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Argus Mountain Bike Challenge 2008

by Alan

The Argus mountain bike challenge held at Boschendal must be the biggest MTB race at the moment. There were four distances to choose from and thatís probably why almost 3500 riders entered. Its no small miracle that the race organisation is pretty slick with the experienced folks from Dirtopia doing the behind the scenes work.

It is a rather interesting race as it has such a big field but relatively few of the big names pitch up. Most of them are doing Sani2C or resting up for some of the bigger races coming up. The longest distance is 55km which is probably a bit short for most of the top marathon racers. So it is usually a nice opportunity for some of the Western Cape locals to show what they are made of. Except this year Kevin Evans pitched up and cruised in for a comfortable win.

The large number of entrants means that seeded starts are necessary to avoid chaos. For the most part it works well but sometimes there seems to be no real logic to the seedings. Only logic seems to be that if you are a regular PPA roadie you will get a good seeding. This is a bit of a bummer for a rather technical mountain bike race where your average Cape rider is pretty skilled on an MTB so a bit of patience is required.

The 55km route was the same as it has been for the last few years. Its is a flatish route, around 700m total ascent, with a bit of a climb at the start and then mostly flat until the big one. The secret with this route is to get to the last climb as quickly as possible to avoid the heat of the day, but you need to save some energy otherwise you will be in for a long walk.

A short tar start leads straight into some jeep track and then singletrack. The first half of the race is the most technical with a lot of singletrack and a long rocky section. The next part sees some gravel through the orchards where you can get your breath back and reassess your pace. After crossing the berg river, water and sand combine to give you a nice bit of grinding paste in your drivetrain. Careful gear selection and power on the cranks will save you from a broken chain as some of the tricky technical windy tracks can catch you off guard. Another quick section emerges as the route winds through some pine plantations and the going is quite fast before crossing back over the river Ė smile for the photos Ė and onto Simonsberg.

The Simonsberg climb is very deceptive as you canít really see the track and after each 90 degree bend you are faced with an even steeper section than the last. It all culminates in the last near vertical section that requires serious skill and concentration to ride, and usually ends up reducing most cyclists to walkers as they push on up. A short few rollers of contour road leads you to the decent proper where a nice little singletrack section in the trees awaits. In the dry it was a pleasure, a lot less nerve-racking than the wet year before.

Then it is downhill and flat roads into the finish. But beware the finish seems like it is just there but wants to take for ever. Windy jeep tracks through mowed bumpy grass saps the last bit of energy that you have. The first year this final home straight caught me out badly. Now it just seems so long but it eventually passes and before you know it you are riding down a tunnel of shaded trees with spectators and over a wooden bridge dropping you onto the finish line. This was a really enjoyable route, challenging, interesting and just long enough for most. Not to mention the location, scenery and the weather, a really good combination for a successful race.

The 35km was a new addition and it may have been shorter but they too had to do the Simonsberg climb so it was not for the lame and lazy. Judging by the number of walkers on the big climb there must have been a few sore bodies lying around on the Boschendal lawns.

Next year there is talk of a 75km route. I think this is an excellent idea. It will really give this race the credibility that it deserves and will be sure to attract the top crop of riders. The route will no doubt be tough but thatís fine with all these multiday stage races around, there will be more than enough endurance to go round.

Argus Mountain Bike Challenge
Cape Winelands Accommodation

 

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