Cape Town Cycle Tour 55km MTB

It may not be considered the toughest mountain bike race around but the Cape Town Cycle Tour MTB is definitely one of the most enjoyable events on the calendar. Actually it is pretty tough come to think of it and riders shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of expectation by the seemingly short-sounding 55km route. There’s a lot of climbing (between 1300-1600m, GPS dependent of course) and the sandy, washed out tracks make the terrain pretty challenging at times, too. There are also the elements to contend with but this year’s edition yielded conditions that were pretty close to perfect.


This is the third time I’ve participated in this race and while it’s undergone small tweaks over the years the general route follows pretty much the same course as previous years. It also attracts a fairly large professional following allowing those lining up in AA to rub shoulders with some of the giants of the sport. This year’s line-up included stars such as Christoph Sauser, Howard Grotts, David George, Matthys Beukes and Lourens Luus with the women’s field attracting such names as Jennie Stenerhag, Mariske Strauss and Cherie Vale. Lining up with me was fellow Pure Savage teammate Waldo Zevenster or Wall-do as I like to call him based purely on his colossal frame that protects everybody riding behind him from the wind. Unlike Waldo who looked resplendent in full Pure Savage regalia I elected to ride incognito in my Absa Cape Epic kit instead.

As usual the pace was fast and furious leaving the start venue at Le Bonheur Estate in Stellenbosch. The first several kilometers are always a shock to the system, with sandy 90-degree vineyard corners, corrugated farm roads and short, punchy rollers inflicting all sorts of hurt on the legs and lungs. Those who don’t go with the pace early on are usually spat out the back – only the strongest can catch up on the flatter sections. It’s always hard to come into this race with a goal in mind as conditions are variable and make it difficult to draw direct comparisons between past results. With that in mind I set a goal based on finish position rather than time and average speed. My target was a top 35.

With my Absa Cape Epic training drawing to a close my form looked pretty good heading into this race despite a heavy week of training. The frenetic pace at start is sometimes a struggle with cold legs but the bunch surprisingly stayed together for the first 15 kays before stringing out up the first climb of the day. Ride enough races and you’ll usually find the same guys toiling alongside you. In this case, I spent the full 55km with Marc Wells. We’ve ridden together and tussled it out for pretty much the past 10 races and there’s always good competition and rivalry between us. We worked well together and began to pick off riders one by one – well, until Waldo came thundering past like we were standing still. Did I tell you how strong this guy is? He just keeps going and going, unloading monumental amounts of wattage all the while showing no signs of fatigue or weakness. He wouldn’t get away completely though and we’d keep him in view for the remainder of the race, playing a (pure) savage game of cat and mouse.

At around the 27km mark the biggest climb of the day revealed itself – a 9.7km grind comprising 30 per cent kicks that leveled out at an average gradient of 3.3 per cent. It wasn’t a particularly tough climb but there’s one particular section where you really need to work the legs and lungs. It’s a real struggle. Anything above 20 per cent requires you to sit on the tip of the saddle as gravity jostles with every fibre of your being, dishing out pain and torment of the highest order – is this what an inguinal hernia feels like? It certainly felt like it at the time, as my eyes bulged from their sockets and rigormortis began to set in. (I think that was cramp though).

Data from the Big Climb of the day!

Proptosis avoided, a pretty quick descent allowed for some semblance of recovery before the rolling topography back to the finish line forced a big effort. A glimpse at my cycling computer showed I was on track for a pretty quick time with just 3km to go. At this point I was averaging over 21km/h and 172bpm – threshold riding at its best. (Anything over 20km/h average speed in MTB is considered good). The welcomed noise of the finish line commentators and shimmering cars parked in the distance signaled the finish was just moments away but boom – down I went. In a stupid move to try and make up a few spots my pedal hit a rock sending me over the bars and severely bruising my derrière and ego as a result. What a stupid move – for what a few seconds and 3 places at best?

Anyway, it all worked out in the end and I rolled over the line in 37th position overall, 3rd in category. Wall-do got 24th and finished 2nd in the same category. All-in-all it was a good day out for both Waldo, Team Pure Savage and me. Form is looking good for all of the PS team members and we’re hopeful for a good showing at this year’s Cape Town Cycle Tour road event. So who won the race and how fast? Well, the victory went to Howard Grotts of the USA who finished in a time of 2h08m at an average speed of nearly 26km/h! That’s crazy fast! Christoph Sauser came in just over a minute later pipping Matthys Beukes to second place in a sprint finish.