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Cape Epic 2019: Stage Seven

Oscar Foulkes March 25, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
The numbers for the final stage of Cape Epic gave a little bit of comfort – just 70km in distance with 1800m of climbing. And it came with the sugar coating that the hard yards had been ridden. That multiple difficulties had been endured.

On the last stage in 2018, I did a passable impersonation of a horse that’s bolted for home, going pretty much flat-out for the final 40km. It doesn’t often happen that Piet is on my back wheel, but that was one such day. Yesterday, Piet pre-empted that, but setting a strong tempo from the gun as we rode up the Jonkershoek valley first on tar, and then on the gravel road. We knocked off the first 9km in 27 minutes, reaching the top of the first big descent with a clear run down, catching stragglers from the start batch ahead of us as we hit the first singletrack.

Once again, we were climbing, but this time it was very slow, because we were doing it on singletrack. The climbing continued on forest road, until we reached the singletrack above the Land Rover Technical Terrain. Traffic made both of these slower than they needed to be.

After the first water point, we started the climb that would take us over Botmaskop, almost all of which was new to me. The route undulated, but every descent created more work, and when we ascended, the gradient was inevitably in the vicinity of 20 degrees. It was hard work.

Finally, we reached the second water point at the top of the Old Helshoogte pass, where we once again started climbing, effectively skirting the top ends of farms on the Banhoek side of Simonsberg. The uphill singletrack approaching Boschendal (or perhaps already on the property) was again made slow by traffic.

We managed to get past the fatigued riders, so that we had clear runs down Sugarbowl and Slingshot singletrack, adding some fun to the day. From this point on it was basically downhill or flat, giving us a speedy end to the day.

Finishing in one piece is not something one can take for granted. Yesterday, one of the last four lions, Mike Nixon, crashed on the finish line. Had it happened on any other day he’d have been out of the race. Timing is everything, about which I had my reminder overnight, with a stomach lurgy that would certainly have had me out of the event it if had struck early in the week – this morning I’m barely capable of typing a sentence.

We’ve now ridden 24 days of Cape Epic (i.e. three years’ worth) without so much as a flat tyre. My tumble during Prologue this year is the most serious crash we’ve had. The only other visit to medics was for Piet to get a drip after the super hot stage in Hermanus. We’ve been very lucky; it takes more than hard work and endurance to get through this thing.

I’d like to end with a huge thank you to everyone that came to cheer by the route, friends that called or messaged, to our support team, our coach, our families, and the crew that works crazy hours to take care of all the logistics for the event. All we had to worry about was riding our bicycles.

Cape Epic 2019: Stage Six

Oscar Foulkes March 23, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
Today’s stage was billed as the “play day”, but I don’t think too many riders got lured into believing that. The numbers were just too ominous – basically 90 km in distance, with 2650m of climbing, making it the ‘steepest’ day of the week. And, to all intents and purposes, the numbers of today’s stage made it very similar to the Queen Stage and the two other big days that preceded it.

Let me add some perspective to the scenario. Attakwas is pitched as the toughest one-day MTB race in the country, covering a 121km route with 2900m of climbing. Critically, no part of the route is on (energy-sapping) singletrack. The four big days this week haven’t diverged dramatically from those numbers, and there’s been loads of singletrack involved in the week. We’ve kind of done Attakwas four times this week.

Having completed today’s stage, 2019 is unquestionably the toughest Epic I’ve done.

I should mention that today’s climbing was generously seasoned with climbs that have a 20-degree gradient. Much of the rest of the climbing was on singletrack.

Oh, and we did about a fifth of the climbing in the first eight or nine kilometres, with a brutal climb up Botmaskop (hence the bottle we’re drinking tonight).

From Botmaskop we went down Skyfall at Bartinney, and then all the way to the top of the Banhoek valley, where it was extremely tempting to dive into the river. Then more singletrack climbing before a fun descent to the first water point.

More vineyard climbs followed, with a big ascent up the Simonsberg side of the valley, where we linked up with the extensive network of Simonsberg trails, and loads more climbing.

Around this time the temperature hit 30-degrees, eventually maxing at around 35.

Before the second water point we had a testing climb up Klapmuts Kop, with more climbing to get us to the desperately needed water point. The gap between first and second water points was probably too big, and I was almost in big trouble by the time we got there. It took me a good 25km to bounce back from being this close to the edge. Piet was magnificently patient with me.

From the second water point on, there was no shortage of water or hydration points, which didn’t make any sense.

The final waterpoint was at the top of the old Helshoogte pass, with not much climbing remaining for the day. I found a second wind as we came out of the culvert, and we finished strong over the final 8 km.

Once again, we had loads of friends cheering us on the route. Thank you, guys!

Cape Epic 2019: Stage Five

Oscar Foulkes March 22, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
Today’s report may end up being brief, and I can’t guarantee that everything will make sense. To say I was shattered at the finish would not be an understatement.

I’m collecting my thoughts while sipping Uva Mira Chardonnay (selected because the vines are grown on the slopes of the Helderberg), while looking at the slopes that caused so much pain this afternoon. They look so benign in the sunset light. It’s almost like the mountain equivalent of ‘butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth’.

When a previous Queen Stage gets relegated to just-a-stage then what replaces it must be tough. Indeed, expectations were built up almost to the point of the old-time mariners’ “here be dragons”.

From Oak Valley to the top of the Gantouw Pass was not a walk in the park, but with an easterly wind blowing we were at least not overheating. Having done the portage, we then had to do the traverse to Lourensford. That piece of riding is a schlepp, and I don’t like it any more when it is done in reverse as part of Wines2Whales day one.

Somewhere along the line the temperature hit 30-odd degrees, and stayed that way to the end.

The climb through Lourensford was nicely broken up, and then we hit the King’s Climb. It would be a testing climb at the best of times, but after nearly a week of Epic, and 60-odd kilometres into the day, it’s worthy of any abuse that gets thrown at it.

Then we hit the Land Rover Technical Terrain, which is a beautiful run down the Helderberg MTB trails. Except.

By the time we got there our bodies were tired (read arms, shoulders and hands), the usually immaculate trail was rutted, and there was traffic. Today was not the day to try to knock out a Strava PR!

I was quite desperate for the water point at the base. From here, it was roughly 20km to the finish, but with a bunch of gratuitous vineyard climbs that made it the worst part of the day for me. I had to dig deep over the last hour, or so.

The motto of Cape Epic is “conquer as one”, and today Piet more than came to the party in talking me through the grind.

We got through the day in one piece, which is the most important. We inched a few more places up the GC, an outcome that may have more to do with attrition amongst other riders than any particular strength or endurance on our part.

Cape Epic 2019: Stage Four

Oscar Foulkes March 21, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
Cape Epic introduced a time trial to the race in 2018. It was initially cheered, but then we all realised that it’s actually no coffee ride. Well, it is the kind of distance one might associate with a banter-filled Sunday morning pedal, but the organisers needed to make sure that the pros take long enough to get around.

So there is climbing, and it’s not easy climbing. Last year’s TT route up the mountainside in Wellington (in extreme heat) is the stuff of infamy. This year, the climbs were either in the vicinity of 20 degrees’ gradient, or switchback climbs. My fuck, did we do switchback climbs today.

I am generally in favour of switchback climbs (i.e. in preference to going straight up) because the lateral paths are at a lesser gradient. However, in order to make it around the corner, you need to build up a little pace, and then you have to keep it going up the steep pitch of the bend. When your legs are tired these things hurt.

What I’m getting at, is even if one decided to take it easy, the climbs will have the final say. The way my body reacts to them is that my legs are capable of producing the minimum level of required Watts, but due to my ‘throat history’ I can’t inhale enough air to keep my cardiovascular system happy. I end up gasping for air.

The only way that time trial day is recovery is that we finish the stage a couple of hours earlier, which leaves more time on the bed to rest in preparation for the following day.

Anyway, we had another day of getting around in one piece, and we had some fun on the superb Oak Valley and Paul Cluver singletrack. Even when traffic held us up it was still fun.

Another cool feature of today’s stage is that a bunch of mates took advantage of the public holiday to come and support us around the course. Thank you so much, guys, it makes a huge difference to our day!

Tomorrow is the Queen Stage. There are whispers doing the rounds of how it’s going to be one of the toughest days of Epic, ever. And, because the route is effectively new, it’s fertile space for gloomy expectations to grow. By this time tomorrow it will no longer be a mystery to the bulk of the field.

Once we’ve got to Stellenbosch I might relax a bit, but we need to get through tomorrow first.

Cape Epic 2019: Stage Three

Oscar Foulkes March 20, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
Today’s stage was very similar to the Queen Stage in 2017. However, this year it’s just another stage. That’s not necessarily empirical evidence of Epic getting harder, but I’m 100% certain that the field has got stronger since then, certainly in the Grand Masters category.

Our best stage finish ever was that Queen Stage, which we ended in 18th position in Grand Masters. We haven’t got close to that since then. We rode faster today than we did in 2017, and yet we couldn’t do better than 44th in our category.

Right, so how does 108km with 2800m of climbing play out?

Starting at Oak Valley, they sent us via the Grabouw Country Club on a big climb up Nuweberg, before dropping us to the bottom of a valley and then chasing us back up a steep, gravelly climb. We reached the water point having done some hard core climbing – in fact, no part of Groenlandberg is either steeper or more technical than what we did as a warm-up. It’s a great way of getting your head into the right space for a LOT more climbing.

Then we settled into the one hour climb up Groenlandberg. At the summit it was 10 degrees and rainy. There’s a long, rocky descent, followed by a jeep track that tracks all the way around the back of Groenlandberg, before starting the long ascent to Die Nek. The Land Rover Technical Terrain was on that final section, but with the rain settling the sand it rode like a sheep dressed in wolf’s clothing.

The descent from Die Nek is a long one, which starts off with an easy line, with the alternative of a more technical Santa Cruz line (especially when done at pace). We were in a passing mood, so we released brakes and let gravity perform its magic. That was a super amount of fun!

The next water point was at Houw Hoek Inn, before we crossed under the N2 and started what seemed like an interminable climb. It was around about this time that I realised that the holiday season base training was kicking in. I wasn’t capable of heroics, but I could execute the plan of steady pedalling. After traversing some distance we started the descent that would eventually lead us to South Hill. The upper few kilometres comprised a gnarly jeep track, with just one obvious line. Once again, we had to take the B-line to pass other teams. More fun was had.

The climb back up to South Hill was very steep. At the top we could see the water point, in fact I could have popped an easy seven iron into Paul Valstar’s lap as he called the riders into the area. But no, we got sent on a circuit of the South Hill cellar and homestead area that involved yet more climbing. That’s classic Cape Epic route planning.

After the water point we got sent through Old Mac Daddy, and up the hillside behind it. It’s a steep, loose climb that had me gasping for breath. We were behind some Spanish riders, who nonchalantly chatted all the way up. I know from previous Epics that this is their default setting – there is so much chatter when they are around.

Eventually we reached the start of the Lebanon singletracks, but we had slower riders ahead of us. After a while we managed to pass them, so that we could let rip in the next section, which we were able to do, before getting caught in traffic again.

We skipped the hydration station at Thandi, getting stuck straight into the switchback climb, and then making the final dash for Oak Valley.

We had a great day today, which does wonders for morale.

Tomorrow is the 41km time trial, which will give us some extra recovery time in the afternoon. This year’s Queen Stage is on Friday – we need to be in good space for that!

Cape Epic 2019: Stage Two

Oscar Foulkes March 19, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
I’m going to apologise in advance, because there’s a rant coming. By way of lead-in, I need to introduce a 1970s Motown group, The Undisputed Truth. Don’t worry, I didn’t know about them, either, until my kids introduced me to their music, particularly their song Friendship Train. I think it’s got a really cool sound – listen to the video alongside.

Here’s the final verse:
This train stands for justice,
This train stands for freedom
This train stands for harmony and peace
This train stands for love
Come on get on the friendship train
People listen to me now
Harmony is the key my sisters and brothers
Oh yes it is I say
Harmony is the key my sisters and brothers
People can’t wait cause another day might be too late
Come on get on the friendship train

For the purposes of what’s coming, substitute “tribe” for “train”, so that one gets the phrase “this tribe stands for …”

As I said in my post-Prologue report, one of things about Cape Epic that gets riders excited is this sense of being part of a tribe. Usually, this tribe is associated with high levels of fitness, and an ability to endure pretty much whatever is thrown at it. It’s also a group of people that spends a lot of time in wilderness areas, deriving a huge amount of pleasure from being in the landscape.

However, over the past few days I’ve seen another side of my tribe, and it’s made me very grumpy. Riding towards the back end of the field means that I get to see a lot more of it. What I’m referring to is litter, generally in the form of discarded packaging for the various energy bars and gels that get consumed. It would not be an exaggeration to say that if I had collected all the litter from every one of the mountain biking events I’ve taken part in over the past ten years, and distributed it on the Cape Epic course, what has been discarded over the past two days would exceed a ten-year accumulation.

Given this tribe’s relationship with wilderness areas, it’s a big surprise, and it brings into question how one might finish the phrase “this tribe stands for …”

Come on, guys, it doesn’t take a lot to slip the spent packaging into a pocket, or to lodge between thigh and bib short.

OK, rant over.

We had a much better day today. We went out with the same strategy, of riding conservatively so that we could finish the 92km stage (2200m of climbing) in roughly six hours. We more-or-less achieved that, but most importantly, we reached the end feeling good about the day. It was much better space to be in than where we were the previous day.

During last year’s Epic I had reason to coin the phrase “the Tallboy line”. I hadn’t ridden the Santa Cruz Blur yet (the more racey version of the Tallboy that I’m riding this year), but I could as easily have called it “the Santa Cruz line”.

It’s been noticeable how many more people are riding Santa Cruz this year. There seems to be a culture of riders defaulting to one brand (no need to mention it), without actually taking a range of bikes out onto trails. It’s great to see some variety.

This morning we had the opportunity of riding a “Santa Cruz line” on a very rocky piece of steep jeep track where everyone was on the smoother side (and on their brakes). I pulled out to the unused side, released brakes, and enjoyed what amounted to a self-created Technical Terrain. I could do it with confidence, knowing what the bike is capable of.

Another factor, I think, is that I like to ride with fairly soft tyres (1 bar, or even slightly less). Had I been on super hard tyres I’d have had a much harder time keeping the bike on the trail, not to mention upright.

Back on the flats and climbs it gets back to who has the legs and ability, which leaves me trundling my way along at the back of the field, where I have plenty of time to notice what the riders ahead of me have discarded.

Tomorrow is another huge day – 107km, with 2800m of climbing. There is work to be done!

Cape Epic 2019: Stage One

Oscar Foulkes March 18, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
This race is brutal. There is absolutely nowhere to hide if you’re short of fitness or talent, or just having a bad day.

The pros at the pointy end of the field are on form – or close to it – almost all the time. For the rest of us, there are days we just have to suffer through. If they are having a bad day they lose five or ten minutes. We can lose 30-60 minutes.

For me, today was that day.

A mountain bike stage comprising 111km and 2700m of climbing (this may be the key number in conjunction with the distance) is never going to be easy. Our plan was to ride conservatively, maintaining a steady pace up the climbs, aiming to average about 15km/h for the stage, which would have seen us home in roughly seven hours. It’s a long day by comparison with the pro riders, who whizzed around the course in under four-and-a-half hours, but it sets us up for a week of steady improvement.

We reached the 60km mark in four hours, so bang on target. Actually, we were slightly ahead of the curve, because by that point we’d done more than half the climbing (the climbing on today’s stage was very much front-loaded). However, the next 35km became an exercise in survival for me.

It’s all a bit unfair to Piet, because he is in the form of his life. If the Cape Town Cycle Tour had not been windy, he would have ridden it comfortably under three hours.

From the final water point, we had a mostly downhill 20km to the finish. I’d dosed myself with a sugary gel, and also pushed handfuls of ice into my bib shorts, which cooled my quads. I was back in the game, relatively speaking. Piet, on the other hand, started cramping.

It was our second longest day of Epic, ever, exceeded in length only by stage one in 2017, when Piet cramped on that very hot Hermanus stage. We missed our seven hour target by more than 40 minutes. I think he’s going to petition to change Hermanus’ name to Cramp City.

Tomorrow we head for Grabouw. It’s a shorter day, with significantly less climbing, so we’re hoping for a better outcome.

We’re busy sipping glasses of Restless River Chardonnay (continuing the theme of drinking wine from the areas we ride through), while looking out over the ocean as the sun sets. Life is feeling a lot more bright than it did at 2.00 this afternoon!

Cape Epic 2019: Prologue

Oscar Foulkes March 17, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
I have felt ready for Cape Epic for a couple of weeks, which is a big relief considering my mental and physical state early in February. At the time, I took stock, sought counsel, and then had an entire week off from any form of exercise.

It is an enormously exciting event in which to participate, and the feeling of being part of a tribe certainly builds as you see international riders on – or near – trails that we ride every week.

To say that I’ve been excited about starting this Epic would be an understatement. However, based upon my experiences during two previous Prologues, when I couldn’t get my heart rate down, I’ve needed to work on visualising a calm ride, almost as if I was out on a coffee ride with mates.

Fortunately, conditions this morning were cool, which is always a help. We got around the course seven minutes faster than last year, and also felt a lot fresher afterwards. I’d regard this as a big win.

Our Epic plan is to ride at a relatively conservative pace (except for descending, but more on that in a moment), and get stronger as we get deeper into the race. This year, particularly, that is going to be a necessary strategy.

We are not athletes of the ilk of Joel Stransky, who started a minute after us, passed us well before we’d even exited UCT, and proceeded to ride the Prologue 15 minutes faster.

Over the first quarter of the course (roughly), which is mainly uphill, the leading times were about 65% of our time. However, on the final big descent, we performed relatively stronger, reducing that deficit to the point where the leaders were at about 80% of our time.

However, the aim with Prologue – and the event as a whole – is to get around in one piece. In this respect, I had a little reminder of how quickly things can go arse over tits, when I took a little tumble entering the second to last bit of single track. It’s a route I’ve ridden dozens of times, but today there was just a brief lapse in concentration. The end result is a roasty on my elbow, which needed a little bit of attention from the medics.

I’m a lot better off than the rider I encountered there, who took a much more serious tumble on the Plum Pudding singletrack, and is now out of the event with a suspected fracture to his left arm.

While on the subject of the Plum Pudding, I need to broadcast an apology to the rider who was walking in the lower third, but on the trail. I called out to him to please move over. He saw me approaching, but didn’t move, so I shouted at him to “Move!” He still didn’t move, so I had to take the tiger line down.

The main broadcast, though, is a huge THANK YOU to everyone who came out to support riders along the route. We love the vibe!

A few hours later: my left wrist that was sprained in November is suddenly really sore. It must have taken some of the impact when I fell. Fortunately, I still have the brace, but it’s in Cape Town, and will get a lift to Hermanus overnight.


Oscar Foulkes February 26, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
When I was training for my first Cape Epic, in 2017, I posted weekly training updates. Seeing as I found my riding partner as a result of a blog post (Be My Epic Valentine), it seemed only right to continue the story. The biggest motivation, though, was to share the journey from cancer treatment to Epic.

I posted daily updates during the event, and when I took on the 2018 race I did the writing all over again.

Not that you’d know it – because I haven’t posted about it here – I’m about to do my third Epic. I’ve done all the work, but none of the writing. Theoretically, this has nothing to do with powering my bike over insanely difficult routes. And yet, this event is almost as much a mind challenge as it is a physical challenge.

Writing, I find, is an extremely valuable tool in straightening out my thinking. Last year, I had some major life changes, which I wrote about using the tag “Adventures of Re-“ (click here for them). Further life changes followed at the beginning of February this year, when my now-adult daughter and son both left home (and Cape Town) for big adventures. None of the above makes for great emotional space, with “re-“ words such as ‘relevance’ becoming more appropriate to my personal perspective than the more exciting ones. In my journey along the road of reskill, retool, and reinvent, I have gone through some very dark days.

Sticking with “re-“ words, the process has tested my resilience, not to mention depleting my resources.

What I’m getting to, is that training for Epic in this condition seems to be far harder than my first, when I was battling my way through recovery (there’s a good “re-“ word) from radiotherapy, in addition to which I didn’t realise the extent to which my breathing was impaired. The one with big physical challenges should have been harder than the one with emotional issues. From this perspective, it doesn’t seem that way.

As usual, this time there was a heavy block of training over the holiday period, between Christmas and mid-January. Basically, I rode for two days in a row and then rested for a day. Each day of riding averaged something like five or six hours. I got back from this, and went straight into riding Attakwas (not called ‘extreme’ for nothing).

I had done all the work, but my body just wasn’t firing. Something felt wrong. At the beginning of February I bailed halfway through day one of a two-day race, and then rode day two at a sedate pace. Following this, I visited my GP, who has substantial experience in participating in ultra-marathon trail running events. He took blood for a variety of tests (all clear, including liver, miraculously), and supported coach Erica Green’s prescription that I needed a break for recovery.

I did nothing for an entire week, and then started riding a little in the following week. Last week I took part in the Knysna Bull, which is a three-day race plus prologue. I got through it all fine, returning to Cape Town feeling energised, and looking forward to rolling off the start line on 17 March.

Meanwhile, my riding partner, Piet Viljoen, has been in the form of his life. In 2017, he was also training for Comrades, and last year he was training for Ironman. This year, cycling has been his sole athletic focus, with obvious effects on his strength. Fortunately, he has been extremely patient with me, demonstrating that Epic is very much a team effort between the two riders. Epic’s theme of ‘conquer as one’ is real. There have been Epic stages when I’ve been the stronger (very few, admittedly), and it could happen again in 2019. The extremeness of the physical challenge takes riders into places that one can’t predict, no matter the levels of fitness or cycling prowess.

For all the physical slog I’ve experienced, while my body has felt ‘not-right’, the one bright part has been downhills. As the front wheel of my bike drops below the rear, I am immediately connected with my happy place. During Knysna Bull, there were three different timed descents, which I rode as fast as I possibly could. I think that played a big part in me finding my mojo again. Descending is certainly not the same as slogging through a long climb or a holding on for dear life on a pacey flat section, but I’m going downhill faster than ever, and it definitely helps to lift my spirit.

This year marks a change in our team’s ‘theme’. Previously, my top-rated racehorse Sergeant Hardy was talismanic of our Cape Epic efforts, because of our shared breathing problems. He’s just had a surgical procedure to increase his breathing capacity, and will return to the track later in the year. We are sporting new kit this year, bearing the logos of investment and financial services companies in which Piet is involved. The team name, Compound Cubed, is a reference to the miracle of compounding, which is the mathematical basis for his investment wizardry.

While I don’t know for certain if not writing training updates made any difference to how I felt at the end of January, I’m now feeling excited about Cape Epic 2019. I started writing about my Epic preparation as a way of sharing the journey. Perhaps the physical act of writing was also important for my journey.

I haven’t stopped writing, I’ve just been covering different material (click here for that). In a way, this is more manifesto than the recording of an experience.

Our ‘strip’ for Cape Epic 2019.

Another happy place for me – riding Sergeant Hardy on the beach. (pic: Donna Bernhardi)

Some People vs Most People

Oscar Foulkes October 23, 2018 Cape Epic, Uncategorized No comments
I have sat through many extremely dull and unnecessary race briefings during mountain biking stage races. As farm manager Rickus Jooste put it while doing duty during The U, the fit and skilled riders will say afterwards, “What were you talking about, that was easy.” The unfit and unskilled will say, “Jeez, they didn’t say it would be this difficult.”

But, it helps to know – basically – what to expect. In his dry, understated way, Rickus prefaced his route briefing by putting up a slide of a bell-shaped curve, recording the previous year’s results. The fastest and slowest riders were annotated “some people”, sandwiching the main part of the curve, which was labelled “most people”. Along with a few other dry-as-Swartland-in-summer comments, it quickly descended into the funniest race briefing I’ve ever attended.

He repeated the humour on the second night when using dance/music videos to illustrate the need for “rhythm and flow”. The all hips and generally loose bodies in Uptown Funk were juxtaposed with a wooden Theresa May doing her wooden best to sashay onto the stage to strains of Dancing Queen.

The some/most people comparison could equally be applied to pretty much the entire event.

It’s the kind of outlier experience that one hesitates telling others about, because you don’t want to put pressure on the 200 available slots for the following year’s event. However, when as much thoughtful attention to detail has gone into the planning and execution, it is only right to heap praise. They deserve nothing less than deep and profuse expressions of gratitude.

It was striking how much more peaceful the event was with just 200 riders, as opposed to the 1200+ of Wines2Whales or Cape Epic. There was no sense that we were in the middle of a hyped-up jamboree. This was about great trails, a stunning setting beside the dam, country hospitality, and the fellowship of keen mountain bikers. The closest one can get to the same experience is by doing the Imana Wild Ride.

There are very few parts of The U that follow jeep tracks or farm roads. This is all about trails that have been finessed through the fynbos. Of course it took a lot of work, but it’s generally a case of accommodating rocks and protea bushes, or finding a way uphill that doesn’t involve going straight over the top. There’s a lot of twisting and turning, and at times it almost felt as if the trail had been routed to specially traverse flat rock outcrops, of which there are many.

One has to concentrate all the time, watching for rocks in the trail, or the ones adjacent that could snag either pedals or handlebars. Some turns or passages are extremely tight.

With all these mini obstacles, one is often required to apply a little extra power. Also, due to corners sometimes being taken a little slower than usual, extra power is required when exiting. The Piket-Bo-Berg (PBB) trails also have more switchbacks than any other route I’ve ridden – getting up and around the tight, steep turns is also power hungry. As a result, a large number of riders (myself included) cramped on day one, and I was in danger of cramping for much of day two.

Liberal use has been made of bridges that keep the trail flowing across parts of the mountain where there is no trail.

Due to the technical terrain of the PBB trails, downhills are seldom free miles, but man oh man, are they fun to ride!

I don’t want to scare people off, because it’s all rideable (by “most people”), but there might have been more technical stuff in the two days of The U than in all the stages of the two Epics I’ve ridden. There are certainly more switchbacks.

I’ve never been a confident rider of downhill switchbacks. Eventually I was riding pretty much all of them. What helped was having secure berms on the outsides, in just another example of sensational trail building at work. I’m hoping my switchback riding has turned the corner (I promise I didn’t mean that as a pun).

This is not quick riding – if we rode Epic at the same pace we rode The U (and we were “most people”) we would be in danger of not making cut-off.

The landscapes we rode through – and viewed from afar, generally up high – are spectacular. Given that the PBB trails can only be ridden during an organised event, of which there are just two per year, one must grab those opportunities when they come along.

I need to make mention of the catering, which falls into the “some events” category. The lunches were in the style of Ottolenghi – mostly vegetarian, with loads of fresh, crunchy things – which might not have been to the taste of “most people”, but I loved it. Dinners were tasty, if somewhat under-catered from a quantity perspective, especially considering how many calories we were burning on the trails. Breakfasts were fine, although curiously lacking in butter for the bread.

The orange juice station involved two fruit bins of oranges from the farm plonked next to the juicer. Can’t get fresher than this!

Truth Coffee did a roaring trade, as well as CBC beers, the delicious Piekenierskloof wines and the Sugarbird gin. Pura’s “adult sodas” were handed out as we crossed the finishing line.

Race medals comprised little handmade wire bicycles. The organisers’ attention to detail showed in the bike boards on these miniatures being printed with the actual number of the rider receiving them.

Back to real bikes (of the carbon variety) – our Santa Cruz Blurs performed very well. I got pushed beyond my comfort zone a few times, but that was more about what was happening in my head. I had more than enough bike for the job. While the Blur might have been pitched as a marathon bike when it was launched, it is so much more than that.

I urge you to work your way through Chris Hitchcock’s event pictures on the PBB trails Facebook page.

These are “some trails”.