With the Cape Epic now changed to it’s new April slot, the who’s who of mountainbiking showed up for the 5th edition of the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Mountainbike Challenge held at Boschendal wine estate.
Cool and wet weather greeted the riders, in contrast to last year’s 46 degree Celsius heat.
The race got off to a cracking start with Jacques Rossouw sprinting down the tarmac in an attempt to make an early break.
The pace immediately went into over-drive and he was soon reeled in before the start of the first dirt road. On the winding jeep tracks through the orchards the 1000 strong peloton was strung out in a single file line as the pace was alternately set by X-Terra supremo Conrad Stoltz, African MTB champion Manie Heymans and SA champ Jacques Rossouw.
Soon gaps started to appear and a group of eight riders went clear. The three protagonists were joined by Kevin Evans, Marc Basingthwaighte, Johan van Zyl, yours truly and Geddan Ruddock.
The race continued at a frenetic pace as the riders hit the first rocky climb which led to the dam at the top of the orchards. Stoltz was hammering hard and his dual suspension Specialized was soaking up some of the rocks as he laid down some serious wattage.
Halfway up the climb the group eventually shattered and a smaller group containing Heymans, Rossouw, Stoltz, Evans and Basingthwaighte made up the final selection.
African U/23 champ Bassingthwaighte saw his chances vanish as his front derailleur snapped in half while negotiating the orchard single-track. He continued on after a few minutes by manually engaging the middle ring, eventually soldiering on to a very respectable 4th place.
The front four continued their assault on the course and on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg the race played out its final scene. Heymans and Evans put in a strong surge, opening up a gap to Conrad Stoltz and Jacques Rossouw.
The two continued together until the steepest part of the course that runs straight up the side of the orchards towards the high point of the contour path on the mountain. Evans looked back and seeing Rossouw launching a bid to cross the gap, he put in a final surge for victory. A small gap opened between Evans and Heymans and he could almost smell the big victory cheque.
Heymans was not to be outdone, however, and closed the gap on the contour path. The two were now neck and neck going into the final treacherous downhill to the finish.
Heymans rode the downhill like a man possessed, launching his bike over the rain bars and in between the football sized rocks. Heymans’ pace and the tough course eventually caught up to Evans as he sliced open his rear tyre on a sharp rock, limping home to a very dejected 6th place.
Heymans took his fourth title in five years. He was joined on the podium by ’Big Blade’ Rossouw and Conrad Stoltz.
All the riders were commenting on the incredible speed of the race, with Heymans even mumbling about the speed of the South Africans this year. Clearly the bar has been raised another notch.