Mountain bike stage racing is extremely popular in South Africa and the reason is obvious: we live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. 3 Day MTB stages races have been taking mountain bikers in many directions, but one particular part of South Africa has been left out of the picture for reasons unknown to mankind. Wynand de Villiers from ASG convinced Johan Kriegler from Mountain Bike Adentures to do the obvious: a stage race that traverses the very special surroundings of the Cape winelands. As we all know, the most beautiful wine farms and tourism venues are cradled in farmlands between Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Wellington, and a mountain bike stage race covering these areas, would be a sublime experience. Liberty sealed the deal by buying in as title sponsor, and the Liberty Cape Winelands Encounter, a 3 day mountain bike stage race, was born. To make things even better, Lanzerac Hotel, Le Franschhoek Hotel, Doolhof restaurant and Val du Charon became venue partners. This meant 5 star starting and finishing venues, three 5 star meals per day, and the best accommodation for entrants could wish for, and Enduro Hub was there to ride this inaugural race.
The Liberty Cape Winelands Encounter started with registration and a dinner at Lanzerac on Thursday, followed by breakfast on Friday morning. At 8 o’clock the start gun sent the teams straight up towards the famous G-Spot, a purpose built technical track on the fringes of Paradyskloof in Stellenbosch. After this brutal warm-up everyone knew beauty definitely comes at a price! Then it was onto the climb into Jonkershoek and Hellshoogte pass. If you were familiar with the surroundings, pacing would save your quads. If not, the acid burn would get to you in good measure. After that the Banhoek Conservancy presented fantastic single track, going through a unique blend of fynbos and rocks. The variety of the mountain bike trails demanded serious mountain bike skills. The “Sky Fall” single-track descent was definitely a highlight. Going into Franschoek, the route became flat and fast, towards Le Franschoek, where day 1 would finish. After approximately 64 kilometres, the finish line was waiting with cold beers, fresh rolls and bike washes. A soul refreshing dinner later, it was off to bed for day 2.
Day 2 started with another 5 star breakfast in Le Franschoek and then the riders were sent off towards Wellington. The route to Wellington was a stage racer’s dream. It was a tough physical, but also a soul refreshing journey. The perfect weather and green pastures made you forget about “life as we know it”. This was life “as it should be”. Of course the normal tests of rocky downhills, steep climbs and technical single track were present, but the uninterrupted beauty of nature defined the day. Other than finely manicured wine farms, very little human infrastructures were visible. Continuous green winelands and blue skies dominated, all along a perfectly marked, but tough route. The entire stage had a therapeutic quality of its own. 67 Kilometres later, almost wanting it not to end, the riders dropped down into Doolhof, where ice buckets with cold beers, food supplies and massages were once again awaiting the riders.
Knowing that the very famous Welvanpas trails would be the main course, excitement was in the air on day 3. Everyone knew Cool Runnings was waiting way up in the mountains. Almost in an anti-climactic manner the riders were set off with a casual “Ok, you can go…”! After 16 Km and 400 meters of climbing, the Cool Runnings descent started. 8 Kilometres of the ultra-fast, technical descent tested, forks, bike control and upper body fitness to the max. The great single track did not end there. For another 37 kilometres riders traversed some of the most beautiful parts of Wellington, right back to Doolhof, where the customary ice buckets with cold beers were waiting.
The Libery Cape Winelands Encounter covered one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa. The Cape winelands, up to know, has never hosted a 3 day mountain bike stage race, and no reason exists for you to not do it. It is a “no-brainer”. Start planning your participation for next year right now. Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. They will be your friends after this race. It is not to be missed. The Liberty Cape Winelands Encounter is here to stay!