The Varsity MTB Challenge, an annual two-day mountain bike race took place in Franschhoek, Western Cape from 1-2 October 2016. University of Stellenbosch (Maties), the University of Cape Town (UCT), North-West University, Potchefstroom (NWU-Pukke), Nelson Mandel Metropolitan University (Madibaz), University of the Free State (Kovsies) and UP-Tuks competed for the podium and the chance to earn the title of top mountain biking university. After each day, the top team in each category received R1 000 and the winners in the Grand Challenge received R2l000 prize money.
The race started at the Nederburg Wine Farm and finished at La Paris Estate in Franschhoek. The cyclists rode a total distance of 107 km over the two-day period. The race is known for its scenic routes, tough hills and its advanced single track.
Mountain biker and top race sponsor Stephen Classens commented on the event: “This is [one] of the best single-tracks in the world. Today the downhills were as challenging as the uphills. And the distances were perfect: far enough to make a race of it for the students and enough for the alumni to feel that they’d had a good workout.” The 15 km climb through the plantations towards the top of Du Toitskloof Pass, and the routes through private wine farms were the highlights of day one, while the unusual Boschendal trails through forests and around farm dams were the highlights of day two.
UP was well-represented in the men’s division with the likes of Edwill O’Neill (Captain), Kyle Wood and Clintin Cogzell. The pair of Michelle Benson (Captain) and Mignette van Staden made up the women’s team.
The UP-Tuks men’s team fought hard on the first day and held their ground remaining second for most of the stage, but they lost their second place spot in the final sprint. The ladies had some misfortune with Benson being a little ill and Van Staden having some technical difficulties. The second stage had many gruelling climbs but the men managed to gain second place overall. The ladies fared better in the second stage, encouraging each other and helping one another up the hills to finish second overall.
Jacques Horn recalled the race, “A tough 53 km lay ahead as we rolled to the start line on day one of the varsity MTB challenge. The start was fast with some district road sections leading to the big climb of the day. As we hit the climb Maties made their move; the rest of us kept it steady. At the top we were in second. We started descending down to the finish [but] UCT managed to catch us in the last 1 km of racing and we got third [place] three seconds behind UCT. Day two was filled with a lot of fun single tracks and sharp steep climbs over a 50 km route. The start was very fast with all the [teams] trying to get in a good position before we hit the major climb of the day. As we got to the foot of the climb I looked back to see who was there and how many we were in the front group. I decided to go to the front and put in a good hard effort to thin out the front group. When we got to the first water-point it was all three podium position [teams] upfront again. Maties put in another good team effort to gap us and UCT. We rode with UCT for most of the stage. [With] 2 km to go we put down the hammer and managed to get a gap over UCT to take second on the stage and second overall.’’
The official race results are as follows: in the men’s division, Maties finished first with an overall time of 4:47.50, with UP-Tuks five and a half minutes behind with 4:53.33, and UCT finishing with a time of 4:56.14 over the two days. The women’s main event was won by Maties with a time of 5:32.34 followed by UP in second place who registered a time of 6:26.28.
The Varsity MTB Challenge overall points tally currently stands as follows: Maties are in pole position on 3 453 points. UCT are in second position on 2 619 points. UP-Tuks are currently third on the log with 395 points to their credit. NMMU Madibaz find themselves narrowly behind UP in fourth with 380 points. NWU-Pukke are second from bottom with 259 points. The University of the Free State bring up the rear with 254 points.