A Unique and Intimate Journey Through Eastern Cape Wilderness

M&G PE PLETT ‘The Ride’

The Eastern Cape wilderness that lies between Plettenberg Bay and Gqeberha is seldom traversed by bicycle. From the wild and lush Nature’s Valley to the wide open fynbos plains of the Langkloof, the M&G PE PLETT is a journey through picturesque jeep tracks and trails purpose-built for this boutique mountain biking experience.

Image Credits: Sam Clark

M&G PE PLETT starts at Kurland Polo field and covers a spectacular 249,3 kilometers over four days, traversing the famous Garden Route. Riders cover 74,5 km (1100m elevation) on stage 1, 59 km (800 m elevation) on stage 2, 58,3 km (1200 m elevation) on Stage 3, and 60 km (1050 m elevation) on the final stage, with the finish at Zwartenbosch Golf & Lifestyle Estate.

There are two ways to experience the M&G PE PLETT. The first event is The Ride, where the racing happens at the front end. Each event  is limited to 250 riders, keeping the rider village experiences intimate and low-key, so you can reconnect with yourself and close friends. The Tour follows a day after The Ride finishes, a leisurely journey on the same route, with an even more intimate group and without timing chips. On the Tour you will enjoy casual lunch stops and luxury accommodation in lodges and hotels.

The Ride, which took place from 21-24 February, saw tight racing upfront and a fun adventure for those further back in the field. Stages 1 to 3 take place on the coastal side of the Tsitsikamma mountains. Highlights included crossing the majestic Bloukrans bridge, riding atop towering cliffs overlooking the Indian ocean, and cresting the magnificent Tsitsikamma mountains into the serene Langkloof region.

These opening stages interweave easy kilometres with bouts of more testing terrain, always rewarded with a beautiful view and satisfying descent.

 

Racing 

 

In the racing, a small but competitive group of elite riders challenged for the podium. Full race reports from each stage can be found on the M&G PE PLETT website news pages.

Honeycomb Pro Cycling’s duo of Marc Pritzen and Tristan Nortje dominated each stage. Rossouw Bekker and Matthys Beukes of Valley Electrical Pro Cycling, Herman Fourie and Kai von During for Insect Science X Trek SA, and the Grand Africa pair of Matthew Leppan and Jordan Haarpainter, were the other competitive teams in the mix.

Marc Pritzen (lead) and Tristan Nortje (on the wheel) of Honeycomb Pro Cycling stormed to another stage win and the overall title at the 2024 M&G PE PLETT

Mandi Augustyn and Juanita Mackenzie (team Elements) had the women’s category pretty wrapped up from Stage 1, with just over an hour on Team Vered’s Sally Andrews and Wendy Long on the first day. All the other ladies who entered The Ride, opted to ride solo, in the mixed category or on EBikes.

There was some competition in the Mixed category, led by Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius and Alexander Lawrence (eFort Foodlovers), with Kelsey van Schoor and Sidney Strydom (Ultimate Quest) doing their best to challenge the pair, with some exciting developments over the four days of racing.

The 4th and final stage on Saturday 24 February introduced a dramatic change of scenery from the first 3 stages. Leaving Assegaaibosch Country Lodge and heading further East, the route opens up into vast fynbos covered plains hidden in the Langkloof Valley. The soils here are much more rocky than the sandy forest roads and trails of the previous stages. With less tree cover, wide open vistas replace the dense indigenous forests and vast pine plantations the riders enjoyed between Kurland and Assegaaibosch Country Lodge.

It was a fast stage this year with a generous tailwind taking the edge off what can be a tough route in lesser conditions. The climbs and descents come in early on stage 4, and after Churchill Dam greets riders, the M&G KOM / QOM climb begins. The gradient here makes for some hard work but the views from atop the ridge-line, and the free miles down, are well worth the effort.

Far from waiting for this ascent at the 26km mark to launch their attack, Honeycomb Pro Cycling already had a 2 minute gap over the VEC Titan Racing and Trek SA X Insect Science teams by the time they reached the base of the climb. VEC Titan were neck and neck with Trek SA X Insect Science over the top of the M&G KOM climb, Matthys Beukes and Kai von During each waiting for the other to start slipping off the back. VEC Titan had a 1:30 minute GC lead over the 3rd place team (Trek SA X Insect Science) to defend, and they would need to give it their all to maintain it and secure overall victory.

Out in front Marc Pritzen and Tristan Nortje were tearing towards the finish, holding an average speed of near 30 kph they blasted through the course to take their 4th stage win of The Ride, and secure the overall win. “There was a big opportunity there on the first climb.” said Pritzen, “I had the road experience to know that we should go with the tailwind up the hill and then the route went left so we had a crosswind and just put the hammer down!” Nortje was pleased with the team’s efforts: “We took all 4 stages which felt good. We rode well together so we’re feeling good for the year ahead!”

This potent pairing was unbeatable all week but a few minutes behind them, the battle for 2nd was intense. Soon after the M&G KOM, Bekker and Beukes would begin to drive a wedge between themselves and the pairing of Fourie and von During, and the race for 2nd on GC appeared all but decided. The chasing crew kept up the pace as best they could and it paid off in the end. Just kilometres from the finish line, Bekker and Beukes took a wrong turn, diminishing their 2 minute lead on Fourie and von During and even beginning to lose time to them.

The Trek SA X Insect Science pairing crossed the line in 2nd place, unaware of their competitor’s misfortune, and the countdown clock began. After a minute and 36 seconds the VEC Titan Crew crossed the line, putting them 8 seconds back, into 3rd place on GC.

Both teams were grateful for the close racing that they enjoyed at the 2024 M&G PE PLETT Ride. “It was fast and it was fun! My teammate was super strong!” were the words of Herman Fourie. Kai von During said it was “an awesome 4 days of racing. I think Herman proved that he’s the one to watch for the rest of the year. I think it is really clear to see that we gave it our all.”

In the Mixed Race, the eFort Foodlovers crew lost some ground initially, dealing with derailleur issues, which allowed Sidney Strydom and Kelsey van Schoor, the Ultimate Dream team, to take an early lead in the stage. Harmzen and Lawrence turned up the pace to chase down the early gap, catching and then surpassing the 2nd placed GC crew. Harmzen and Lawrence emptied their tanks all the way to Zwartenbosch Golf Club to take their 3rd stage win of The Ride, and the overall Mixed Team title for 2024, 8 minutes and 8 seconds ahead of their rivals.

Elrika Harmzen (lead) and teammate Alex Lawrence (behind) had their work cut out for them by their competitors in earning the Mixed Team title as team effort Foodlovers

“We just played the long game and when we saw them suffering on one of the kickers we went and made it stick.” said Harmzen, her teammate Lawrence buzzing after a great stage; “That was awesome. Thanks to everyone, thanks to PE PLETT, to M&G, the media team, route planners, and well done to everyone that rode, it was awesome. The legs were tired after yesterday’s effort so we started with a steady pace and when we knew it was time, we just went full gas to the end!”

Wrapping up the Elite Women’s category was Juanita Mackenzie and Mandi Augustyn of team Elements. This duo were powering through every stage, gunning for top 20 GC results and putting down a phenomenal ride over the 4 days. They landed in 19th on GC after 4 stages of all out riding, a feat that they can be proud of.

Juanita Mackenzie (right) and Mandi Augustyn (left) brought a definite vibe to the event and rode hard on every single stage as they prepared to race the 2024 Cape Epic together

‘The Tour’ edition runs from Sunday 25 Feb. You can keep up with the experience on the PE PLETT YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/@mginvestmentspeplett4591

 

Entries open in mid-march for the 2025 editions of The Ride and The Tour.  It is a bucket list journey for any South African mountain biker keen to experience the best of this beautiful region; its coastline and mountains, the fauna and flora, and a congenial group of fellow mountain bikers. With space limited to 250 riders per event, be sure to book your spot for the next grand adventure.

 

Find out more about the M&G PE PLETT  here: peplett.co.za/

See the results from The Ride here: bouttime.co.za/

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