The Bestmed Sondela Mountain Bike Classic will roll out a weekend festival of riding and family entertainment just outside Bela-Bela in the Limpopo Province at the end of June.
Some 1 400 participants are expected to take part in the two-day line-up of races, making it the largest event of its kind in the Bushveld.
According to route director and group operations manager Melgard Meyer, the event offered a premium mountain biking experience in the heart of the 4 700-hectare Sondela Nature Reserve.
“We have long stretches of open single-track and our animals are very tame, so you’ll really see a lot of game as you ride through the bush.
“We’re only 80km from Pretoria and 125km from Joburg. The reserve is right off the highway and very easily accessible for Gauteng-based riders.”
The fifth edition of the event, presented by ASG, starts with the 20km and 40km distances, followed by the kiddies’ rides, on Saturday, June 28.
“On the Saturday evening, we’ll also have a 10km night ride for anyone over the age of 12. It starts at seven o’clock and riders might even see some nocturnal animals.”
On the Sunday, the 60km feature race rounds out the family-oriented festivities.
“We introduced the two shorter distances for the first time last year, which proved to be very successful.”
Meyer said another secret to their success was that the 40km riders started and finished before the 20km event, thereby preventing bottlenecks on the route and at the finish.
“By keeping the races separate, everyone has right of the way on the trails, which creates a quality experience for each and every rider.”
He said participants could even create their own stage race by taking part in a combination of individual events.
“If parents want to ride a little bit further and faster, they can do the 40km and then come back and ride the 20km with the family.
“Alternatively, they can take advantage of the special combo entry fee and do one of those plus the feature race on Sunday.”
Meyer said the main race was not overly technical but that riders would be required to navigate the sharp twists and turns of the single-track sections.
“We also have something we call ‘horizontal climbing’, which involves pedalling across rideable sandy stretches.”
Meyer said the kiddies’ rides would provide a “genuine mini mountain biking experience” for the little ones.
Children aged six to eight would ride sections of single-track, while those younger than five could enjoy the berms and ramps of the BMX track, he said.
“At Sondela, kids are very important to us. We have lots of activities for them, like non-stop games around the pool and tractor rides while the races are on.
“They can also come to our farmyard and help feed the animals or visit our wildlife rehabilitation centre and interact with the baby lions.”
Meyer said any participants staying at Sondela – whether in the caravan park, chalets or lodges – would have access to the resort activities.
Although accommodation facilities were nearly at capacity, he said riders could contact the Bela-Bela tourist information centre for more options.
“Our race village will be at the caravan park, where riders can grab a quick shower and then relax in the beer garden and enjoy the live music.
“Sondela’ means come closer, come together, so we really want people to come out and enjoy riding in the Bushveld.”
The weekend festival is the newest addition to Bestmed’s stable of 11 cycling events nationwide.
According to Bestmed corporate communications manager Sasja la Grange, the event epitomised their drive to encourage healthy, active lifestyles among people of all ages.
“Bestmed is in the process of establishing a national footprint of events where professional athletes and families can participate.
“As a scheme, we see the impact of unhealthy lifestyles and cycle races are the ideal way for families to get active and spend quality time together.”
La Grange said the medical aid would also be partnering with the Cancer Association of South Africa and Incolabs to hand out free sunscreen to participants as part of their skin cancer awareness campaign.
She said R10 from every entry fee would also be donated to Cansa.