The Gansbaai Sufferfest:
The Gansbaai race is one of my favorite races on the calendar, and I missed it last year while cruising around in Namibia. Thus I simply had to do it this year. To make matters easier, we had accommodation in Gansbaai sorted so we sommer made a weekend out of this race. It was the Funky Fynbos Festival, so there was a myriad of things to do for our wives as well while we riding.
My original plan was to do the 45km, but over a few beers my friends Werner and Shawn decided that I needed to man up and do the 64km, Werner even volunteered to ride with me as our last test ride before the Eselfontein 3day stage race.
The Gansbaai race is known for the tough route in the mountains around town and the lekker community vibe at the race venue. This year was no different, albeit sporting new routes and a new venue. Registration was quick and easy, we received our goodie bags and boards and got ready in record time. This is one of the aspects of the Gansbaai race that I love. Everything just works. When you do this race, you know it will be well organized, have a lekker vibe, the route will be tough, yet fun and rewarding and that it will be marked well. All this for 200ZARs? Bargain!
When we lined up for the start of the 64 we realized that the field wasn’t that big, and that most people were doing the 46km. Oops. Nevertheless, after race briefing we set off, at a leisurely pace for Werner and myself. Slow and steady was our motto. The first bit was fast and fun, basically a long descent until we reached the big dam in the valley. There was a massive freshwater fishing completion that was part of the festival as well. After the dam we started climbing. It was a 6km slog to the mast on top of one of the mountains. At the top the view was amazing, nut we had riders breathing down our necks that we did not want to be have to overtake on the rocky downhill. We’ll have to come back to take in the view properly. The downhill was probably another 5km of typically Gansbaai rocky descents. The middelmannetjie was so high and rough in places that it was effectively dual pieces of single-track, you had to pick a line and commit to it, as switching wasn’t always possible.
We also had to constantly watch out for the bushes on the side of the road, especially with the wiiiiiiide handlebar’s that Werner and I prefer. By the bottom my sore pinky was sore again from all the lashings it received by the merciless bushes. Fynbos has no chill with mountain bikers. After what felt like ages of descending, , we bottomed out and headed back up the same mountain. Fortunately, not all the way though, we crested at a dam to find the first water point of the day. The water points were well stocked with potatoes, bananas, cake and water, but this WP also had lekker people making jokes and telling stories. It was hands down the friendliest WP of the day. After we had to ask the lady to please stop force feeding us, we dropped into another lekker long downhill while feeling like geese in a French gourmet food factory. At one point Werner and I was riding next to each other, but separated by a tall middelmannetjie and racing each down this merciless jeep track while whooping and laughing, feeling like 12year old kids riding our bikes. As it should be.
At about 30km we hit the gravel road. This would have been fine, but the wind was pumping. We played cat and mouse with this wind the whole day, sometimes it was behind us, sometimes it was blasting us head on, and sometimes we were dodging the wind while riding behind hills and in valleys. At this stage we had merged with the 30, and 46km routes as well, and having ridden bits of this route before we knew what to expect. And we were expecting lots of climbing. With some more rocky descents thrown in. But mostly climbing. At about 47km, after one of the vigorous rocky single tracks we reached a self-help water point at a dam. It was well stocked with coke and water and we promptly had a bit of a tea party, chatting with others while filling their cups and bottles with coke and water for them. We had a bit of a rest here, as we knew the next bit would hurt badly, with a very steep climb with a killer switchback that is usually painful on fresh legs, but today neither of our legs felt fresh at all. It hurt. A Lot!
The next hour or so was a blur. We climbed for what felt like forever, until we topped out at the back of Grootbos, a lekker fast dual track followed before we reached another water point. We had another little picnic vibe, chatting to the other riders (no one was racing anymore, it was a war of attrition out there) about the ride and the unknown last bit that we had no idea what to expect of. At the water point one lady broke my heart when she asked if we Werner and I was the sweepers. Ouch. It is like being called “Oom” by a high school boy. That stung. Werner and I then rode away from this lady and her friend. It did look like she was in pain, but she was a trooper and soldiered on.
What followed was more climbing, into the wind mind you, until we went over the mountain at Grootbos and started descending towards the big road into Gans Baai. This bit was lekker, as it was a steady and long descent that gave us a bit of a chance to rest the legs. All too soon the descent ended, and we had to go back up a road that went over the mountain we just went down from. Not cool. But it was obviously time for me to suck down a couple of cement pills and harden up so that I could get back home. Halfway back up this mountain I was struggling to stay out of the pain cave. But fortunately even my trips into the pain cave were short-lived, and when we finished the climb we were rewarded with stunning views of Flower Valley, and we could see the finish venue. Happy days!!
With renewed vigor we descended down the mountain on a lekker rough and rocky road that allowed us to build up a lekker bit of speed. I’m pretty sure the loop took us through Grootbos with the sole purpose of getting us access to this descent. And it got better and better. We dropped into a lekker swooping and fast single-track. Typical Gans Baai singletrack. Sandy base with beautiful plants whizzing by as we flowed from corner at speed. Oh this was amazing! And this section made all the pain of the day’s climbing worth it. Some more single-track bits followed and pretty soon we were spat out the bushes and onto the lawn at the finish line.
The finish line party was in full swing, with prize giving having just started. Fortunately my gorgeous wifey was also at the finish line, and while I tried to make a dent in the coke stand’s stock, she went off to find me something to eat. And she returned with the most amazing pizza and draught beer. This is the beauty of the Gansbaai race. The rough and hard race routes are matched with an amazing atmosphere at the venue coupled with a good array of quality food stalls. There was even a massage station.
An event like this, in a small town like this can only be a success if there are enough sponsors and buy in from the local community. And Gansbaai does this well. I already can’t wait to do this again next year.
Most of the Gansbaai race routes are part of the Gansbaai MTB trails network, and it is open year round. Trail permits can be bought at the Gansbaai Info Centre, De Uijlenes and Saxon Lodge in town. If you are going to spend time here over the festive season, these trials are a must do.
Also published on Medium.