A provincial racing series allows riders to measure their performance against the best in the region. Considering more than 50% of the country’s downhill talent resides in the Western Cape, a provincial race in said region is then naturally, verycompetitive. Add in a few visiting riders from upcountry, some Namibians, a Swiss pinner and some Safa World Cup racers – and the ‘provincial’ event begins to look and feel, far more like an international one.
Adding yet more sizzle to the racing, was a new track and new racing venue located on the Southern Side of Paarl mountain, at the Spice Route Destination. This family-orientated venue with restaurants, shops, spas, wine tasting, vineyards and a brewery, is located on the mountain’s lower slopes, nestled between two world-renowned wine farms of Landskroon and Fairview. It is perhaps, one of the most idyllic venues ever seen for a mountain bike race.
For such a steep track, 20 minutes is a relatively quick shuttle to the top and there’s plenty of Wineland scenery to take in.
To be known as the ‘Andrew Neethling World Cup Track’, this all-new venue came about through the work of Paarl Trails, Andrew Neethling and a hard-working bunch of the country’s best trail builders. The concept and thought process behind the design of the track? – “Build something that measures up to what SA riders will encounter when they compete in Europe.” And so they did. With an average gradient of 20%, reaching close to 40% at times, a distance of 1,5km and an elevation drop of 285m, this is a track that will not only challenge the best of the best, it will also raise the level of riding on the continent.
The riders were shuttled (in style!) by a fleet of brand-new vehicles and bakkies supplied by the cool folk at Novel Ford Cape Town. | *Click to enlarge
First off, a big shout out to Darren Herbst from Paarl Trails for his passionate persistence in driving the entire process of creating a new track. Also, a big thanks to all the crew who worked long hours through a brutal November, December and January to complete the build. Finally, a big thanks to all the sponsors and partners who made this R300k+ investment into mountain biking, a reality. As a community, we all need to support the venue, membership fees, ride days, build days, the sponsors that are involved in our grassroots racing scene, and the businesses at the venue itself. That way the investment delivers a return and in the long run we all benefit as more venues follow suit.
The first run was a slow roll down the track for riders to take in the lines and sampled the grip.
To the racing then, this is the second round of the 2024 SRAM Western Cape Downhill Series. Like a gift from above, Friday night’s rainfall added much-needed moisture to the freshly cut track and contributed to the track ‘settling in’ so well. By midday on Saturday, ruts had formed and conditions turned from tacky to dusty. Real dusty. As is the case on a steep World Cup style track, things got more technical with each lap.
Before long the pace was high and riders were hitting all the gaps. Of course, crashes were part of the show and Meyer Jensen obliged right in front of the lens.As usual, Seth Barnard had all the moves and danced his way through the rocks, ruts and roost to 8th in Junior Men.On a new bike, 19-year-old Philip van Schalkwyk impressed all weekend and against a stacked field bagged himself his first top 3 position in the Elite Men category. Well done Philip! Well done. The weekend never went to plan for 14-year-old Sven Etsebeth who crashed out with a fractured wrist. Heal up Sven.A slightly frustrated Johann Potgieter wasn’t happy with his race runs, yet looked incredibly quick all weekend.Proving that age is but a number is 10-year-old Levo Ulyate (left) with 60-year-old Christo van Eeden right. Keep on shredding lads. | *Click to enlargeMoto ripper turned Downhill shredder Waldo de Wet had pace all weekend and won the Sub Vet class.Shooting all kinds of “Coul…” lines this weekend was young Daniel Fairbrother, who nailed a solid fifth in Junior Men.Ivo Kittel, a legend of gravity racing in the region was riding injured all weekend but pushed through and was enjoying the track. A crash in practice resulted in some banged-up ribs, and soft tissue damage so he did not start the race run. Heal up Ivo!Roxy Baynes, 3rd in Elite Women and winning the Gees Award for positive vibes all weekend. Way to go Roxy!Ethan Hunter, fastest Junior on the day and only 7 seconds off the fastest time of the day. This kid can ride.16-year-old Zak Jones is pretty quick too. Fastest in Youth Men and an impressive 13th overall. Incredible.Arielle Behr made the trip down from Mpumalanga and quietly slotted her PYGA into 2nd place in Elite Women. Despite a lack of fitness, Namibian rider Andre Steinfurth flew down the track to take the win in Veteran Men’s class. Swiss rider Janis Lehmann piloted his Enduro bike to fifth overall. Considering the gradient, it’s an incredible result and a testament to his raw skill.The drop into the bomb hole was a crowd favorite and the loose soil made it quite technical. No problems here for Junior rider Zander du Plessis.Jackson Schliemann was cooking all weekend until he applied just a little too much gas in this right-hander.Alexander Combrink moved to Downhill from Motocross. His speed and results are coming — sixth in Junior Men this weekend is not shabby at all.Bikes put a smile on my face. Trail Builder Matt Van Rosenveld boosts a feature that he designed and built just a couple of weeks before the race. Thank you Matt, the track is incredible!Ever the perfectionist, Frankie du Toit was unhappy with her execution on race day however the win was very much hers.It was a busy one for Theo Erlangsen who spent the weekend shuttling between Darkfest and the Downhill events. Double duties meant he had less time to learn the new track, but did find the inside lines and incredibly was just 1.9 seconds off the win.The win went to Stefan Garlicki. His recipe? – spike tyres, smooth riding and excellent race craft. Most impressive at the whip-off contest was Myndert Laubscher. He’s got incredible pace on the race track too and finished second in Junior Men. Congrats to all involved. | *Click to enlargeFinally, a massive shout out to Duran van Eeden (Christo’s kid) who managed the build of this magnificent new downhill race track that measures up to what Europe offers.