Launching a new race is never easy, so having to contend with the devastating Simonsberg fire just 2 weeks before the race certainly tested the organisation to the limit. 90% of the trails constructed over the past 2 years were damaged and the bulk of the forest canopy lost when fires ravaged the Simonsberg Mountain and adjacent wine estates from 19to 22 January.
For route designer and race director, Meurant Botha from Dirtopia, cancelling the ride was only considered for a brief moment. “I knew that we had our busiest event period looming and that the events could potentially accelerate the rehabilitation process. The damage to the trail system was extensive and an extended rebuild period like Jonkershoek and Tokai would accentuate the loss even further.”
Once the call to go ahead with the race was made, the trail team was expanded to over 40 men and trail crews from Welvanpas and Franschhoek joined in for possibly the biggest trailbuild effort ever undertaken in South Africa.
“Apart from the damaged trails, the incomplete Never Say Never-ending trail project also needed to get finished so the teams had their hands full to get everything ready” said Botha.
Organisers were forced to reroute most of day 1 but managed to get most of the second stage in place in time for the race weekend.
The Contour was developed to drive the expansion of the Simonsberg Trails network, currently traversing Delheim, Muratie and Uitkyk wine estates so it was important that the trails would be suitable to host the event.
“The second day had more than 19km of singletrack over the 55km distance. Under normal circumstances this would be pretty difficult to manage due to congestion and the potential technical difficulty of the routes. For the race to develop we had to prove that the concept of a trails’ focused event can work and we are very pleased with the outcome of this year’s event.”
According to Botha the rebuild would not have been possible without the support and vision of Fairtree Capital, who not only acquired the title sponsorship of the race, but has signed as annual partner of the trail system.
Kobus Nel, CEO from Fairtree says: “As partner of the Fairtree Simonsberg Contour, we were truly inspired by the bravery, dedication and resolve of Simonsberg landowners and Dirtopia in fighting the devastating fire.
We were delighted when it was agreed to go ahead as it allowed us to help in the rebuilding process in a very tangible way. The Dirtopia team and the landowners have done an incredible job to
organize such a unique event and the “Fire Ride” will stay etched in our memory for years to come.
We are very proud to be associated with the Fairtree Simonsberg Contour and we look forward to achieve our joint vision of developing and building sustainable world class mountain bike routes in and around the Stellenbosch Simonsberg region.
Thank you to all those who have supported us through this process – it would not have been possible without you.” Mr Nel concluded.
The organisers will shortly look at new trail additions for the 2017 event, set for 4 & 5 February 2017.
The trails are currently still closed for maintenance; however, the re-launch of trails will be on the 2nd of April. Watch the Dirtopia social media pages for more info. Note that permits are always needed to ride the trails at R50 per person per day or annual permits are available. Contact Dirtopia Trail Centre should you have any questions at 0218844752.