Why Stellenbosch needs an XCO course

When Full Sus went to speak to Specialized’s Bobby Behan about the work being done building trails in the build-up to the Origin of Trails Bobby was keen to talk about the need for a world class XCO course in Stellenbosch too. And here is why…

Bobby Behan says that Stellenbosch is like a naturally gifted athlete, it has all the characteristics to be world class, but like a gifted athlete who hasn’t reached his or her potential, it’s a little lazy. So many world class athletes visit Stellenbosch anyway. The mountains and roads provide great natural training challenges. The university has most of the Sport Science facilities any pro could require. And, especially when you come from Ireland like Bobby does, the weather is conducive to getting out and riding.

But Stellenbosch could and should be doing more. It should be marketed as a training destination for international athletes (not just mountain bikers and triathletes). It should be hosting world class events annually (not just the odd stage of the Epic every few years). And there should be a world class XCO course in Stellenbosch too.

A truly world class XCO course will give the elite riders like, Christoph Sauser, Nino Schurter and Jaroslav Kulhavy, who have all spent training time in Stellenbosch a course upon which to keep their technical skills sharp. It’ll also allow our young Western Cape based professional riders like Candice Neethling, Mariske Strauss and James Reid a location to hone their XCO skills. In a chat with Full Sus in the build-up to the world champs, Strauss bemoaned the lack of a significantly testing XCO course which she said left her, and her fellow Saffas, having to adjust rapidly to the technical features of the European XCO course in particular.

It’s not just our young pros who will benefit though, the Paul Roos MTB team dominated the local Spur School Series Grand Final by such an extent that in the relay event the A squad’s closest competition came from their own B side. And if you’ve entered a race in the Winelands you’ll have seen Songo.info kids dominating too. These two groups of young riders will benefit directly from having a world class track in their back yard, but perhaps the course will also lead to an explosion of technically proficient young ladies too. The only way to produce world class athletes is to provide the talented youths with the facilities and competition they need to improve, and a world class XCO track with provide the one and attract the other.

As I understand it, the ideal proposed location for the course falls on either University or Municipal property – in the one-time plantation which descends into the University research farm. The blue gum forest which covers the slope between the Berg Pad and research farm dam is perfect terrain for a course, it features some steep slopes and with the lack of indigenous vegetation a course can be constructed without undue ecological damage. The area is already home to a myriad of MTB tracks, some of which were painstakingly constructed by the Paul Roos MTB team. So with some clever design work and skilled trail building team the smooth flowing trails of the forest can be converted into a testing technical challenge worthy of the XCO title.

What makes an XCO course?

According to the UCI Guide Book an XCO course should be made up of laps of a minimum of 5km and maximum of distance of 9km. The race should take between two hours and two hours and fifteen minutes for the elite men to complete. The circuit must represent a challenge for the best riders, but it must also present a level of difficulty which is achievable when on a bike in all weather conditions.

Bobby Behan is an ex-pro triathlete and currently heads up Specialized in South Africa. He fell in love with Stellenbosch on his first visit in 1999 and is passionate about improving the athletic potential of his adopted home.

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