SA’s very first Gran Fondo gravel bike race took place recently in the exquisite Swartberg Mountain region.
The race covered a grueling 170km route with challenging climbs totalling 2800m interspersed with exhilarating descents. Mike Posthumus took first place on a Cannondale Synapse road bike with Matthys Beukes coming in second on a Scott Scale 900 mountain bike.
Gravel bike racing, new to SA, is the exciting cycling niche that sits somewhere between road cycling and mountain biking. Meaning “Big Ride” in Italian, a Gran Fondo typically involves long distances with tough climbs on difficult terrain such as cobblestones or gravel.
“This race was one of a kind – really tough but a very exciting concept and I look forward to seeing this event grow. It’s also about weapon selection and that’s what makes it so interesting,” says race winner Posthumus.
“I chose an endurance road bike – the Cannondale Synapse, the same bike that Team Cannondale uses when they race some of the classics such as the Paris-Roubaix,” he added just after winning the race that took place on 30th April.
Swartberg100 founder, John Swanepoel believes that gravel bike racing presents untold opportunities for new adventures on new routes.
“Road racing enthusiasts hanker after smooth, well manicured tar and mountain bikers want kilometres of challenging single track. Both of these tend to limit the choices of where races can be held and are limiting cyclists in terms of their discovery of the broader Southern Africa. The feedback from the race has been phenomenal and is enough evidence that this is the start of a whole new approach to cycling.”
Two-time ABSA Cape Epic African Jersey Winner, Matthys Beukes described the race as ‘something special’ and said the winning time was a really good benchmark for next year. “The race got my attention as it’s very new and such an interesting concept. Bike selection is very important and you need to decide where your weak points are. In the end I chose a mountain bike with semi slick tires as I thought the downhill back into Prince Albert from the Swartberg Pass would be rough. In hindsight, the road was just resurfaced and the conditions were perfect so I might have made a wrong decision! The weather also plays quite a big role.”
“I’m definitely keen to do it again next year,” he added.
Third in was Vickus Boshoff on a specialized Crux, a cyclocross specific bike. First woman for the Gran Fondo was Ischen Stopforth, with Cathy Carstens second and Bianca Martinaglia coming in third.
Full race results are available at http://www.mtbafrica.com/2016-race-results.html
The images in this article are supplied by Elizabeth Senger.