MTN Ultra Marathon # 7: Hilton Dirt Fest

Hearing something like 3000m of ascent in a 97km mountain bike marathon is kind of scary thing to hear if you’re a cyclist. It means only one thing… a big day in the saddle. This is what the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest Ultra Marathon, the 7th race in the series of 8, presented us with.

 

I knew the area quite well however as my parent’s farm is located pretty much in the middle of the course and it was nice to race on somewhat familiar territory and thus have the benefit of knowing what would be coming up next.

 

A super competitive field lined up on beautiful Saturday morning, in my opinion one of the most competitive fields in the MTN series this year to date with 18 of the eventual top 20 riders being full time/professional riders. I took a different strategy into the race after having to endure a very tough 40kilometres last weekend after I had blown.

The Start

Photo Credit: Zoon Cronje

 

I entered the first single track well positioned in about 10th position after jostling a bit at the entrance to it, but a silly mistake cost me as I clipped my pedal on a tree stump and met the fresh earth. I wasn’t too stressed as it was still early days so I settled into my own rhythm which I felt was a sustainable pace for a good 5 hours.

 

I was through the first feed where my Mom was awaiting me in about 25th position, nothing too fantastic but I had Brandon Stewart (Itec Connect) to follow on the next downhill section and this helped me close the gap a bit to Francois Theron (Garmin Adidas). Theron continued to sit at that just unreachable point of 45seconds ahead of me for the next 20 to 30 kilometres as we traversed the Mount Verde section of the course. Here we encountered some super fun single track that had improved drastically from last year. Course designer Nick Floros had put much time and effort into the track with his team and it showed.

 

At the base of the first major 10kmwhich started at 60km (don’t get me wrong the first 60km weren’t easy!)  I caught and passed Matthew English (Concept Cyclery) and managed to maintain and open that gap on the long climb. The 2nd feed presented itself at the top of this beast where I topped up on another bottle of PVM Octane.

That looks like a smile but I think its actually a grimace, top of a 5km climb.

Image Credit: C Sharp Photos

 

The climb had sapped me of quite a bit of energy but I managed to eat and get another gel down and started to recover for the last 13km loop before the finish. This was to be an extremely tough section with the initial descent down a rocky, steep, treacherous hiking trail with a number of compulsory portage sections. After running, and riding what I could I arrived at the bottom of the valley to be greeted with a delightful 5km climb to the finish. The initial slopes weren’t too bad but with kicks of up to 15% towards the end I struggled a bit. I could see another rider although I wasn’t too sure who it was 45seconds ahead of me. I pushed to try and catch them but in the process spent the remaining few pennies and ended up losing 2minutes on them by the time the finish line arrived.

 

The race as expected proved to be a long tough day out but I had a blast on some of the awesome single track which is now very compact and flowing.

 

A big thanks to my Mom for being at all the feed zones on the day with cold bottles and words of encouragement! Also to all my sponsors for their help because without them none of this would be possible! Thank you: Sean Williams Contracts, Cube Bikes South Africa, Dulce Café, PVM Nutritional Sciences, Cycle Lab, Sludge Tyre Sealant, Squirt Chain Lube, Uvex Helmets and Rubena Tyres.

 

Enjoy the photos! It’s been a while since I’ve managed to get some from a race!

Sunday Tribune Jeep Hill 2 Hilll

After a season focussed mainly on xc racing I decided to spice things up a bit with some marathons at the tail end of it. Something that sounds great in hindsight but something you really need to gear your training towards in order to be successful.

 

I haven’t done the Hill 2 Hill since the first edition of the race some 5 years ago and had good memories of it. The race acquires its name from starting in Hilton and finishing in Hillcrest 105km later. It was great also to have Paul, Darryl and Jacques from Cube at the finish as there was an expo there and they had brought a couple of bikes down.

 

Traditionally the first hour of racing is fast as the race descends from worlds view into Pietermaitzburg on some awesome new trails, the course designers Nick Floros and Kim Phillips had created. I found myself with Mannie Heymans(Garmin Adidas) and Shaun Craig Silver(@ Slab Specialized) as we traversed through the city and managed to join the lead group again. The lead group of twenty or so riders stayed together until the king of the mountain, where Phillip Buys(Garmin Adidas) and Burry Stander(Specialized) split things up. I found myself in 12th position going through the first feed just before 30km.

 

Things started to settle down and I settled into a pace I thought to be more sustainable for myself over the distance of the race. It seemed to be going well until ten kilometres later where a silly crash on a single track through Wattle trees resulted in me badly bending my rear disc rotor. I didn’t think it was as bad as it actually turned out to be and decided to carry on. The crash also resulted in 3 riders passing me as I gathered myself and I set out trying to catch back up to them. I would close the gap on the climbs and jeep track only to lose advantage as they worked together on the open dirt roads.

 

My Mom was at the 3rd feed with a fresh bottle of PVM Octane for me and I guzzled it down trying to keep energy levels up. I had however spent too many pennies in my chase and the lights started to go out with still forty kilometres to go, not ideal.

 

David Leiman(Thule/Morewood) and I teamed up and took it in to the finish together. I was quite disappointed with how things had panned out but took consideration the fact that I had tried to race it out from the front. A risky strategy when racing marathons… My Cube HPC Elite worked flawlessly on the day and handled the tough terrain with ease. My Sludge once again ensured no punctures and the Squirt helped having no shifting or chain suck problems! Also, a big thanks to Ollie at Cycle Lab Pietermaritzburg for servicing my wheels which were awesome on race day!

 

My focus now shifts to the MTN Hilton Dirt Fest Ultra marathon this coming weekend. One which promises much climbing with a planned 3000m of ascent on the cards in the 100km race.

 

 

Orbit Tour de Worcester

After a good month racing on the mountain bike I lined up on African soil, or tar rather, for my first road race back in South Africa. Although I managed to get into a promising break that stayed away for a couple of km’s the day on the whole didn’t work out to plan. A rear wheel blow out 60km into the 105km race shattered my rim and spelt the end of the race for me. Luckily I managed to borrow a wheel to ride back to Stellenbosch on so at least I got in some decent training for the upcoming marathons.

 

The race was won from a move which went clear with Leanardo van Olsen(brothers Sport) taking the win with Theuns van der Bank( Cape Town Market) 2nd and Jos le Roux(RSA Web) rounding out the podium.

Riebeek Valley Mountain Bike Classic

Although the Riebeek Valley Mountain Bike race isn’t the biggest or most prestigious races on the calendar it still has a special sentiment to me.

Last year this is where I met Sean whose business, Sean Williams Contracts, is now my main financial sponsor and without his support I wouldn’t be able to do much of what I have had the opportunity to do this year.

It is also a special race for Sean, as he comes to do it in honour of his Mom who used to live in Riebeek Kasteel.

 

The race is traditionally a short one but shouldn’t be underestimated as the ascent up Kasteelberg is a tough one!

 

The start off the race winds itself through the historic village of Riebeek Kasteel before we hit the dirt.

This is where the selection of five riders was made including myself and Sean, Greef Moolman(Thule) Ivan Perold (Blend Properties) and Craig Casey Hughes (One Plan/Trek). After navigating our way through an Olive Tree Orchard, the group thinned down to just Ivan, Greef and I and this is how it stayed until the foot of Kasteelberg.

 

I put in a bit of a move on the lower slopes of the climb and managed to shake off the other two and then pushed it to try open as much of a gap as possible on the climb. The strategy paid off and I could just consolidate as we made our way across the farms in the region towards the finish line.

 

The final results were:

1.       Chris Wolhuter (Sean Williams Contracts/Cube)

2.       Ivan Perold (Blend Properties)

3.       Greef Moolman (Thule)

4.       Sean Williams (Sean Williams Contracts)

5.       Craig Casey Hughes (One Plan/Trek)

Potberg Mountain Bike Marathon

 

The Potberg Marathon is a race like no other as it allows you to do a bit of whale watching during the actual race.
It was a lengthy drive down to the De Hoop Nature Reserve, but one that is worth it with the beautiful scenery and I had decided to make a weekend of the trip by staying over at De Kelders with my old house mate, Damian.

A rather small field lined up and after one gentleman sprinted off the line and promptly crashed into the bushes, after over shooting the first corner, a good laugh I might add, I settled into my own rhythm. The race split up quite quickly and fortunately found myself out front with just the lead motor bike for company. The first 30km of the race includes a bit of everything from jeep track, single track, a short section of tar and some gravel road.

This brought us up to the first real climb, a couple of kilometres along a rocky loose jeep track. The view at the top of this climb was breath taking and I even slowed for a few metres to take it in.

I remembered the descent from last year and had just as much fun this time around, the railway sleepers used as bridges are super cool!

The last fifteen kilometres of this seventy-five kilometre route is tough and I made sure I kept something in the tank for it as well as popping an Octane Gel just before I hit the concrete strip climb.

Anyone who mountain bikes will know that concrete strip climbs mean one thing… Steep!

And it was, topping out at around an 18% gradient, this welcomes you to the last section as you hit a very rough, rocky jeep track section that violently tosses you and your bike around, but the Cube handled it flawlessly. In case the fatigue was starting to take its toll some tough sandy sections sap the remaining energy out of you.

It’s all worth it though as this section takes you within two hundred metres from the beach and the views that it awards are once again… Breathtaking 😉 Two weekends in a row my Sludge saved me by sealing a puncture within seconds of the dreaded pssh sound I encountered along this same section last year.

Fortunately a tame section of gravel road takes you to the finish and I could tap off a bit into the finish and take the win with a new course record being a little cherry on top. Very stoked with this and I would like to say a big thank you to all my sponsors for your support because without you this wouldn’t be possible.

Till next time…