The Wild Coast’s Best MTB Stage Race?
The Pondo Pedal could be the most fun you can have on the Wild Coast. Chris Whitfield reports back on one of Southern Africa’s newest MTB stage races
Okay, so you’re tired of waking up in a tiny tent, killing yourself on your bike for hours, eating characterless food and then heading back to your tent for another cold/hot/wet/uncomfortable/snore-interrupted night. And all the while you’re missing your family.
The Grindrod Bank Umngazi Pondo Pedal MTB Race might just be what you need. The three stages start and finish at the Umngazi Lodge, just a few kilometres down the Wild Coast from Port St Johns and the journey, however you get there, is worth it.
Gautengers either drove or flew into nearby Mthatha, KZN-ites generally motored down the coast and one of two Capetonians in the race flew into East London and then travelled by car the remaining four hours. The other Cape Towner drove the whole way with an overnight stay with family in Grahamstown.
The riding itself is great. The routes are relatively short – 40km, 28km and 34km this year with, respectively, 1 100m, 400m and 900m of elevation gain. There was nothing too technical in there but a few steep and rutted descents keep you on your toes.
The climbing was also not too challenging if you are reasonably fit, but there are some steep bits and longish climbs on stages One and Three. The event is raced in a two-person team format (although ‘raced’ is a bit of a misnomer – ‘enjoyed’ might be more appropriate).
There are three factors that set the event apart from others: the first being the amazing part of the world in which it is located. The Wild Coast is a distinctly different part of the country, with hillsides plunging into the ocean (and you ride beautiful singletrack along some of them, peering down at the waves crashing below), tiny houses dotting the slopes in no apparent order, colourful wildlife and stunning beaches dotted with cattle. But look out for the goats, sheep, chickens and pigs on the route … their behaviour in the face of oncoming traffic leaves something to be desired.
Second is the great vibe at the event. In part this is a result of a non-competitive approach and prize-givings that put more emphasis on fun than firsts, but there are also elements of the race that are very enjoyable. These include the ride along the hillside above the sea on Stage One, the super fast Stage Two and then bits of Stage Three: a trip by tiny and none-too-stable powerboat – they can just about accommodate two riders, their bikes and the pilot – across a lagoon 6km from the finish (the boats are on standby to rush the riders across) and the closing 5km ride along the beach. Riding under a finish arch on the beach is quite spectacular.
…a trip by tiny and none-too-stable powerboat – they can just about accommodate two riders, their bikes and the pilot…
And then there is the accommodation – you get four nights at the lodge for your entry fee – and food. The Umngazi Lodge was refurbished in 2016 and there are many in the area who say it is now the best resort on the entire Wild Coast. The rooms are comfortable and the views from most of them across the lagoon and on to the beach and sea in the distance are stunning.
The food is world class, from fillet steaks to hamburgers to amazing pies to a huge salad bar to the seafood buffet on the final night, which was spectacular. And the pancakes, that seafood pasta, the cheesecake, the big breakfast buffet, the beers at the finish and lots more.
All of the above lends itself to a family weekend: there are scores of things to do for non-riding partners – including some amazing walks or runs and the beach right there – and a packed programme for children.
Take note though that the field is limited by the accommodation available at the lodge: a maximum of 66 teams can take part. So you’ll need to get in there early if you want a Wild Coast adventure.
- The 2018 event takes place from June 13 to 17 (including registration day and departure day and four nights in the lodge). Got to https://pondopedal.com for details on how to enter. The entry fee for a team of two in 2018 will be R18 000. There is an early bird discount of R900 for teams who enter between July 27 and August 7.