Words: Mike Roscoe | Photos: RRAD Photography
There is something quite special about the Trans Baviaans 24hr Mountain Bike Marathon, which is aptly named the ‘toughest single-stage mountain bike race in the world’. Also the longest single-stage mountain bike team event in the world, the race starts in Willowmore and winds through the Baviaanskloof Mountains to Jeffreys Bay, a distance of just over 230 km. The mountains that one rides through are nothing short of spectacular.
I was part of a team of four cyclists competing in this year’s event, on 17August, and between us, we had five Trans Baviaans under our belts. One team member had completed three, two of us were on our second, and one about to embark on his first, so we were feeling pretty confident about the ride ahead.
Our team slept in Jeffreys Bay on the Friday night prior to the race, so this meant we had to be on the road the next morning by 4:30 a.m., to get to Willowmore to set up on time. Preparations included making sure the bikes were working and the boxes containing our warm clothes, lights, and nutrition were packed and ready for use later on during the day and night.
Away they go
At 10 a.m., the starter’s gun was fired and off we went. The first six to seven hours of the race consisted of a few climbs and some great stretches where we could work on getting our average speed up. There were also some fast descents that were as breathtaking beautiful as they were downright frightening, with our bikes bouncing dangerously through the corners! We hit a top speed of 75 km/h on one of these descents.
We decided, as many teams do, to make station three our main stop and where we would have dinner (potatoes, sosaties, and wors), kit up for the cold night ahead, and get the light systems onto the bikes. The entire team used Magic lights and they worked brilliantly (pun intended)! It’s after this stop that the race starts in earnest, so once we had refuelled and dressed for the occasion, we were eager to get going.
When exiting this station, you are faced with a fairly major river crossing and then three major climbs. The first two are short, but really steep and go by the ominous name of ‘The Fangs’. From there, you drop into a valley and cross numerous river crossings and stretches of path filled with rounded stones, which all make for some seriously tricky and tiring riding. However, this part of the ride together with the finish line constitutes my favourite part of the route. The climb out of the valley is called the ‘Mother of all Climbs’ and it manages to live up to its name without fail. The climb is steep, in some sections it’s too steep to ride so you end up pushing your bike, and it is seriously long. I had my worst part of the ride on this climb, but finally made it, exhausted and in need of a rest as I waited for my heart rate to drop to a more normal level.
At the top of this climb is station 4. Now, the Trans Baviaans would not exist if it were not for an army of supporters that help out, and one such volunteer, at station 4, is a lady who makes soup. Her soup rescued me last year and things were no different this year for both the team and me. It really gets cold at this point and your clothing, after the climb, is wet with sweat.
Having a cup, or five, of her soup is an absolute rescue. The mix of vegetables and minerals, protein from the beans and meat, and the carbs from the potatoes is akin to Asterix’s magic potion. Her warm smile and the fact that she calls me ‘seun’ always warms my heart. At 47 years old, no one calls me son anymore.
The descent after ‘Mother of all Climbs’ is just scary. I am not the world’s greatest descender, so I went down with my heart strangling my throat. With limited vision, you get the odd glimpse of just how far you would fall if you were to misjudge a turn. The upside here is that it's an opportunity to cool down. The next hill is called the ‘Never Ender’ and at that stage of the night, it never ever ends.
Towards midnight, a massive headwind came up together with ice-cold temperatures and hard rain. Fortunately at this point you know that you are on your way home and just too tired to care. The finish was at the main shopping centre in Jeffreys Bay, and I’ve never been happier in all my life to see a shopping centre.
Crossing the line was all the more momentous for me, as I was involved in a fairly serious mountain bike accident nine weeks before the race. I ended up in theatre twice and just three weeks before the race, I had the ‘wires’ (a rather euphemistic term to describe skinny nails) removed from my hand. As a result, my participation was in doubt for weeks. The human body, however, is a wonderful thing and I was able to participate in this amazing event. My team members were just fantastic and my thanks go to Rieghard Janse, Van Rensburg, Richard Manser, and Morne Reinders for their patience and encouragement.
So, will we be back next year? Of course!