The fastest way to earn respect in South African mountain biking is to finish the Attakwas Extreme Challenge – within the 11-hour cut-off. The 121km race with a total ascent of 2900 metres over some of the most challenging Karoo terrain, has quickly earned itself icon status that’s not dissimilar from the Comrades Marathon, South Africa’s premier ultra-distance road running race.
But while the Comrades Marathon is almost a century old, Attakwas is infantile by comparison, having been established in 2007 when just 190 riders discovered exactly how tough – and rewarding – it is. But its age is the only small thing about Attakwas. Everything else is big.
This year, the sixth edition, over 1000 riders started, with a relatively high finisher rate of 88%. The top 10 men and women earn gold medals, with 11th place until the six-hour gong sounds, getting silver medals. Every other finisher gets a bronze medal. It’s not a medal you just chuck in box with most of your other finisher medals; it’s a medal that you treasure because you have to truly race your heart out to earn it.
Last year, the Ratel (Badger) Club was introduced, which offers membership to anyone that’s finished five ‘Attas”. There are currently only 35 members. Three-time winner, Kevin Evans, South Africa’s most successful marathon racer, was hoping for Ratel Club membership in 2013. But abdominal surgery this week has forced him to wait another year for the honour.
Matthys Beukes, the 2012 winner, will be back to defend his title and is likely to face stiff opposition from the likes of Brandon Stewart and Neil MacDonald (both FedGroup-Itec), Max Knox (Specialized), Darren Lill, Charles Keey, Dave Morison, Waylon Woolcock (Team RE:CM), Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck (Bell Racing) and possibly a handful of European pros that will have escaped the icy north to pile on base miles in pleasant weather.
“What makes the Attakwas so tough is the last 60 kilometres.” smiled Beukes. “You’ve done 60 kays and then you still have at least three very tough climbs over rough, unpredictable surfaces. Plus, there’s usually a headwind and it’s in the middle of summer, which means it’s uncomfortably hot.
“But I love that challenge. It’s a one-day race that truly tests you in every way and it’s in my home region,” added Beukes, who is going for Ratel Club membership in 2013.
With 42 women finishing in 2012, the female category is growing in depth. Elmien Stander and Ischen Stopforth are the only two female members of the Ratel Club so far, with more expected to join them in 2013. Former winners, Stopforth, Ariane Kleinhans, Yolande de Villiers and Yolande Speedy are all expected to return for the 2103 edition, along with new challengers for the title, both South African and foreign.
The Attakwas 2013 celebrity meter is likely to read higher than at any other marathon race in the country with the entire 12-member ABSA Cape Epic celebrity team entered by team manager, Ernst Viljoen, who feels that Attakwas is the best gauge of Cape Epic base-training progress.
“Attakwas 2013 will be Day 1 of our Absa Cape Epic team’s four-day training camp. The race will be a certain reality check for every one of our team members and that’s th intention. They may be celebrities but mountain biking does not discriminate and they will have to prove their worth just like everyone else that attempts to finish Attakwas,” said Viljoen.
“Interestingly, we don’t have a title sponsor for Attakwas. It’s an event that’s just grown in stature through word of mouth from the finishers each year. The numbers just keep growing and our entry numbers from outside the Western Cape province are most surprising,” said Henco Rademeyer of Dryland Events, the company that organises Attakwas.
For those that aren’t up to the full Attakwas challenge, there’s the Spur Atta Mini, an abbreviated test over similarly tough terrain ,but for just 25km.