Challenging the Karoo

In South Africa we love to bill things as The Toughest this or that. And there are a few mountain biking races which make a claim to be the toughest single day marathon event. But the race that currently deserves the title of the country’s toughest single day of MTB racing is arguably the Trans Karoo.


There’s a heck of a lot more to the Trans Karoo than the toughest day of riding you’ll experience all year though. It’s an emotional experience, with the broad Karoo plains providing the perfect landscape for introspection – and that’s before the going gets really tough on the slopes of the Ouberg Pass…

The Trans Karoo alternates annually in direction with ‘up’ and ‘down’ rides between Ceres and Sutherland. The 2014 edition was an ‘up’ year, meaning riders had to conquer the Ouberg Pass which climbs 820 meters in 10.4km from the flat Tankwa Karoo to the undulating Karoo Hoogland.

The race started at the mountain biking Mecca that is Eselfontien, as the sun crested the Martroosberg Mountains. The 200 odd riders set off in a Northerly direction, traversing the Ceres Karoo, before climbing up into the Tankwa Karoo.

The riders looking to compete for the win formed a small peloton to help maintain a high tempo, and with Johan Kruger aiming for Raynard Tissink’s up ride record the pace was phenomenal. While the riders whose only goal would be to finish conserved their energy for the challenges ahead.


The Tankwa Karoo boasts a scenic landscape. Its broad vistas, hardy Karoo shrubs, conical koppies and red soil all make for a landscape that has an unchanging beauty to it. It’s not a landscape of features jostling for attention; it’s a sparse beauty and one that you feel and sense as much as you see. For riders, the feeling of uncluttered space that the Karoo arouses must be near on overwhelming…

The mountains marking the climb to the Hoogland were ever in view but agonisingly slow in approaching. Wishing away the flats of the Tankwa Karoo wasn’t necessarily a great idea though. The Ouberg Pass snaked up into the Hoogland and every rider was reduced to walking, pushing their bikes with a weary trudge. While the race leaders crested the pass in daylight, for the majority of the field the sun set well before they began to climb. In the dark there was no agonising false summit or even hint of the top, it was simply a case of head down and soldier on, riding where possible and walking where not.

From the top of the Ouberg Pass to the finish line at Sutherland the riders cross the undulating Karoo Hoogland. For the majority of the race field this 40km section of the race was completed in nearly absolute darkness Except for the sliver of moon and usual stunning Karoo stars hidden by patchy cloud cover. The temperature plummeted to near freezing too, just for good measure.


If it sounds tough to you when you’re reading this, you’re right. It’s probably one of the toughest races in the county, if not the toughest single day race. But that shouldn’t scare you off. Completing the Trans Karoo is like completing a full Iron Man triathlon. It’ll probably take you in excess of fifteen hours. You’ll have to put in months of training. You’ll need to pack well for the extreme temperatures you might face. You’ll need all the mental strength you can muster. Finishing the Trans Karoo is a feat worthy of much praise.

It’s a massive challenge but one worth the effort of every pedal stroke.

 Where are we?

The Northern Cape town of Sutherland, better known for star gazing, was the location of the 2014 Trans Karoo finish. In 2015 riders will start in Sutherland as they attempt the ‘down’ ride – much like the ‘up’ and ‘down’ runs of the ultimate South African endurance event the Comrades Marathon.


Trans Karoo Results:


1. Johan Kruger                   09:30:06

2. Izak Visagie                      09:38:03

3. Hermias Nieuwoudt        09:48:11


1. Liesbet Kristafor               11:58:15

2. Elizma Kock                      13:44:07

3. Nan Kirtley                        14:17:39

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