After managing get my hands on a last-minute entry, I scrambled for my bike, organised the final logistics and took a spontaneous 500km drive to Oudtshoorn for South Africa’s toughest single-day MTB event – the Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge. – By Wayde Finch
I was ecstatic to say the least and, after being told that this would be one the toughest races I’d ever experience, I had the uncontrollable urge to witness it for myself. Following the 5 hour drive to the registration in Oudtshoorn, which took all of 1 minute to complete, we headed to our accommodation to mentally and physically prepare for what would be a long and gruelling day in the paincave. Bikes checked, lots of pasta consumed, and an early night were the order of the moment.
Arriving at the Chandelier Game and Ostrich Farm at 6am (start at 6:35) the anxiety among riders was palpable and the usual race-day banter among friends seemed a little dampened – or maybe I was just imagining things. A few days leading up to the race I repeatedly received the same advice from numerous people suggesting I soft pedal for the first 80km to avoid cramp for the last 40km, the latter of which would ultimately be a climbfest. It’s all about pacing they kept telling me. I headed the warnings. The countdown began and the gun went off. What initially struck me was the lack of pushing and scrambling for the front of the bunch as we headed out – rather, everyone held their respective positions and gently pedalled through the dirt roads as we left the start venue. Knowing there was plenty of time to make up places the gingerly start didn’t affect me much .
The first 20km went by quickly with fast-rolling terrain and amazing views, but just before arriving at WP1, the first mileage sign ‘100km to go’ popped up. That hurt a little (mentally). The next 40km were a different story with rocky climbs pushing gradients in excess of 20% (some pro riders were walking), daunting mountain passes and some hair-raising descents. There was no time to recover as the climbs were steep, the descents were tricky and the flats were rocky. The next 2.5hours started to take its toll on my body. Once I arrived at the next water point there was still 77km to go and I hadn’t even reached halfway. After refueling and fixing a leaking tyre I was on my way again, diving into the Attakwaskloof Reserve only to climb up to the highest point of the race where a friendly farmer greeted us at the top as our sole reward. The following 30km, comprised more rocky terrain that continued to rattle every bone in my body and took me to the last water point which signaled the last 13km. Here many battered and bruised riders were taking on their last fuel to battle the final stretch.
Just as you think you’ve tackled every type of terrain imaginable, a new enemy makes itself known – the wind. The remaining 13km took riders up and down some of the steepest roads in the area while a fierce South-Easter, proved the hardest part of the race for many. So close yet so far, almost every rider that I saw was cramping, and their faces were looking more delirious than a dejected arctic explorer lost in the snow. At 3km to go the ocean finally came into full view and I could hear the finish line commentator cheering every rider that crossed the line. A welcoming audience in the beautiful Groot Brak campsite greeted me as I crossed the line. It was all a blur really as an usher handed me a 2017 Fairview Attakwas Extreme MTB Challenge medal blissfully unaware of the mental torment I have just been through over the last 6 hours. It took all of three chocolate Steri Stumpies and a Spur burger before I felt human enough to celebrate finishing this event.
The combination of rugged terrain, distance, climbing, wind and heat makes the Attakwas the hardest single day race I have ever completed. It’s a bucket list race for any serious mountain biker and a true test of the legs for training Cape Epic riders and pros alike.