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