fix the problem ourselves or sometimes need friends or family to assist us through a particular problem. In a worst case scenario we sometimes need professional help. In a bike race the worst case scenario often involves an ambulance and medics, while in life we might need the same or more specifically skilled professionals. The important part is no matter what the race or life throws at you, you have to finish the race, even if you have to ask for help. Whether you sprint, push, crawl or your friends carry you to the finish line you have to finish the race even is if it is stone last, never ever quit.

Sondela MTB Classic Photos

Check out the photos of the Sondela MTB Classic on the event’s Facebook page here.

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