‘This is the last climb right?’
Aaah… there is nothing quite like feeling one zillionth better than a fellow downed comrade. He’s German rider, Simon Gegenheimer, and his head is now firmly fastened to the cold flowing water pouring out the waterpoint 3 tanker. ‘Erm, I hope so, but I’m guessing no’ came my slightly cheeky (yet battle hardened) reply. this is after all my 3rd Ultra! I am practically having these things for breakfast.
Sabie was something else, 3rd in the South African MTN South African Marathon Series and the 1st round of the 2012 UCI World Marathon Series. This was my biggie, my focus race. Given I had wanted to quit and anonymously roll to a dead cramping halt at Barberton a mere 4 weeks ago, I was adamant that nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, was going to stand in my way of a half decent result.
The race is set in a really special place for us semi old farts of the SA MTB scene, previous home to numerous National races where guys like Bernd Finke, Mannie Heymans and Fritz Pienaar would reign down fury on everyone and future stars of the Ladies Epic, Hannele Steyn-Kotze and Yolande Speedy cut their teeth. Nestled between stunning natural scenery and huge man made forests the greenery is transected by fire roads, logging tracks and infinite trails gouged out by hikers and bikers alike. With a certain Mr Phil ‘The Voice’ Liggett no less setting up his holiday home in the not too distant Kruger Park, word is certainly out that the Lowveld is unique.
So everyone turns up, basically. This is great and all, but you stick your tent down, think ‘Mmmm Stuart, this is truly a marvel of modern construction’ and in two twos a hundred other intrepid campers have decided you look lonely, awesome…
Race prep for the privateer, and Mum has made my favourite curried spaghetti. Yeah ok I’m 36 so WHAT? She’s packed more food than an Oxfam aid station, loaned you her car (which you break) and wished you all the best for your race, not realizing the gravity of her child’s endeavor, this is THE race man, this is the one RHAAAAR if the car had a radio it would be on 29!
Now if Tulbagh had a serious line up, this was the heavyweight main event. Team Bulls, French National Champion, names, faces, hitters with a capital ‘hit’. A nice thing for all the SA hopefuls was in terms of weather this was simply a rerun of races past; a cool morning followed by eye popping, soul cindering heat. Sabie turns the screws hard, you leave the start, pace nicely with the top twenty, then are privvy to the Evans game plan, front row seats to a man with a terrifying plan, go hard, NOW!
At 15km I’m not even on the same continent, but at least now I have company, and not the worst kind either, some top ten riders are lagging, their pace eventually cooking my goose but it was nice to see ‘em even if it is only for a moment. True horror soon unfolds, single….speed. On my MTB hate-o-metre single speeders fit just marginally above unicyclists and recumbants, my brain cannot compute, why friend why?! But I get passed by a wide bar swinging gear crusher, misery and worse, a little bit of awe. No gears, here? Are you kidding!?
The jeep track is met by single track which is met by a rocky descent, no stone left unturned, literally. By 13:00 the unravelling has been happening for hours. Big names are literally turning back and giving up! Magically I seem to have held some game and am hovering in the 30’s position wise – but this is mainly thanks to some over zealous Euros totally nuking themselves in the heat. It is another 40deg day and if you’ve just left a mild Europe this is like racing in an inferno, eggs fried on top tubes this!
Sabie seemed at least for me to mix the perfect amount of single track with just the right amount of damaging jeep track climbing, when you did hit the single stuff oh man it was good. I have never wanted to whoop for joy so badly, the course creators and trail cutters deserve medals. There was endless fun, even in my semi-conscious state. Finally we are home, my goal of cutting the deficit between me and the Pro’s was not to be, rolling in at 7hrs, with the Pro’s about 5 hours. Somehow it doesn’t matter, I’ve finished 37th in the Elite, UCI point come to pappa, very, very happy!
A HUGE thanks so much to all at MTN Marathon for doing such sterling work, this was a fantastic end to my stay, thanks to Jade and Tyson at Shimano SA for all the help and laughs, my mates new and old who showed me the incredible riding I never knew we had down South.