Saturday, February 28, 2009

To Hell and back … in a day

- Ellen Joubert -

Just before 06h00 on Saturday, 31 January, 93 mountain bike cyclists gathered on the athletics field of Hoërskool Zwartberg for a briefing on the dangers of two way cyclist traffic on the last section of the road to The Hell. They then set off, unperturbed by the very real prospects of falling rather than riding into The Hell, to ride the gruelling 120 km to Annatjie Joubert’s restaurant in Gamkaskloof and back in the same day.

Riders had an obligatory 30 minute stop once they reached the half way mark in The Hell. They were given a meal and had time to rest a little bit before tackling Eland’s road out of The Hell again. The cut off time for reaching the halfway mark was 10h30. After this time riders had to turn around wherever they were. Quite a few of the entrants did not make the halfway cut off – evidence of how tough this route is.

The first rider home just after 12h30 was 53 year old Lieb Loots. He was followed by Marcel Deacon. The third rider in was also the first woman – Ishen Stopforth. Ishen is not only one of the country’s top woman mountain bikers, but serious competition for the men as well. Ishen’s husband, Piet, came in fourth, with Danie Otto in hot pursuit down the last few meters in de Beer Street.

Prince Albert riders did the town proud. Hendry Olivier and Jan Nel had good finishing times, while Jan’s daughter, Carolie and Johan Rissik completed the 25km race held the same day.

The day was not as hot as expected at this time of year, but even at a temperature of 35ºC, riders made full use of the water points en route. Many of the cyclists who took part will participate in the ABSA Epic which starts on 22 March in Cape Town. “The To Hell and Back Mountain Bike Race – All the way in one day” was regarded by them as valuable training both in terms of heat and endurance for the Epic, which spans seven days.

Hoërskool Zwartberg made their facilities available to Ecobound, who organised the race and used the opportunity to fundraise with a pasta meal on the Friday evening before the race. They provided breakfast to the riders, ran a kiosk during the event and hosted an enjoyable celebratory meal, during which a slide show of photographs taken throughout the day amused everyone.

The riders enjoyed the race and many felt that it would become a fixed event on their race calendars. Many popular bike races have started small and grown exponentially in a matter of a few years. We hope to welcome twice as many riders back next year for this unique event.

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