I have been to the BC bike race, which many consider the ultimate trail stage race in the world, but now we have a 3 day version of it, called “THE U” in SA. I even rate the technicality, fun level and sheer number of trails in Piket-Bo-Berg higher than the ones from the Canadian race.
Piketberg is about a 1 hour 40 minute drive along the N7 in a northwesterly direction away from Cape Town. From the flat, dry and dusty farm lands you then come up a short pass into a green and lush landscape with beautiful rock formations and mountains. It feels like you have reached a hidden gem just outside of Cape Town. From one side of this plateau you have stunning views towards the Cederberg and on the opposite side you can see the sea towards Elands Bay.
THE U was held from the 20-22 November with perfect riding weather conditions. We stayed in a beautiful tented village overlooking a dam and a stretch of scenic mountains.
At the last minute I teamed up with Tristan de Lange, the Namibian National champ and a super talented rider. He is also very good technically and has a great attitude, so our prime aim was to have fun on the challenging trails and share the stoke.
A short and sharp prologue opened the stage race on Friday afternoon. The technical and fun 6km with almost all of the 137m of elevation in the last stretch woke up the rider’s legs and lungs for the following days riding.
The episode 1 was advertised as an extremely challenging 48 km and about 1300m altitude gain with a fitness score of 9 and technical score of 8.
We started off at 8am, got into the first single trail and technical climb in first position. Already from the beginning the fun trails put a big smile on our faces. After about 1h into the race we got into a forest with a rodeo type section containing lots of tight berms, turns, some jumps, elevated narrow wooden structures to ride over and a suspension bridge. Tristan and I were just cheering out of joy, but this was just the warm up before we got into the Livingston downhill section which offered some of the tightest downward facing switchback turns most riders have ridden in their lives.
At super high speed we would just drift and power slide into the turns staying focused to make it over the other rocks and obstacles on this mega fun downhill. What goes down must come up and so we had a long jeep track and then single track uphill to follow, testing our legs which didn’t get much rest during the downhill as you had to “work “ your bike constantly. All riders realized that this is not an ordinary MTB race with the continuous technical sections demanding that you use your entire body and strength in order to master the route!
Such technical riding is a different discipline of mountain biking, more cross country-like where good upper body strength and more explosiveness is mandatory. Specifically, the last quarter of the race was like an XC type of race with short sharp technical counter climbs, technical turns and rocks to maneuver over.
Tristan and I were the 1st team home at 2:48 but it felt like we had done a 120km epic stage, hence the less than 50km route was very challenging and demanded all strength and concentration from the riders.
On the finish line we were greeted with freshly pressed orange juice and a very warm welcome by the organizers.
Episode 2 was characterized as a fast and technical route of 50km and 1130m of climbing, again with a fitness score of 9 and technical score of 8.
Everybody knew after episode one that this is true mountain bike heaven and that you would not find more technical and fun trails anywhere in the country.
With huge excitement we all gathered at the start line again and soon realized that there was even more and better riding to come! We went into a trail crafted along a river with magic flow and a jungle-like feel. The longest climb of the day followed on a technical trail exposing us to stunning scenic views all along. When you climb but it’s technical and fun then it doesn’t feel like you hating the climbs anymore, you so are in the moment and have to stay focused on what’s coming ahead.
Tristan and I were blown away from the start how awesome the trails were and we couldn’t believe after riding a section which we regarded as the “best ever” there would be a better trails waiting for us just around the corner.
We got into such a flow state of riding where biking became like meditating – no thoughts, just feeling present where the merging of the subject and object merges. Your bike just became an extension of your body. We kept riding technical sections at super high speed, at perfect control often wondering how this was possible.
The suicide run was featured with a special award if the standing Strava record was broken. We flew down the section at maximum speed drifting around every berm and floating over the rocky sections aiming to break the record, which we did.
When you see a 5km to finish sign, but you want more, then you know that you are riding in mountain bike nirvana. You want to stay there and never want it to end!!
Again we had pushed the limits in all aspects and finished in 2 hours 37 minutes. The victory was just a bonus. Sharing such an awesome experience with your riding partner and friend is a life long lasting experience and a feeling that you will always look back to.
The whole venue, the delicious food that was served, the super relaxing ambience along with the warm and caring support from the organizers makes “The U” truly the bucket list race on the 2018 calendar.
In summary my score:
Technical – 10
Fun – 10
Lifetime MTB experience – 10
Venue – 10
Food – 10
Organization & support – 10
I would even state that you are not a “true “ mountain biker if you haven’t done this race….