Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The York Enduro Mountain Bike Rally

Upon receiving the email inviting me as one of the pros for The York Enduro I replied immediately with YES!!! I was invited to the inaugural event which was held this time last year. It proved to be a huge success and possibly the most fun any fun-loving mountain biker could hope to have!
It is a huge privilege to take part as a pro and York treated us like stars with an appearance fee, a Salomon goodie bag with shoes and a jacket, accommodation at Floriet, lovely food and great prize money for the races.

So basically what the race boils down to is for each pro, there is a corporate team. This year there were 24 pro riders and 24 corporate team (of four riders). Day 1 is a downhill race for the pros. Based on the results, or whatever other reason they would want a particular pro, each corporate team bids or “buys” a pro. I’m not 100% sure how it works.
For the 3 subsequent days the corporate team, with their pro, would race against other teams. Some teams raced seriously for the win, and some just there to have some good clean, dirty fun J. The main aim of the event is to raise money for the upliftment of the community by providing disadvantaged youngsters with the opportunity and resources to start up their own businesses. An inspiring and moving initiative by York.

Wednesday evening was a dinner for the pros, where we got the low-down of our roll in the race and a basic introduction to each of us. The pros this year were:
Arno du Toit, Lourens Luus, Oliver Munnik, Kallen Williams, Matthew Beers, Adriaan Louw Justin Victor, Darren Lill, Max   Knox, Kevin Evans, Waylon Woolcock, Dylan Rebello, Ben Swanepoel, Owen Hannie, Gawie Combrinck, Timo Cooper, Charles Keey, Nic White, Willie Smit, Yolandi du Toit, Theresa Ralph, Leana de Jager, Dalene van der Leek, Stuart Marais, Andrew Hill, and myself.

Day 1: The Downhill stage.

The downhill course was about 3 or 4 km of mountain biking nirvana! The twisty turny descent consisted of steep switch back corners, rocks, drop-offs, berms, more berms and some table-tops to end off the awesomeness. Do not be deceived, there were a few sections where frantic pedalling was required leaving you shaky with endorphins and adrenaline. Me and my little 650B hardtail Scott Scale 710 nipped through the course I won the race in a time of 7:17. Yolandi du Toit came in 2nd with Theresa Ralph rounding off the podium.

Arno du Toit took the win in the men’s race with a time of 6:04 beating last year’s record set by Lourens Luus who came 2nd and Oliver Munnik 3rd.

Day 2: 35km, 4 timed stages.

My corporate team was Team Cashbuild; Chris, Chris, Johan and Brett. They were fit, fun and part of the Joberg Single Speed crowd so we got along really well! I won the 3 downhill stages and Dalene van der Leek won the uphill stage. The ride finished at “Cuddle Puddle” with an awesome lunch and some beers, everyone comparing their war stories. Once again I was in my element on the downs, loving what York had set out for us. That evening was festive with live music, great food, wine and fantastic company!

Day 3: 35km, 4 timed stages and the Duel Eliminater.
Pretty much the same setup as the previous day, except the hill climb was longer which suited me. I ended up on the podium in 3rd behind Theresa who took 2nd and Dalene in 1st. I won the downhills again but they involved a lot of pedalling, some had a decent amount of uphill which left my legs tired and sore. A proper day in the saddle!
A highlight of the day, for riders and spectators alike, was the Duel Eliminator. The course: two strips of single track running parallel to each other with tight berms and jumps. Riders raced against each other twice per round, once in each lane. Each round eliminated the slower rider until there was a winner. Oliver Munnik cleaned up the men’s race with Arno du Toit in 2nd.
Erika Green and I duelled it out for 1st place. The left line was the race favourite as it was a few seconds quicker. I won the first round in the left lane but Erika pipped me in the second round when we swapped lanes. I won a lucky draw for lane choice for the final, I chose the left one, focussed and went as fast as possible taking the win! It was a super fun and exciting addition to the York Enduro!  
Once again an awesome day of riding was concluded with an amazing dinner and more festivity.

Day 4: 40km, 20km and kiddies race. XCO race for pros.
About an hour after the 40km ride, the pros raced the beautifully built XCO track. My legs were sore from the previous day’s efforts and I was quite grateful that they shortened our 2 laps to just 1. When the gun went off, it was a flat-out sprint up a climb into the single track. Yolandi du Toit managed to get into the single track just ahead of me. Up the switch back climbs, my chest closed up and felt my lack of racing the past few months. Theresa passed me up one of the splits, pulling a gap. I managed to minimise the gap through the technical sections like an uphill rock garden, a downhill log section and the duel eliminator course but finished in 3rd behind Theresa. Yolandi took a well-deserved win!

This weekend was the most fun I have had on and off the bike in a while. Hats off to York Timbers for going the extra mile, not only in making it a special weekend of fun for the pros and corporates, but also for all they have done for the community. 

If I get that email next year, I will definitely reply with a YES!!!

For the full set of results go to:

To see more pics, see the album on our Valencia Facebook page:

Monday, 1 September 2014

Nkomazi MTB Challenge - a Good Kick Back Into Racing!

The Nkomazi MTB Challenge would be my first race and first time mountain biking since marathon World Champs exactly 3 months ago. I have been recovering from an Achilles’ Tendon injury since SA Marathon Champs which was on the 8th of June. This was a huge disappointment as I was on the best form of the year and had been chosen to represent South Africa as part of the national team for the World Champs which took place 3 weeks later. I entered a forced rest with a few easy “test rides” in between, in hopes of being healed and well rested by the time World Champs rolled along.
About 25km into the race there was a hair raising portage section where I started to feel the dreaded twinge in my Achilles. The twinge turned into a stabbing pain that came and went. I ignored the pain until it became constant agony and pedaling unbearable. I pulled out at 60km in, devastated at 1) having pulled out and 2) the realisation that it would be long time before I’d be reunited with my bike.

Anyway, 1 month and loads of physio later, I was back on the bike. Although I felt super sluggish and I had this terrible pain in my cheek bones (the butt ones) that I hadn’t felt since I first started riding, I feel the rest was a good thing. I was hungry to ride again! For two months I just rode wherever and whenever I felt like, no intervals, just riding for the love of it. Confidence that my Achilles was ok started growing and I found myself doing long rides like to Sabie and back, sometimes taking the long way round resulting in entire days of riding. It felt good to be back in the saddle and the great outdoors!  
In hindsight the injury was a good thing in many ways. Insanity preventative measures included starting a clothing line - Over the Bars - which will be launching in the next few months (watch this space!) Over The Bars ladies mtb skills will be starting mid-September. I am very grateful for the support of Valencia and Coach Bosseau for their support during my down-time.

Now, back to the Nkomazi MTB Challenge… I was really excited to be racing again, to feel the burn and taste some blood J It felt weird preparing for the race, I hadn't worn my proverbial race-face in ages, nor has my heart rate been anywhere close to race pace in 3 months. This would be interesting!
The race was held in the small local town of Malelane about 40km from Nelspruit. The R50 600 of prize money for the event was good motivation to do well but I had no expectations considering my current form so I thought I’d focus on doing my best but most of all have fun!

The start was quite chilly but warmed up fast as the pace was hot from the gun, well, it was a canon actually that they set off which was original, fun and kicked us off for a fiery start! The first few k's was undulating and took us through some beautiful farmland. It felt good to feel the burn in my legs and lungs, I found myself in the lead from the canon and kept a good steady pace I felt I could maintain. The profile was something like this: __/\__. The climb in the middle was seemingly never-ending with 2 sections that were too loose and steep to ride. I still felt strong at this point, with the help of my PowerBar gels and energy drink I was diligently fueling with. On the other side we were rewarded (some may disagree:) ) with the local downhill course. It was so steep that I spent a good deal of time almost sitting on my back wheel to prevent going over the bars! To add to the steepness there were switchbacks which made it even more challenging. Just how I like it.

The last section was probably the toughest. It was undulating and mostly downhill actually but it seemed to go on forever and although I started passing people, it was getting super hot and I was getting tired. I was happy to see the finish with a welcoming crowd and hug from my awesome sponsor, Naeem Omar. The feeling of emptying the tank is priceless. It’s good to be back!

Thanks again to my sponsors Valencia, ADIDAS, PowerBar, Continental, and coach Bosseau from Infinita for your constant support.

Also big ups to Laerskool Malelane, event sponsor Toyota Malelane, Carine Van Der Wershuizen, Dirk and everyone else who made this event so festive and well organised with a proper mountain bike race!


Friday, 13 June 2014

SA Marathon Champs, Cascades.

I was nervous and excited for SA Champs which was held at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg. I am familiar with the World Cup XCO course which is technical and demands respect! Upon examining the race profile, I could see we would either be riding UP or DOWN. If trail builder Nick Flores’ reputation is anything to go by, the downs would be super technical, challenging and FUN!

As expected, on the start line were all the best mountain biking ladies in the country. It was daunting but the training with my coach Bosseau had been paying off and I am confident in my technical skills. I would just have to keep a level head and do the best I could.
The race immediately started with a big climb – or more accurately a series of nasty kickers with the relief of some single track in between. Robyn de Groot set a crazy pace from the gun, putting us in the hurt-box from the beginning. 

We climbed up the back of Cascades for 7km where we reached water point 1, I was now lying 10th, just behind my teammate Samantha Sanders. As luck would have it, a few hundred meters later down the first section of single track I heard the dreaded hissing sound of a deflating tyre. I hoped that it would seal but the puncture was too big. I was forced to stop. I saw it was a sidewall puncture which often don’t seal and need to be plugged, or worse, a gator and tube put in. I decided to bomb it and try to get it to seal, but it didn’t work and to add insult to injury I pulled out the valve in my hurry to get going again. My tyre was now completely deflated along with my spirit, almost the entire field had over taken me. Luckily I had packed another bomb, I screwed the valve back in, used the entire bomb and bounced the wheel making sure sealant got into the hole. It worked thank goodness.

I was now lying in about 25th position, I started reeling my competitors in, quickly at first which lifted my spirits. I found that it didn’t take me long to pass girls who usually beat me even after my puncture; this was encouraging and made me chase harder. 14km in at the 2nd Water Point, I was almost out of energy drink but I skipped my bottle as I knew there would be another one at the 21km mark. Which there wasn’t. The route was changed and the next tech zone would only be at 40km. In the distance, to my surprize, I spotted Yolandi Du Toit and Leana de Jaager. I kept them in my sights gaining slowly on them. We reached a long stretch of awesome foresty single track riddled with rocks and other fun surprises. I passed the Yolandi and Leana in the single track and had pulled a good gap on them by the time I got to the water point.

I was super grateful to see my coach, Bosseau, holding my bottle. I was parched; 40km with only one bottle is not ideal! While I savagely downed some juice Boss expertly lubed my chain and changed my bottles. We then began the next massive climb. It had varying levels of steepness and felt like it would never end. I was now ‘man aleen’ There was no one catching me and no one in the distance. It was hot and I was hurting, I took yet another life-saving PowerBar gel and forced myself to the top. The reward: more amazing single track! The last 15km was undulating with some enjoyable single track but I was ready for the finish. I crossed the main tar road back into Cascades up a rather unnecessary (I thought) final climb and back into the race village. I was quite happy to hear that I had finished 5th Elite. Although I was disappointed to have lost time with my puncture, I surprised myself with the number of positions I managed to take back. I was really happy to hear that Sam had come 3rd, an awesome achievement!

I absolutely loved the course and I am looking forward to Worlds! I have just been informed that I made the South African team, super stoked! 

A big thanks to my sponsors ADIDAS, Continental Tyres, PowerBar, Bicicletta, and especially Naeem from Valencia for the amazing sponsorship and support, making my racing around the country possible. Also to coach Bosseau Boshoff for being so encouraging and making me fast.

Next up, MTN National XCM, Hilton.

Monday, 21 April 2014

650B, The Baby Bear Wheel Size. An article from the perspective of the vertically challenged.

As a slightly vertically challenged individual, or more commonly and ‘endearingly’ referred as a midget, dwarf, hobbit, Oompa Loompa… you get my drift. I am shorter than average; 1.59m to be precise. As most of you can relate, I started mountain biking on a bike with 26” wheels, back in the good ol’ days when another option wasn’t fathomed.

Although 29” mountain bikes are by no means a recent invention, they became a trend a couple of years ago and have since taken the country by storm. I made the transition at the end of 2012. The first thing I noticed was how it seemed to float over rocky, bumpy sections. In places where a 26er would catch and struggle through, the 29er would bomb through smugly, the admin of line choice significantly reduced. The other big advantage is the speed you can pick up and maintain on the flats. Speak to any marathon racer and they will agree that to keep up with a bunch of riders on 29ers in a marathon when you are on a 26er is near impossible.

Now although these pros are significant, there are a fair number of cons. Not only are the wheels significantly bigger, the frame and fork had to grow to accommodate the wheels. Since everything else had grown except me, sadly, major adjustments had to be made to get my setup correct ie. ALL headset spaces removed, negative stem, upside down handlebar, an 80mm fork (less suspension) all to get the front end slightly lower than the saddle. After all this, the bike still felt big under me, the front wheel so far away!

The big wheels took away the responsiveness from the smaller wheels, both on climbs and through tight single track. I felt this especially toward the end of a race when I was fatigued I would struggle to turn the big wheels on steep climbs

Bike manufacturers have noted the pros and cons of 26ers and 29ers and created a new wheel size, the 27.5” or 650B, exactly half way between the two. After doing research, and many people having told me that it would be the perfect bike for me. I spoke to my sponsor Naeem Omar from Valencia and he was keen to see the theory in action. I have been very happy on the carbon 29” Scott Scale 910 which I have been racing on the year, it is light and fast with a superiorly engineered geometry so I was super keen to give the 650B Scale 710 a bash!

I spent the Easter weekend in Sabie and Mankele, the perfect playground for the true test, loads of climbing, single track and kilometers of heavenly Mankele bush tunnels. My immediate reaction to the smaller bike was that it felt like a part of me, and extension of my body. My first ride started on a huge climb out of Sabie, I set a hard pace with sprints in between. The responsiveness of my accelerations was back! The next test was a very bumpy descent. The 710 didn’t float over the bumps like my 29er would but it was comfy enough with impressive rolling power.

The Mankele bush tunnels at the end of a ride are always the highlight, you can seriously pin it through the twisty turny single track shrouded in dense vegetation. There are loads of rocky surprises, small drop offs and roots that keep you on your toes and could easily result in devastating talent and sense of humour failure, the risk making it all the more enjoyable!

With the 27.5” wheels and smaller frame I felt I was able to throw the bike around underneath me, dodging trees and rocks at speed and whipping it around corners. It was exhilarating. THIS is why I ride I thought… The deal was sealed.

650B, the baby bear wheel size… Just right!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Sabie, a Race of Attrition.

As a new Lowveld local, I knew it had been wet for the past few weeks and with solid overnight rain it was sure to be a mud bath of note! The Sabie Classic has been a highlight of every year for since I started racing. This was my 4th Sabie Classic but 1st ever in these conditions, I was looking forward to the challenge!

Because Sabie had been selected as a UCI sanctioned event all the biggest names in South Africa and even some international heroes such as Bulls riders Karl Platt and Urs Huber were lined up ready for the battle against each other and the elements! Looking around on the start line made me nervous, my goal: top 10.

There was a slight drizzle which was a relief since I know how swelteringly hot it can get here. After the neutral zone (by which time I was already doused in mud) we started to go up. We then continued to go up for what seemed like a lifetime and a day. The uphill part of the race took up the most part of the first half of the entire race with the Mamba switchbacks slap-bang in the middle! 
My legs were screaming at me and I found myself in 9th place. “Focus Doogle!” I told myself, “keep pushing, anything can happen.” I passed Dalene Van Der Leek and shortly after, Janine King in the technical “Eagle Run” I was now lying 7th. I tried to keep my teammate Samantha Sanders in my sights but she slowly pulled a gap on me. When I reached the Epic Sports tech zone, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, it was almost downhill from here! I picked up 2 fresh bottles and had my chain nicely lubed for me.

A few k’s of climbing later the next challenge began, the steep Rocky Horror descent. The rocks are jagged and treacherous on the best of days, never mind in this wetness. Shortly after the descent began I had a sinking feeling when I came across Sammy who was off her bike holding her arm. I stopped to see if she was ok but she had crashed badly and her race was over. I took a small tumble on the way down but got off lightly grazing my elbow and knee. I knew that today was not a day to take risks and took it slower and more carefully than I usually do in the technical sections. I was now lying in 6th but kept in mind that in conditions like this you can’t get complaisant. I must say that although I came short a couple of times I thoroughly enjoyed the technical sections, the slimy mud making it particularly challenging! 

I passed Lourens Luus twice, he had suffered two sidewall cut and was forced to retire. Shortly after I came across a walking Darren Lill who had also sidewalled. I then passed Erik Kleinhans who had no breaks and a sidewall cut. Waylon Woolcock, Charles Keey and Max Knox were all forced to pull out due to mechanicals. It was carnage out there, left right and centre were riders who had crashed out or stopped to fix a mechanical.
Half way down a technical descent, I found a shaken Yolandi Du Toit who had crashed and landed head first, she still finished the race like a trooper. This meant that I was now in 5th. I pushed on feeling motivated to keep my spot in the top 5. At about 45km in I caught up to Candice Neethling and passed her when she had problems with her chain up a climb. I pushed harder, knowing that the tech zone was in a few kilometres and then the final stretch to the finish.
When I reached the tech zone I was greeted by my cheering support crew. My coach Bosseau expertly got my bottles to me while ordering me to peddle backwards as he lubed my chain. As quick as I was in I was off again, a new wave of motivation washing over me. About 3 km later I spotted Cherise in the distance as I passed her I saw she too had suffered a sidewall cut, my belief in my Conti tyres was sealed! Oh my goodness, this meant I was in 3rd!! By this point I so ready to see the finish line. There was one more biggish climb before I eventually reached the final piece of single track where I could hear Max Cluer doing what he does best. I kept peering over my shoulder as I counted down the km to the finish, still in 3rd! The single track spat an Amy shaped ball of mud out into the finishing straight and I was greeted by an amazing crowd and Max welcoming me to the end of an incredible day in the office!

I went into the race hoping for a top 10 and due to perseverance, some luck and some mad skill, I pulled off a 3rd which is far more than I had hoped for. I was super happy! Frans from Powasol was ready and waiting to give my unrecognisable Scott some much needed TLC, it came back looking good as new!

My move to Nelspruit has been a great experience. I can feel my form coming along with the help of my coach Bosseau Boshoff from Infinita and the endless k’s of kick ass riding at my back yard! The Valencia crowd is full of awesome people and I am loving being part of their family.

On that high note, next up on the Calendar for me is XCO provincials this coming weekend.

Until then!