This Friday, the 20thof April, the defending 36ONE MTB Challenge champions, Ramses Bekkenk and Jeannie Dreyer, will line up alongside 781 fellow mountain bikers to take on the 361 kilometre long circumnavigation of the Klein Karoo. The pair will no doubt be out to break their own course records, but will not have it all their own way as fierce rivals and the unpredictable nature of the event will surely attempt to derail their plans.
The route, which starts and finishes in Oudtshoorn, takes in 5 285 meters of elevation gain including the famed Rooiberg Pass. The full 36ONE distance riders start at 18:00 on Friday evening and ride through the night with the winning man expected to cross the finish line at around 08:00 on Saturday morning. The fastest women is expected home at 10:30, while the average finisher is set to take closer to 24 hours to complete the course – meaning they will have to brave temperatures near freezing overnight before conquering the heat of the Klein Karoo throughout the following day.
The Half, a 180 kilometre half 36ONE, race features for the first time a gravel bike category and includes 2 730 meters of climbing in its route. The Half starts at Volmoed and completes a half circle across the Klein Karoo before finishing in Oudtshoorn. Along with the 781 full distance riders there are a further 177 riders set to take on the Half when it starts on Saturday, the 21stof April, at 06:00 in the morning.
In the solo men’s race, the 2017 champion and course record holder, Ramses Bekkenk, will be up against the three-time winner and former record holder Jean Biermans. When Bekkenk set the new record of 13 hours, 59 minutes and 55 seconds, Biermans was disappointed to see his record tumble. Having suffered three punctures and lost over half an hour waiting for assistance on the side of the road, having punctured his spare tube, Biermans decided to retract his earlier decision to retire from racing the 36ONE for another tilt at the title, and record, in 2018.
Bekkenk, who arrived in the Klein Karoo on Sunday the 15thof April already, is spending the week before the race acclimatising to the local weather and road conditions. “My preparation to the race has been good and I was possible to make long rides despite the weather [in the Netherlands]” he reflected before arriving in South Africa. “I did some training by night as well to get used to riding in the dark and I tested my shape and bike during the ‘Hel van Groesbeek’. I am content with my shape. In 2017 I rode the main part of the race alone so with good company till the end a new record must be possible this year. Of course I hope in that case I am the one with the best legs in the final”, he concluded.
The women’s course record holder meanwhile is likely to face her sternest competition from Mother Nature. Dreyer has cemented her place as the queen of ultra-endurance mountain biking in South Africa and will be out to beat her 2015 36ONE course record of 16 hours, 32 minutes and 14 seconds. In 2017, she fell 27 minutes short of that feat, but with the drafting of men legal in the 36ONE, if Dreyer can complete at least the first half of the course in a strong group, a record breaking time is possible. Especially as the temperatures are predicted to be mild, with little to no wind on Friday night and Saturday morning, which should make for perfect racing conditions.
The 36ONE also boasts two person team, two to four person relay and of course the half distance categories; within the event. These competitions tend to be virtually impossible to predict, though the men’s team race will once again see the four time champions Dane Welsh and Craig Edwards take up the mantel of defending their title. Riding as “The Tortured Souls” in 2018, the pair is nearly as famous for their misadventures, like forgetting lights and suffering multiple punctures, and promises to never take part again upon crossing the finish line as they are for Welsh’s superb post-race articles on his Velotales blog.
The 36ONE racing action starts at 18:00 on Friday evening with live coverage available on the event’s Twitter (@The36ONE) and Facebook (The 36ONE MTB Challenge) pages, as well as the @drylandzaInstagram account. For more details on the race please visit www.the36one.co.za.