That being said, this year’s bike route is slightly easier than last years. There is lots and lots of singletrack (ST) – I would estimate around 14km of singletrack in the 26.5km bike course – but there is a bit more potential to hide if you haven’t quite done the training you had planned. If you are a good technical rider there is the opportunity to take minutes out of your buddy who isn’t quite as technically gifted.
The run is just as hard as ever, but with some great ST added at the start of the run and the usual gruelling climbs.
What makes this Xterra so hard is often the weather. It can be blisteringly hot in Grabouw at the end of February and this can be the tipping point.
Just finishing this race is a huge accomplishment and no matter what, it is going to hurt, but going in well prepared and knowing what to expect will help a great deal.
I have had the opportunity to pre-ride and -run the route a number of times and I am going to try and relay to you what to expect if you have entered the full Xterra this coming Sunday.
Expect a non-wetsuit swim. The water temperature was measured at over 24 degrees at the Cape Mile event this past weekend which means that it is very unlikely that you’ll be able to wear your favourite floatation device on race day.
It will be a mass start and a one lap swim. If you’re a bit nervous about having so many people around you then start far to the sides or at the back. You can even allow the field a 20sec gap before entering the water.
The swim is just a small fraction of the race, so don’t overcook it and expend too much energy.
If I had to give an estimate of time break down it would look something like:
25-30min swim, 1h40-2h15 bike and 1h00-1h20 run. Plan accordingly.
BIKE: 27km, 660m climbing
After the swim you head out along the green section. This is mostly wide open jeep track and it is all uphill. It is designed to allow athletes to spread out after the swim. Your lungs and legs will be burning and it’s going to hurt. Be prepared. There is one particularly loose, steep climb that only the better riders will ride. Jump off and push. It’s short. At the end of the green section, there is one piece of uphill singletrack that isn’t too technical.
Once exiting the singletrack you face a fairly long downhill section. The first part is very rocky and you need you pick your line. Speed is your friend here, but be cautious if trying to overtake riders on this section. The descent then becomes fast and sweeping, with some corners. Again, overtake with caution.
After this descent is a very steep, loose climb. Get off and push. It’s a slog.
You then hit a contour which takes you from 5.7km to 9.4km. It is pretty rocky, with some short, sharp climbs. There is one piece of singletrack on this section which has been cleared up nicely.
For those good bikers who are not the greatest swimmers, I would recommend that you put in quite a big effort from the start of the bike up to the end of the yellow section as this is where it is easiest to pass. You do not want to be stuck behind slower riders once you hit the singletrack at 9.4km into the bike.
Just a note at this point, if you know you are slow on the singletrack then please be considerate and let faster riders through when it is SAFE and APPROPRIATE to do so.
Conversely, faster riders, please be patient and considerate when approaching a slower rider on the singletrack. Let them know that you would like to pass and they should let you through at the next opportunity.
At 9.4km the fun starts as you enter trail “A” of the legendary Wines2Whales A-Z trails. These trails are fantastic – sweeping, smooth, fast and fun. From here on it is pretty much singletrack all the way back to the dam, with just some short jeeptrack sections linking the ST.
The fire in Grabouw last month burnt some of the ST so expect some moonscape terrain. If you take a tumble in this section (as I have) you’ll come out pitch black, covered in ash.
The views are really breath-taking, but don’t look up for too long as you may just come a cropper. Extreme concentration is needed for this route.
Just before the rock garden is a bit of a jeeptrack climb. I would suggest taking on a gel or some energy drink at this point. You’re going to want to have your wits about you on the next section.
The black section is Xterra’s infamous rock garden. It is about 1.4km of pure MTB heaven according to expert MTBers. For us less technically gifted it is slightly more daunting, but I can honestly say it is all “rideable”. Be cautious – the medics wait at the end of this section for a reason.
Once exiting the rock garden you can breathe a sigh of relief as all the gnarly stuff is now over and it is pretty much just fun singletrack all the way to the end.
Shake out your legs as you near the transition area and down the last of your energy drink – the run is coming!
RUN: 12.5km, 335m climbing
This year’s run is much the same as last years, but with some great ST in the first 4km. It starts out pretty flat out of transition before you enter a pine forest and some ST. There are also some short climbs in this first section. The first water point is at 1.5km.
At 4km you descend to a river crossing. You will probably want to throw yourself head first into it to cool down and unless you want to take a long trip to the right hand side, just accept that your shoes are going to get wet and go for it. You then need to climb out of the valley and you climb from about 4.4km to 6km. There are 2 main sections of climbing and at the tail end of an Xterra they are super tough, but take heart that once you crest the final climb at precisely 6km, it’s pretty much downhill from there.
The descent, on both jeep track and ST, is very enjoyable, but you’re not quite done. The route then heads to the edge of the dam where you have to navigate some rocky, sandy sections. Watch your ankles.
Off the beach and back onto jeeptrack, with one final, short hill to conquer. A short piece of ST and you’re back at that first waterpoint. Back down to the beach and again it is sand and rocks. This section can feel as though it goes on forever, but soon you’ll see the finish line and imagine yourself under the tent, collapsed in a chair while someone brings you jelly babies and cold drinks.
Once you cross that finish line you are an Xterra Warrior and no-one can take that away from you. I have the utmost respect for anyone who finishes this race – from the winners right up to the guys who take 5 hours to get around the course.
Rest well this week and look forward to one of the best (and best organised) races on the South African circuit.
You’ve got this!