The Mother of all Mountain Bike race stages

    The steep gradient of the Swartberg Pass is relentless and has become a major talking point among mountain bikers ahead of the 2012 Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek. Photo: Karin Schermbrucker
    Since it was revealed in June, Stage 2 of next month’s Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek mountain bike stage race has become one of the most talked about stages in mountain biking. The professionals are talking about the R100 000 (US $12 000) prize purse for the stage. The media is asking how can there be so much emphasis on one stage? And every participant is talking about the difficulty of the challenge.

     The Cape Pioneer Trek is an annual seven-day international mountain bike stage race that takes place in South Africa’s Western Cape Province from 14 – 20 October 2012. Instead of making the race longer and harder in 2012, the organisers, Dryland Events, opted to rather focus on route quality and in the process derived a signature stage, which this year will be on Day 3, Stage 2.

    The total distance of the stage is only 85km. But the accumulated elevation is a massive 2,760 metres. The stage will finish on the summit of the Swartberg Pass, a gravel road ascent that rises 1,100 metres in just 12km. It’s one of the steepest passes in South Africa and gains constant elevation with no respite, zig-zagging and u-turning its way past some spectacular rock formations through a protected, pristine World Heritage Site.

    But the professional racers aren’t likely to notice the scenery as they chase one of the biggest single stage prize purses in mountain bike racing. Focussed predominantly on two-rider teams, the R100 000 purse for the winning team is expected to attract unprecedented attention to the Cape Pioneer Trek.
     

    The Swartberg Pass, up which Stage 2 of the 2012 Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek finishes. Photo: Karin Schermbrucker

    “It’s a fantastic innovation. We have so many great quality marathons and stage races in South Africa. It’s just another superb initiative by proactive race organisers that benefits the racers,” said David George of the Nedbank 360Life team. George and his teammate, Kevin Evans won the 2011 edition of the race.

     “We’re looking forward to the whole race, not just Stage 2. But we’ll definitely be going all out to win Stage 2. That’s a very attractive sum of money for a day’s work! The final climb may be on gravel, but the approach includes some rugged Karoo terrain. It’s not going to be easy and the pace of the leading teams will be super intense,” added George.

    In order to ensure that no teams only focus on the Stage 2 prize, the organisers have implemented a specific rule.

    “The prize money for Stage 2 will only be paid to the winning team on Stage 2 if that team completes the full tour and scores sufficient points. We’ve introduced a points system which will require the Stage 2 winners to finish in the top five teams overall on at least two other stages in order to secure the Stage 2 cash,” explained Carel Herholdt of Dryland Events.
     

    The Swartberg Pass winds its way up a total of 1 100 vertical metres in just 12km, making it a formidable final climb for Stage 2 of the 2012 Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek.Photo: Karin Schermbrucker

    Entries for the 2012 Cape Pioneer Trek are still available, but limited. The Nedbank 360Life pair of Evans and George have confirmed they’ll be defending their title, while a number of teams from Germany, Switzerland and The Netherlands have also entered, including multiple ABSA Cape Epic category winner, Barti Bucher and his teammate, Ernst Engeli.

     “The pro teams tend to leave it quite late to get their entries in. We’re expecting quite a few international teams to still enter. It’s at the end of their season, less than two weeks after the 2012 marathon world champs,” explained Herholdt.

    “Having made the decision to shorten the stages over previous editions, but increase the route quality is sure to be a strong attraction. And the fact that our weather is usually ideal at that time of the year, should see good international interest in the race.”

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