TransBaviaans #RideForRon

Sus the 2015 TransBaviaans

Report By: Rens Rezelman – @rens29er

Date: 15 & 16 August 2015 (TransBaviaans Race 1)

Event Organiser: EcoBound

Website: www.transbaviaans.co.za

Route: Willowmore to Jeffreys Bay via the Baviaanskloof

Distance: 230km

Altitude Gain: 2 540m

Cut-Off: 24 hours

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Let’s start by admitting that the Transbaviaans (TB) is always going to be a big day out. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional mountain biker or a weekend plodder with great dreams: the route is still 230km of challenging terrain. So to come unprepared for this event is seriously not a good idea. And as with any big cycling event, be prepared to have more than just one plan B. Make sure you have plan C and D on close standby too.

This contingency planning should start very early – like when you’re deciding who the actual team is going to be for the TB. Apart from the usual selection criteria (teamwork and compatibility; fitness level; experience; and riding speed & strength) one should also consider having a reserve. Just that reliable super-sub that can be called upon at the last minute should a regular team member be unable to make it – work commitments; family crisis; or – as was the case with us – illness 2 days before the event. Rocky, my 3-time Epic partner, was given his cancellation papers by means of a doctors script that read “upper respiratory tract infection”. Apparently that’s not such a good thing to have 2 days before tackling one of the toughest single stage MTB events on the planet. Who knew? So it was to our trusty reserve we turned – the Epic John “Kwagga” Gale. With every single Epic under the belt (yes – he’s done all 12) we knew we had an experienced and hardened replacement (although Rocky had 5 Epic notches on his bedpost – so it was like for like really!)

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And off we went. Make no mistake – the road trip is part of the event. I’m not sure how many Willowmore locals ride the TB, but my guess is that the vast majority of participants come from all over the country. And with the Willowmore International Airport being…well…non-existent, you’re going to be driving there. And that is where the event starts. Shaun, Kwagga, and I hit the road from Cape Town and by the time we had arrived in Willowmore a good 7 hours later we had bonded well….Shaun and I were well versed in Kwagga’s music taste of Weird Al Yankovic and Johnny Cash (an odd pairing admittedly) and Shaun had told us of his various stories of having to mark Jonah Lomu on the wing in rugby matches (Shaun played nearly 100 games for the Sharks in the 1990’s and then another 100 or so for Munster in Ireland – I was surrounded by hard-core athletes!)

But to the start we go! 2015 Weekend 1 had great weather. If the weather goes wrong, you’re going to have a tough day (and night… and morning). So the warm Berg wind was a welcome change to the last time I tackled the TB 5 years ago. In 2011 it was minus 2; the Baviaanskloof was flooded; and we were redirected on the LangsBaviaanskloof ride. And that was a long day…and night… and morning!

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The start is festive and low-key. The Willowmore main street is probably busier than it ever is at any other time of the year and the locals all participate to give this great event a solid North-Eastern Cape flavour. Ja boet…

The race itself is made up of two distinct parts – the first fast and furious half. With the aid of a gentle tailwind (characteristic for this time of year – but not to be completely relied upon) we crossed the 100km mark in a time of 3 hours 15 minutes. That’s not a bad Cape Town Cycle Tour pace. But then as you head into the afternoon the shadows start drawing out as the cliffs and ravines loom on either side. And so the route begins to crumple and spike on the profile map and your impressive average speed that you’ve managed to post in the first half starts to slide backwards as your front wheel rises up the rough gradients thrown before you. You’ll be met with climbs with such names as “The Fangs” – well named because apart from their double-spiked sharpness, they can also hook into any weakening calves and spring an uncomfortable cramp on you… And then what must have caused some heartbreak in past years is the M.A.C… the Mother of All Climbs. No matter how capable you are – this climb will take a chunk out of you. If you’re untrained, unfit, or overweight, I’m afraid that it’s here you will be making some severe life-changing decisions. Through your tears, of course! It’s best to remain chipper up this climb or you might find yourself in a dark place (and if you’re the weakest member of a team – be sure to tell your team if you’re dropping off otherwise you will burn whatever reserves you have trying to keep up). But (yes – there’s always light at the end of the tunnel!) the soup and bread at the top of the climb (Bergplaas – 140km in) is just reward for your efforts as you dry your eyes and prepare for the night stretch.

Eastern Cape hospitality at it's best in the kloof.
Eastern Cape hospitality at it’s best in the kloof.

From here you can look forward to speeding up again (well, that is a relative statement I guess). If you’ve trained properly and have your endurance legs on, you can start pushing that average speed up again as you head out of the Baviaanskloof and towards the home stretch. We managed to hook into some good teams and the peloton-style riding made our progress fast and efficient. We were still fortunate in that it was still light and the lights we had strapped on atop Bergplaas remained cold and off until we hit the Never-Ender: an aptly named climb with enough of a gradient to slow any overly ambitious climbing speeds. But this was more my territory (I’m a 90kg plus rider, so gentle gradients; rollers; and flats work for me… and I just freewheel past people on the downhills!). It was here that we made good progress and I found myself with a toasted jaffle in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other at the final checkpoint before I was even fully aware that we were over the climb! I guess after so many hours of riding certain sections tend to blur and evaporate in a state of cycling hypnosis (that’s hypnosis – not happiness – because all of this was hard work by now!)

The last 10km follows a tricky path along the railway line en route to Jeffreys Bay. That was tough going for me. I felt like I was really pushing the effort but that the progress made was slow… perhaps 10 hours of spinning the legs does this?

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We were eventually spat off the line at the main mall of Jeffreys Bay where we crossed the line in a time of 10 hours 33 minutes – good enough for 45th spot overall. Of course we were more than happy with that! A fine effort from the Enervit Endurance Team! We dedicated this ride to my friend from years ago, Ronald Louw, who is fighting the battle against testicular cancer. We met some of his supporters on the route and it was great to chat to them. And thanks to the event organisers who made special mention of our dedication to Ronald as we crossed the finish line (still not sure who arranged that!). Our 10 hour battle is over – but he still has a long journey ahead and we all pray and wish him and his family well as they fight this. Our thoughts are with you and were very much with you when we #RideForRon.

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