With consistent entry numbers of 4 000 and more over the past few years, the 947 Ride Joburg Mountain Bike Challenge has become the largest one-day mountain bike race in South Africa. The 2020 edition went ahead this past Sunday despite Covid-19 lockdown challenges and under new ownership. Sean Badenhorst participated in the event for the first time and lists the five reasons he thinks it rocked.
By Sean Badenhorst
I’ve enjoyed seeing how mountain bike events have grown to be so popular in South Africa. But I’ve never been keen to do such events because of the huge numbers. When I was offered a media entry for the 2020 947 Ride Joburg, I had to think about it. I have purposefully avoided doing this event in my home city since it was established in 2005.
Why? Well, I love doing mountain bike races, but I do not love dismounting my bike in a race to stand in a queue because someone with limited skills/power/anticipation ability ahead of me, got off to walk a short, steep rise or a marginally tricky descent, or a mud puddle…
Mountain bike race-start seeding has helped improve this, but seeding is based on finishing times, not skills ability. So when I’m not fit, like currently, I get seeded into a batch that’s about five or six from the front in a large-numbers race. Because my levels of fitness fluctuate and I don’t race consistently, I tend to enter races that aren’t too crowded.
I also like to do mountain bike races that have a challenging route. Generally, a race that attracts huge numbers doesn’t have a challenging route as it would put many off entering it again. And in Johannesburg, Africa’s largest city, with its unchecked urban sprawl, space to incorporate challenging race routes is now very limited.
I did know that the event was limited due to Covid-19 group-gathering restrictions, to 1000 – 500 in the 50km and 500 in the 25km events. This made it a bit easier for me. I also have the small issue of having to panic-train for the 2020 KAP sani2c in three weeks’ time. So seeing that the event would be over 50km with 800m of ascent, I figured this was a good little tester for my sani2c teammate, Joanne Badenhorst (my wife) and I.
Here’s what we experienced:
- The entry process was super slick
Because expos aren’t currently permitted, there wasn’t the need to go to a pre-race expo to collect our number before race days. I’m not sure it if will stay this way in future, but I do feel race expos have passed their effectiveness, essentially forcing race participants to attend in order to collect their race numbers. Because new owners of the event, Faces (formerly Advendurance), also owns the SA Seeding System, they used this, which was great because most Gauteng mountain bikers already have a SAS number board.
We were SMSed a race entry conformation with a QR code that allowed us (quick) entry into Steyn City (the race venue) and then the same QR code allowed us (slick) entry into the race village where our temperatures were taken and where we used hand sanitiser, while mumbling to each other through our face masks, as per government regulations. Once in the start chute we could remove our face masks to get ready for the heavy breathing that was to follow. At water points we were expected to return our face masks and sanitise our hands.
- The numbers were well managed
Again, this won’t always necessarily be the case once the world has become accustomed to living with this ‘pandemic’, but the limited entry numbers made for a low-frustration experience. We started in the F Group and only had a couple of instances where we had to dismount and wait. Both were short, steep singletrack climbs. The first only really rideable for strong riders and the second rideable for most. For the large part of the event we rode fairly freely with the usual pass-or-be-passed interactions with fellow riders going off smoothly.
- The route was impressive!
It wasn’t quite 50km, but they did mention this at the start. However, I was very happy for it to be 48km because man, it was challenging. After the first 10 minutes, my wife and agreed that this wasn’t really a mountain bike route because we’d only been riding on paved paths and some tar until then. Less than a minute later we turned into the first bit of singletrack, which eventually made up around 70% of the route. Some of the singletrack was superb, especially along the river banks. Our Garmins recorded a maximum of 36 deg C and an average of 34 deg C, so it was really quite hot. We skipped Water Point 1, but stopped at both Water Points 2 and 3 and found ample cold refreshments and some snacks with friendly staff manning them as best they could under Covid-19 limitations (it’s all self service). To create a stimulating 48km route with no repetition in that limited area is quite impressive. Kudos to the route designers!
- Free stuff
I’ve never really been a fan of free stuff at events because it’s usually not high quality or that useful to me. And it’s likely partly covered by your entry fee, so not really ‘free’. We got a free t-shirt, which I won’t wear because I’m a t-shirt snob and I don’t wear event t-shirts (I do keep some to sleep in), but many I’m sure will. Joanne got a men’s cut t-shirt (they don’t have women’s cut), so she won’t wear hers either. We’ll give these to needy people. We also got a free bike wash, which was a bonus because I didn’t feel up to washing two muddy bikes after that big race effort… And then, there is a free digital race photo package, worth R328, which you can download and which I think is long overdue. The official event photographers, Action Photo, do a good job and to get photos of yourself at no charge – the very next day – is great added value. More events should go this route. It makes so much sense.
- Immediate results
I’m not sure how many events now offer this, but I was quite impressed that I got an SMS as I finished with a link to the results. I suppose this shouldn’t really be a surprise considering the technology now available, but I was born in 1970 and some things linked to technology and which should be snappy, still take a while to process, which I can’t understand/accept.
Since we moved to Johannesburg in 2000, we have either participated in or been involved in some way in most editions of the 947 Ride Joburg (previously called the 947 Cycle Challenge) – kiddies race, expo stand, hospitality, road race participation, spectators etc. It has always impressed me how slick this event has been organised over the years. The previous organisers, Tanya Harford and Jenni Green and their very able team helped raise the bar for world-class large-scale cycling events in South Africa and built an impressive reputation for the annual 947 Ride Joburg.
Since 2003, we have also been familiar with the quality of events staged by Faces (formerly Advendurance), mostly through their mountain bike races. When we heard about the acquisition of the 947 Ride Joburg by Faces in September 2020, we weren’t concerned. We knew the event would be in good hands. But we noticed many negative comments on social media, largely from those unfamiliar with Faces and its ability to organise large events.
Sure, the 2020 edition of the 947 Ride Joburg Mountain Bike Challenge was curbed in entry numbers by the government’s lockdown response to Covid-19. There’s a big difference between hosting 1000 participants and over 4000 participants. But the structure of the event seems to be sound and should go some way to gaining the confidence of any doubters. Let’s hope the 2021 edition can be held at full capacity and thousands more can enjoy a stimulating, well-organised 947 Ride Joburg MTB Challenge…
For the record, Shaun-Nick Bester (Darkhorse Racing) and Robyn de Groot (dormakaba) won the 50km Men and Women’s titles respectively. See the complete 2020 edition 50km and 25km event results here