RIDE REPORT: THE WALKER BAY OUTDOOR MTB STAGE RACE

Words by: Miles Hodge | Images by: Old School Group

MILES HODGE seldom needs an excuse to get down to his favourite coastal town of Hermanus but the 2-day Walker Bay Outdoor MTB event gave him the perfect incentive to bundle the family in the car and head down to do his first event in what felt like an extremely long MTB event-free year.

Such fun to do a short stage race again …

My initial impression on a windless, cool, perfect morning standing on the Hermanus Cricket Club field that we were in for a fun day out. I had signed up for the 48km 1200m climbing option for Day 1 (there was a shorter 30km option) and 36km 900m climbing for Day 2.

The town was buzzing as it was full of events from trail and beach runs to road and triathlon, cliff jumping and swimming etc. There were masses on for the spectators to go and see all over town.

From a logistics perspective the MTB race was extremely well organised. Simple online entry and a friendly pre-check-in the day before. I was then added to a WhatsApp group for rider communication. From a pre-ride perspective we were all WhatsApped with brilliant moving Garmin graphics of the route for both days riding, so we all had a clear idea of the route that lay ahead.

For Covid-19 we registered on the Friday evening before, had our temperatures checked, signed a declaration and once given the all clear, were given a yellow wrist band to wear for both days of riding.

It’s not how fast you ride, it’s how happy you look when riding slowly that matters – said no one ever… but that was my motto both mornings as the stronger riders pushed some serious watts and surged off into the distance leaving me to cruise along at my own unremarkable pace. I thought I had stayed fit over the past year and quickly realised that also applied to the rest of the field.

It was great to hear the usual pre-Covid-19 good-natured banter and moaning and groaning again as the guys settled into their rhythm for the next few hours in the saddle.

I took two water bottles so that I would not need to use the refreshment tables during the ride. From what I saw the refreshment tables were quite basic with large barrels of fresh water to top up your bottles if required. Again Covid-19 restrictions and sensibility were well taken.

For anyone that knows Hemel en Aarde Valley, you will be aware that there are a few cheeky gradients that can really take the wind out of your sails, and day one included all three of the biggest climbs.

I know these trails quite well, but it was fun to have all these segments stitched together and so well signposted by the race organisers.

It was a fast start and a few big groups quickly moved past me, allowing me to take my place in the second half of the field for the remainder of the day. We were routed from the cricket club along the singletrack next to the main road and then up the famous Rotary Way where we dropped into a low gear and the real work began. Once at the top of Rotary Way we followed the dirt road and went down the left to some brand new cut singletrack which was a first for me. The views from the top looking up the valley were truly spectacular.

I saw a few riders taking a tumble so I was extra cautious and we headed down the mountain back in the direction towards the Hemel en Aarde wine village before being looped back for the hardest climb of the day. The gradient and surface were a bit of a shock as we slowly made our way up the loose triple black single track over to Bosman Family Vineyards. After a loose rocky decent we headed up past De Bos dam and onto the first tar section of the day. A very manageable climb up to Sumaridge where we were looped back towards Hermanus, singletrack all the way.

Felt slightly deflated when near the end of day one I was overtaken by a cheerful rider on an old steel framed bike with 26-inch wheels. When I asked him how old is that bike he cheerfully replied that it was quite old when he got it 10 years ago … Just goes to prove it’s not about the bike…

Day 2 was another clear windless day, and I was upbeat at the thought of a slightly easier 36 km that lay ahead with only 900m of climbing. The two coffee stands on the field were doing a roaring trade as everyone got a quality caffeine fix for the day ahead.

Day two was shorter, faster, and easier and incorporated some unusual parts of the H&A routes that I had not ridden before.

It was a fun finish on the final day as I rode in with a group of trail runners that were finishing their event at the same time. The field of riders and runners was quite small, but the spectators were noisy, and we had a lively atmosphere despite the smallish crowd. The chap on the microphone was well connected and knew many of the riders’ names and somehow kept his energy up from the sunrise start.

The ride really showcases the Hemel en Aarde valley and can be a challenging ride but as event go it was thoroughly enjoyable. Really nice to have a new medal and lots of great memories! Congrats to the organisers, I will be back.

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