Darling Brew Extreme: A Tale of Brawn and Thorns
With four challenging routes and famous post-race craft beer, the Darling Brew Extreme MTB Challenge has become a popular race on the WC calendar. – By Aaron Borrill
Despite a host of other races taking place on the same day, nearly 1,900 riders lined up in the start chutes for DBX17. A bout of overnight rain meant it was cold and wet, but the aroma of fresh coffee as well as several fire drums ensured riders were kept warm and cosy before the start. While the pro turnout wasn’t as big as in previous years, there was still a formidable presence lining up in A batch for the start of the 75km Bone Crusher. With names such as Lourens Luus, Renay Groustra, Charles Keey and David Garrett, the substantial prize pot was always going to be hotly contested.
What’s special about DBX is that every year small adaptations are made to the route, so as not to bore riders with predictability. As a result, in 2017 riders could choose from four route options: the 75km Bone Crusher, 45km Long Claw, 30km Blood Serpent and 15km Slow Beer. Despite the cool weather, the rocky singletracks and thick sand en route would prove a challenge for even the most skilled riders – plus there was the small issue of thorns to contend with. But more on that later…
Back to the Bone Crusher. Oh yes– how could I forget? Every year it grows in distance, elevation gain and reputation. It’s one tough route. The first 45km are super-fast and this always seems to trick newbie riders into gassing it from the start, blissfully unaware of what torment lies in wait. See, I did this event last year (read 2016 race report here), and even from my limited experience I know it requires you to leave a little in reserve for the last 30km – which comprises around 900m of vertical ascent!
The terrain was pretty rough. Corrugated and loose, it split up the group almost immediately. I felt for those poor souls on their hardtails – ouch. The first 20km forces riders to jostle with each other for a prime position heading into the singletrack. As a result the bunch was whittled down to around 20 riders before the tunnel near Wolwefontein, and again soon after, into three smaller groups of five. Owing to the nature of the topography and the many switchback descents and climbs of the superbly-crafted Wolvefontein tracks, the breakaway – read ‘ridiculously strong top five’ – was always in sight, taunting us (the chasing bunch) to ride harder and push a little more. In reality, however, they were long gone.
The cooler conditions and damp terrain did little to stave off the devil thorns that were out in full force. I hate thorns. Deeply. After sustaining multiple unsealable punctures the week before at the Amarider 100-Miler in Malmesbury, I wasn’t particularly in the mood to retire from my second race in as many weeks. So I made it my personal mission to avoid riding on any of the verges or ‘middelmannetjies’. Despite my efforts, I still managed to attract several thorns somehow, but none were detrimental enough to warrant a stop. A couple of my mates, however – Willie Calitz and Deon Brenner – weren’t as lucky, and lost valuable minutes and momentum because of those prickly pests.
After darting around the singletracks of Wolwefontain the route swung back to Darling along the train tracks before heading out into the unknown. I say ‘unknown’, because this year the route took a surprising turn. Those clever enough to have scrutinised the route profile would have noticed the nasty little bump at the 46km mark – the 6km Kapokberg, and its 6 per cent average gradient. Should this not be called the Bone Crusher, guys? Seriously. Thankfully, the bastard was negotiated in thick mist, so we couldn’t really see what was coming.
At this point there were no groups left intact – instead, the lead-up to the climb showed it was more a case of every man for himself. By holding back a little on the flats I managed to pass a few riders up this challenging ascent, but that was pretty much the last time I had any contact with riders along the route. The final 25km were hard but rewarding, with lots of ups and downs. However, the Bone Crusher climb still lay in wait. But it was different to last year – did we climb it in reverse? It sure didn’t feel like the same beast. But maybe my legs (and psyche) had become desensitised by the sadistic peak we had climbed just a few kilometres before…
All I knew was that the last 10km were fast and flat, and after picking up one more scalp at the top of the Bone Crusher I wasn’t too keen on relinquishing the position I’d just gained. So with little more than fumes left in my tank and the onset of cramps twitching away at my quads and calves, I pressed down as hard as I could on my cranks and sucked it all up, to secure a top-20 finish and a well-deserved craft beer. DBX number two under the belt, and another glass to add to the collection. (No medals here. Instead, riders are handed a bottle of craft beer and a glass).
Will I be back? Of course. The DBX is quite possibly the most well-organised race in the Cape. The vibe is special, the route well marked and scenic, and the beer top-notch. I wonder if we’ll get an 80km Bone Crusher next year? I sure hope so. Till next year.
75km Bone Crusher
Men 1. Lourens Luus 3:14:12, 2. Charles Keey 3:17:13, 3. Richard Simpson 3:19:43
Women 1. Nadia Visser 3:50:46, 2. Louise Ferreira 3:56:21, 3. Tandi Kitching 4:00:04
45km Long Claw
Men 1. Chris Cronje 2:01:43, 2. Armin O’Connor 2:10:48, 3. Luke Lockhart-Ross 2:11:03
Women 1. Amy Burton 2:32:53, 2. Lee Ferreira 2:35:02, 3. Candice Davison 2:37:53
30km Blood Serpent
Men 1. Morne Immelman 1:17:12, 2. Steven Goodill 1:17:41, 3. Coen Deetlefs 1:20:16
Women 1. Liezel Gey Van Pittius 1:22:10, 2. Michele Lewis 1:27:26 3. Nelize Germishuizen 1:29:35
15km Slow Beer
Men 1. Adriaan Van Zyl 00:43:47, 2. Jaco Sadie 00:49:40, 3. Chardon Mouton 00:51:41
Women 1. Thea Sadie 00:49:39, 2. Anja Lareman 00:49:48 3. Michelle Deans 00:50:00