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.
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!