USN MTB Cup Series #5

Words: Jason van der Spuy | Photos: Courtesy of USN

A bitter cold blanket covered the parking lot at the USN MTB Cup Series #5, which took place at the Big Red Barn, Olifantsfontein, on Saturday, 3 August 2013. With a choice of 10 km, 30 km and 50 km races, no wonder it took me a few minutes to find a parking spot. The parking lot was packed with people getting ready to sign in.

I jumped out of my car, grabbed my bike, helmet, and cleats, and headed off to the designated registration desk, where I found four rows (one row for each event and one row for late registration) filled with cycle enthusiasts. Thankfully the rows moved quickly, as we were all eager to hit the trail. As I was filling in for a friend, who had unfortunately hurt her leg in the week prior to the race, I was to meet someone who was going to help me with my late registration, but my eagerness got the better of me and I forgot to fill out the form. So I went to the back of the queue and did it again. Luckily, I still had 25 minutes until the start of the 10 km race. With my registration finally taken care of, I strolled over to the starting point, noticing how alive the grounds were with people listening to songs to get psyched, stretching or checking that their bikes were ready, while some folks just chilled.

After the 50 km riders set off, it was our turn and everyone eagerly shuffled forward into the funnel that led to the starting point. The 10 km event had attracted a lot of entrants and I found myself about 40 to 50 people away from the front. As I looked down at my bike, my heart skipped a beat as I noticed that my front tyre looked a wee bit pap. I thought to myself, "Murphy’s Law, this could only happen to me right before the start of the race." Luckily, the guy next me had a pump and he willingly offered it to me so that I could quickly fix my dilemma, just as the announcer called out, "One minute till we’re off."

The announcer gave some last minute rules and then BEEEP, we were off. Surrounded by people of all ages and quite a few families, we pedalled away, following the safety car in front of us. We cycled for about 600 m and then the car pulled aside. This was it.

I dropped a few gears and pushed ahead of the few families surrounding me while I had the chance. The trail changed to single track and soon had me ducking and weaving amongst trees, reeds, shrubs and all sorts of plants. The course was great as it had a lot of meandering through dense forest-like trees. About 1 or 2 km in, there was an obstacle that some people referred to as the 'chicken run'. It was a steep downhill, about 5 m long, followed by an equally steep uphill. A few of the ladies asked if they could walk it, as they didn’t want to risk falling. Once the track had cleared, I gunned it up the steep hill, but didn’t have enough momentum and 'stalled' halfway up.

USN MTB Cup Series #5

Having to walk the rest of the hill was not my proudest moment, but once at the top, I clipped back on to my bike and headed off again. After a few more small obstacles, like bridges and meandering through thick reeds and some sharp turns, I made it to another dense forest-like part of the course and pulled over to let two older gentlemen pass me. These were obviously cycle enthusiasts. I watched their calves tense as they screamed past me with ease, and that's when my competitive side kicked in and I thought, "Not today!" I chased after them like mad, but I was no match for them.

Coming out of the forest I ended up parallel to the highway, where a marshall was waiting to show the riders which way to go. As I came around the bend, I saw it. The USN blow-up sign, signalling the end of this race. "I can do this," I told myself, as I changed gears one last time and sprinted to the finish line.

As I crossed the line, a marshall pointed the micro-chip reader at me and said, "Well done!" "That’s it, I’ve finished," I thought as I pulled over, looking behind me to see if there were any others. Tired but elated, I made my way over to get a much-needed USN energy drink, a free water bottle, and medal.

I joined a few people under a massive tent and chatted about the race. All in all, it seemed like everyone had a lot of fun, even the very few who fell off or got injured along the way. I can’t wait for the next event and have already started planning my training so that I can tackle the 30 km race!