Jeanne-Louise Wiese and her husband have recently been taking part in a few very challenging road races to try and boost their fitness for the trails. So when they headed out to Meerendal (wobbly legs, dodgy cycling tan and all), they thought the winds of Durbanville Hills couldn’t possibly match those that howl down the streets of Cape Town. Rookie mistake…
We arrived at Meerendal with fresh Atlantic ocean air and the question: “why are we doing this again?” being blown in from the south east. Having survived the wind wrecked 2009 Argus, cycled into Die Hel and completed the 200km Double Century (the week before on my brand new road bike), I have endured many windy hours on a bike. So I figured, bring it on – how bad could it be?
But looking back I can honestly say that the wind was actually the least of my worries during the first 20km of the Fair Cape MTB race. It started off with the famous Dorstberg climb, which I suppose was meant to be a decent warm-up for more experienced riders – but the rocky climb placed some serious strain on my tired legs. From the top though, we enjoyed a long downhill bomb into a quarry where many riders picked up punctures. Fortunately we avoided the issues and were soon enjoying the brief relief of a stretch on tar.
Turning off the tar, the smell of lavender fields distracted me from my tired legs, before the climbing began once again. With the magnificent single track in the region, it’s well worth a visit even for the less experienced rider. I found myself believing my husband when he encouraged me with calls of: “You can do it!” And charged with confidence, I went roaring down the Cape Cobra downhill, treating the occasional danger sign as if it were only there for decoration. I decided to try my luck (I’m too scared to stop and have five kamikaze pilots crash into me from behind anyway) and after navigating a few drops and switchbacks, I nearly fell straight into Narnia when I made the mistake of leaning forward on a sharp turn. Then I realised why there are so few other girls on the start line.
The first water point awaited us after 21 gruelling kilometres through the hills. From there the roads wound through some of the famous Fair Cape Dairy’s fields and barns – which brought back wonderful childhood memories of growing up on a farm. The route then took us along a tributary of the Diep River which is lined with Blue Gum trees. Leaving the cooler and sheltered route along the river, the road led us to a short tar section and then on to a long ride on a gravel road to the East – almost straight into the wind. Just when I thought me legs had recovered, the organisers treated us to a long climb through old wheat fields, where the wind blows any slipstream you might have hoped for, into oblivion.
The friendly local farmers offered oasis’ of relief with water point tables under shady trees. It takes a special kind of person who can cheer up exhausted cyclists on a day like that, and we were therefore very grateful for the emotional recharge. Hydrated and fed the farmers sent us out with words of warning for another steep climb up ahead. We reached the lower slopes at the 50km mark and had to just put our heads down and keep pedalling. Pedalling until we couldn’t anymore that is, and we ended up pushing our bikes to the top of what felt like a mountain. Just before the top, a friendly red arrow pointed us to the left and onto a contour road. With the bliss of level ground we could enjoy the amazing scenery below, before turning for the finish. As the wind blew through the lush green pastures we looked forward to the last short downhill track we could see down below. But the run in to the finish wasn’t to be easy. After the fun downhill we were met by another challenging zig-zag routine through the vineyard blocks, before sighting the finish line at Meerendal Wine Estate.
It was a race scattered with beautiful views and exciting single tracks. It’s tough enough to have challenged even the strongest riders among us and reminded me that I need to spend as much time on my mountain bike as I do on my new road bike.
Where are we?
Fair Cape Dairies is one of South Africa’s top dairies. Owned by the Loubser Family, who have been farming in the area for five generations, they’re very proud of their sustainable farming and carbon footprint reducing practices.