Kate Slegrova did the first Tankwa Trek last year and loved it, so it was on her to do list for 2014. Plus it’s great preparation for the Cape Epic, which she’s been training for and it’s organised by Dryland… which makes it a race she just couldn’t miss.
The word spread quickly about the Tankwa Trek last year and this year entries were up from 100 to a sold out 350 riders, including the Bulls team. The beautiful Kaleo Manor, 20km outside Ceres, in the Kouebokkeveld was the base for three days of camping and the best mountain biking I’ve experienced. The event was fully catered with delicious, healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners, plus lots of fresh fruit, supplied by Du Toit, to snack on. And Dryland never forgets to cater for vegetarians and even gluten free dieters too.
I teamed up with my Transalp partner Caren Henschel. She has been working more than riding lately, so after me pushing her up many hills on stage one we decided to ride separately on the last two stages, so I could push myself to see how the Epic training was coming on.
Stage 1: 88km/1 890m of climbing
Stage one was a proper MTB day. We did lots of single track through beautiful rock formations and apple and pear orchards in the Witzenberg Valley. We passed small villages with school kids cheering us on and that was really very special. Amazing views awaited us on top of the climbs and proper steep rocky sections followed, where I bought my first, but not last, Tankwa bruise. More single track and a few sandy sections awaited us in the last 30kms. Climbing out of the Witzenberg Valley back into the Kouebokkeveld, we rode up the single track that we used to descend into the valley and it was nice challenge, even though I think Caren and other tired riders weren’t quite so happy about it.
Back at the finish at Kaleo, everyone was happy to dive into the cold pools thoughtfully prepared by Dryland to cool the riders down after the 40 degree Celsius temperatures out on the trails. I was really happy with my new full suspension Scott Spark too! It was great not to have to bounce around on my old hard tail on the rocky sections and I’m really happy with the Spark. I don’t think I’ll be riding my hard tail again soon!
Stage 2: 91km/2 300m of climbing
After a good rest and great breakfast with a strong coffee, we were ready for another hot day in the saddle. The stage started with the Du Toit Drop, a new and challenging downhill single track, with lots of switchbacks that I didn’t find easy at all. I still have to get used to my new bike…
Some faster kays on the gravel roads of the Warmbokkeveld brought us to a good climb up the old Theronsberg Pass wagon trail. After the Theronsberg climb, water point three at the foot of the Merino Monster, awaited us. The Merino Monster is an eight kilometre climb with an ascent of 800m and no shade to hide in. I filled up my bottles, grabbed a banana and got climbing. The beautiful view helped and I knew it was the last hill so I pushed where I could. It took me exactly an hour to get to the top. I downed a 500ml juice at the water point at the top and started the new steep descent. It was a 10km downhill with some very technical rocky sections. I finished the stage in 5 hours 45 minutes, which was an hour behind the stage winning ladies, Ariane Kleinhans and Cherise Stander.
Stage 3: 63km/860m of climbing
Stage three started with a 26km neutral zone to the race start at Morester. It was great to get the legs going and chat with fellow riders about the Trek so far. We waited for about 45 minutes (which could have been shorter) and started in three batches to spread the field out for the tight single track ahead. I started with Caren in the B Group and got to the front to get a good position for the single track.
Charl van der Merwe has built an amazing route, with lots of narrow bridges and rocky drop offs. The trails of Morester are reason enough to ride the Tankwa Trek! I saved some energy for the last climb of the day when the route reached the gravel road through the orchards, and was surprised to note that Charl had added more single track from last year. The last climb was now on single track which was great even though it was pretty hot by the time I got there.
I think I was losing my patience a bit by the end of the stage and lost concentration and control of my bike on the very last downhill. I flew off my bike and landed right on the side of my head. Luckily my bike and I were ok and I managed to ride to the finish. I was lucky to escape with only have few bruises and a black eye. It shows you, you must concentrate all the way until you get off your bike…