Cruising the Crater is always one of the hardest race days of the year. The substantial prize money, strong field and relentless course add up to an extremely challenging day in the saddle. In addition, rain leading up to the event had washed away sand on the district roads making the corrugated sections even tougher than usual.
The customary accelerations leading from the opening tar to dirt section, up Suikerbossie climb and over the loose and rocky climb to Espach’s view point forced the usual selection. By the time we hit the Baskop singletrack a group of 15 riders had established themselves at the front of the race.
In the final 40kilometres of the race David George (Nedbank 360 Life) repeatedly cranked up the pace reducing the group even more. One by one riders had to give best, until Kevin Evans attacked with about 15km to go on a heavily corrugated section. With his team mates George and Reid nullifying any counter attacks, Evans took the win while his young team mate Reid claimed 2nd in the sprint to the line ahead of Neil McDonald (RE:CM).
I was somewhat disappointed with my 10th place, but looking at the results it is clear that currently the margins are small and competition is getting tighter every year – a good sign for the future of SA mountain biking.
1 Kevin Evans (Nedbank 360Life) 03hr27min21sec
2 James Reid (Nedbank 360Life) 3:27:45
3 Neil MacDonald (Team RE:CM) 3:27:48
4 David George (Nedbank 360Life) 3:27:49
5 Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN Qhubeka) 3:27:50
6 Nico Bell (Westvaal/Columbia) 3:27:56
7 Lourens Luus (Valencia) 3:27:58
8 Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN Qhubeka) 3:29:27
9 Philip Buys (USN Spike) 3:30:50
10 Melt Swanepoel (Squirt Lube Merida) 3:31:02
Straight after the race we were packing our bags and heading home to get a good night’s rest before catching the next morning’s 6:15am flight to George. From George we made our way to Oudtshoorn where the bridge Cape Pioneer Trek kicked off with an afternoon prologue.
I teamed up with Matthys Beukes for the event and with the prologue being on the trails that he hand built, we had a definite advantage. Switching from Marathon to Cross Country mode we gave it all we had and finished 2nd on the opening stage, only a few seconds behind the Nedbank 360 Life pair of Kevin Evans and David George.
For the next 6 days we chased each other around the Klein Karoo and Garden Route (if I’m honest, I was chasing Matthys a lot more than he was chasing me!), racing from Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp (stage 1) over the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert (stage 2) to De Rust (stage 3) to Louvain Guest Farm (stage 4) to George (stage 5) and finally back to Oudtshoorn (stage 6). The Nedbank 360 Life team proved to be the strongest winning 4 stages and the overall ahead of the Westvaal/Columbia pairing of Gawie Combrinck and Nico Bell who took 2 stage wins and 2nd overall. Matthys Beukes was super strong but a long season and nagging head cold caught up to me on the final stages forcing us to settle for only 1 stage win (stage 3 into De Rust) and 3rd overall.
1 Kevin Evans – RSA / David George – RSA (Nedbank 360Life) 20:56:56 2 Nico Bell – RSA / Gawie Combrinck – RSA (Westvaal Columbia) 21:21:41 3 Matthys Beukes – RSA / Melt Swanepoel – RSA (Cango MTB.com) 21:51:00 4 Chris Wolhuter – RSA / Oliver Munnik – RSA (Asrin Cycling) 22:43:18 5 Mattijs Eversdijk – NED / Liwald Doornbos – NED (Cube Nutswerk 2) 23:20:29
Racing mountain bikes for 8 consecutive days is a harsh challenge at the best of times, but throw in some travelling and it becomes a real gamble. In hindsight it was a highly optimistic endeavour and at worst it was an overzealous attempt at racing to do the Cape Pioneer and Crater Cruise double. As it turned out the end result was somewhere in between and I was happy to be part of both events again this year.
Until next time, happy trails!