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The word “Classic” is happily bandied about these days in attempts to drum up participation in mountain bike events but, although just getting onto a bicycle is usually an entrée to profound experience, some “Classics” are more classical than others. At the top of my list, sharing the billing with Dirtopia, is what is now called the Eselfontein MTB Festival. This is a classical Classic that normal runs from October 10 to 12 in Ceres with a format that promises even more than the bounty that it has delivered in the past. The sheer quality and quantity of juicy single-track on Eselfontein farm demands the attention of anyone even half interested in real mountain biking

There is a 20kms night race on Friday and if the route is anything like last year’s poplar forest roller-coaster get ready for big thrills. It is, however, the 70kms route on the Saturday that demands respect and awe: 80 percent single-track, it is one tough, but might handsome mother. (There are less demanding options 40/25/15). This year there will also be a downhill race on the Sunday. Having dispensed with “Classic” and “Festival”, the next, richly deserved in this case, and newest MTB byword is “Epic” for, apart from their separate status, the three events together and ridden by teams of two, will also be considered as a stage race, with appropriate prizes from an array of heavyweight sponsors.



Lusanda Ngcaweni

I had a farm in Ah-frica... only this one's super-charged. Tucked in the foothills of the Ceres mountains lies Eselfontein, the oldest farmstead in the Cape.
About an hour-and-a-half from Cape Town, the farm has an abundance of indigenous wildlife such as suurpootjie tortoises, fish eagles, baboons and buck, as well as the ever-elusive leopard. But for thrill seekers and outdoor adventurers, it offers 35 km of magnificently cut, single-track mountain-biking trails, hiking, horse riding, kloofing, abseiling, water-skiing, canoeing and wake-boarding.

Winter snow-skiing is available nearby. A self-catering adventure getaway, Eselfontein offers basic camping facilities with a braai area, showers and flushing toilets (bring your own tent for R50 per person), and huts made of bamboo and reeds for R80pp (sleep two).

Fresh braaipacks, firewood and homemade bread and farm butter available.




The events kicked off with an excellent night race. The racers were kitted out in anything from dual halogen spotlights running off 12V batteries, to penlights strapped to helmets, miner-style. The course followed the lower part of the permanent route up the single track "Swaarmoed" climb to an exciting forest single track section for some fun night riding.
For the rest of the evening, competitors had the option to mellow out next to a crackling campfire at the campsite and enjoy the crisp Ceres night sky, or for the young at heart, a ride over to Deon's house to join the lively Red Bull House Party.

Saturday dawned with awesome weather for the Alexander Forbes 15km, 30km and 48km enduro races. About 600 participants had entered, including well known names like Geddin Ruddock, Jacques Rossouw, Linus van Onselen, Brain Strauss, Fredd Coleske, Fourie Kotze, Frohan Visser, Arie Olivier, Frans du Preez, Phelia van Breda and Hanlie Booyens.

At 9.30 the 48km and 30km races got off to a flying start, with the 20km starting shortly thereafter. This incredible, mostly single-track, route starts out on some jeep track going out on a brief loop to the left of the farm yard start/finish area, to spread out the contestants before they come back past the start-finish. From there they hit the forest single-track section leading on the first climb.

The pace up the first climb was hard, fragmenting the leading group before it reached the Ceres spring water/fast fuel water point. There, after a short descent, they hit the second climb, which started out on jeep track and turned into nice technical single track, flowing into an awesome single track downhill through "Death Drop" and "Phillip's Creek".

Then began the killer single-track climb up "Swaarmoed", with a very welcome Red Bull refreshment stop under a huge tent halfway up the climb. Here the 30km route turned off while the 48km carried on climbing through a section called (very aptly) "Dead man walking", with a spectacular view of the valley below.

This was followed by another radical single-track downhill section to reward the effort. From here the course meandered down past the rustic reed huts and lapa in the pine forest (where you can camp nest to a beautiful dam and waterfall). The race finished off with another run through the forest single-track section and from there through the orchards to the finish.

Jacques Rossouw clinched first place ahead of Bryan Strauss, Geddin Ruddock and Barry Pauw. Phelia van Breda took the women's race from Hanlie Booyens and Michele Raymond.

Prizes included R1 000 cash to the winners as well as some lucky draws. Total prizes for the lucky draws included a mountain bike sponsored by Kohler, altogether worth about R15 000.

Sunday dawned another glorious day, although some battled to rise from their beds because of their antics the previous night. The weather was great and made for some very good downhill racing. The course started out through a steep, rocky section with sharp switch backs, running into a fast pedaling section with a couple of nice rocky drop offs, ending with a drop into a rock garden just before the finish. Overall, Andrew Neethling took first form Mark Hopkins, Reghardt Verburg and Chris Nixon.

A number of people still had enough energy to take part in the organized fun ride on Sunday, with some people coming through from Cape Town just for the day. It turned out to be a really enjoyable ride.



You may choose, if you wish, not to take me seriously, but it will be your loss: the "Ceres ride" is the most taxing, the most beautiful and the most satisfying mountain bike event on the Western Province fun calendar. I would like to suggest that it would hold its own anywhere in the country, if for no other reason (and there are other reasons), than simply because, with its main event, almost all of the 48 kilometers is single track of the highest order.
Sponsorship is quintessential for survival and the full name of this "happening" is its raison d'etre: The Eselfontein MTB Festival/Classic has become a "festival" event, stretching over the weekend with the night race, a very appealing long-distance downhill and one of those silly, but entertaining events called "lake-jumping". The atmosphere at the farm throughout the weekend was more than just a little bit "party". Live music, impromptu singing, a generously stocked bar and the endless incineration and consumption of dead animals (in poor taste given the proximity of their next-of-kin) all set the tone - in spite of the unpromising weather. Not quite at the level of Dirtopia but certainly heading in the direction of fame and, hopefully, fortune. Total participation this year was 480.

The single track that sets this 'fees' apart goes up and up and up and often, radically down and all of it bears the signature of someone who rides - in this case one Deon Malherbe, on whose family farm, Eselfontein, this great wonder of the MTB world exists, in its entirety.

Until last year the "Ceres ride" was deemed a semi-classic but was, in fact a pleasant, but fairly tame event, starting and ending at the town's show grounds. No more. The long ride, an alleged 48 kilometers, is post-graduate endurance racing. It calls not only for a high level of fitness, but also for handling skills over and above any other 'one-looper' I have ever ridden (my skills were, in fact, found wanting, and I had to bite the bullet and do most of the ride with fractured rib). One always says of tough climbs that they are "relentless" and it is one of the burdens of the sports journalist that he quickly runs out of superlatives. The Ceres single track climb that begins as "Swaarmoed" (a name suspiciously like a nearby road pass from the Double Century) and then becomes with pity elegance "Dead Man Walking", is viciously relentless!

The weather looked quite promising in the morning and after a freezing night which followed a hilariously difficult night race, the manne were to be seen doing their warm-up stuff in those New Age, sleeveless blouses that do so much for their tattoos. In my enthusiasm for anonymity through conformity I too opted for summer. Of course it was a mistake. High up in the mountains the cold was intense, the sun having gracefully retired behind the clouds. Had it begun to snow I don't think any of the dead men or women who were walking would have been all that surprised. I must, however hasten to add that, in spite of these whinges, the setting was spectacular. The veld is well managed and ranges from old and established protea and leucadendron to decidedly Karoo "bossies" and, near to the farmstead itself, fruit trees and the, now environmentally unfashionable but no less beautiful, gray poplars in their autumn finery. More important, in management terms, was the condition of the track with suitable water bars in all the right places and other, obvious signs of time, effort and money unsparingly applied.

But back to the main event: Phillip Grutter who is very well known in WP circles as candidly cavalier and hard core, described it in his usual economic way: "This is the ride!". He, and others of his ilk, were obliged to take a deep breath or two, to walk and even (albeit briefly) sit under the odd tree. Perhaps it was different for the more competitive riders, some of whom were decidedly irked by an unfortunate misunderstanding with the route marking early on, although this was not an event that "counted" in any "important" area and if you weigh the slip-up against the whole experience, one has to hope that their disappointment has been resolved. Some riders claim to have done up to 60 kilometers while other thought they might have done less than 48. At the inevitable single track bottlenecks there was joking and ragging and tolerant comment on delinquent (and often disastrous) attempts to short cut the queue.

Everyone looked, at the end, as if they'd been out there and I heard, on the Monday, from a bike shop proprietor, that there had been lively and entirely enthusiastic responses from those of his customers who had made the trek.

This is more than justified. I have read for years of long sections of single track in overseas countries, and I have been envious: and here, virtually at my doorstep a wondrous new reality had dawned. As soon as my rib...

The various routes are open for day and weekend trail riders throughout the year (day trippers need to get a R20 permit at Erica's Café in Ceres). There is more than adequate accommodation (six two-bed huts - R80 per person, a lapa, camping and stylish plumbing).

Only group bookings are allowed at weekends and parties of more than 12 should bring their own tents. There's windsurfing on the dam and, wait for it - trout fishing! These are very decent people


Eselfontein Outdoor Getaway - 2012
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