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May 4, 2015

Gravel and Grape

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Just over a month ago, I was riding stages 3-5 of the ABSA Cape Epic around Worcester hating life. I found myself riding through horrible soft sand roads strewn with rocks and grass, thinking that this is not the kind of terrain that inspires one to love riding their mountain bike. I was utterly relieved when we moved onto the flowing hardpack trails of Wellington and silently vowed not to go back to ride my bike there for a long, long time.

Naturally, just over a month later I was in my car, bike and luggage packed, battling the long weekend traffic on my way to Goudini Spa for a 3 day stage race, just outside of Worcester. Oooooh boy!

This time around, I was coaxed by my Cape Epic team mate Jurgen Uys to ride a brand new stage race called Gravel and Grape. The thing that tipped it for me was the idea of staying at a hot water spa conveniently situated in a wine valley (which the lady couldn’t resist either), in comfortable accommodation along with some good cycling mates from the local cycling scene and 2 cooked meals a day. This had the making of a very good weekend!

Slanghoek valley

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The race, situated mostly in the Slanghoek Valley consisted of 3 stages covering 70-80km per day of farm road and brand new single track with a modest amount of climbing. With my Cape Epic experience fresh in my mind I must say I was a little apprehensive about the 3 days, but it was too late to back out now!

On the start line were roughly 200 local riders from around the Western Cape, along with our house mates for the weekend Waylon Woolcock and Adriaan Louw. Eager to see what was in store for us we sped out at a quick pace creating a small lead group of solid riders. About halfway into the stage Waylon and Adriaan made their move, and not quite being able to keep their pace we settled into our own rhythm and decided to keep it steady.

racing gravel and grape

The stage itself meandered creatively over the valley floor before climbing some mountainous slopes towards the Worcester side of the valley where we crossed some terrain we covered at Epic and hit some amazing tight fun singletrack down to the valley floor before darting back to Goudini Spa where we finished comfortably in 2nd spot. If stage 1 was anything to go by, this wasn’t going to be such a bad experience after all.

Day 2 brought about some more fun. After a night of sipping wine and relaxing in the hot spa, we hit the stage hard again and were greeted by some more singletrack right from the start. This was a brand new 15km piece of track that had been specifically built for the race. It was tough, steep, loose and technical and it had us sweating there up front. Again, Adriaan and Waylon rode just a little too fast for us, but we kept it steady as we dipped into each little valley as we skirted a big mountain range to the South. On our way back to the finish we picked up Adriaan and Waylon who had suffered a puncture and managed to pip them in a sprint for the line, giving us the stage win on day 2! This meant more wine in the bag to add to the collection.

One thing that was fantastic about this event is the fact that the organisers want everyone to have a good time. At the prize giving that evening there was ample wine on the table, as well as crazy give-away prizes for the worst battle scars or funniest story of the day. The comfortable dining hall played the scene for each days lunch and dinner and created a very warm atmosphere, and a good time was had by all including family and friends who were there to support.

For the final day, after comments that the route was perhaps a little tough for some of the field, the stage was shortened by 11km to 51km, cutting out some hard climbing and some tough sandy sections. After riding away again with our main competitors, Jurgens and I had to tap off a little mid route and focused on enjoying the final 20km to the finish, battling it out on the tough technical climbs and shredding the challenging singletrack. We crossed the line in 2nd place again earning us 2nd spot overall for the 3 day race with Charl-Pierre Esterhuyse and Edward Best in 3rd position.

Looking back at those 3 days of racing, yes I won’t deny, we did ride through a bit of sand, but the first thought that sprung to mind wasn’t the sand, it was the fun singltrack, amazing views, and great hospitality that bigger events struggle to compete with, along with the cosy accommodation. Maybe the good wine had something to do with it too. Never the less, there are no more bad associations with this area when it comes to riding!

Until next time,

Keep it rubber side down.

 

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