There are certain elements which can make or break a stage race and it really has very little to do with the ride itself. Yes, if you are undertrained and spend lots of time pushing your bike up the hills or your bike needs some attention and so the time you wasted on the trails fixing mechanicals, could definitely create a lasting impression on a race, but there are so many elements that subconsciously and collectively give a rider the overall “score” when they come away from an experience of a stage race.
Being a Jozi native, the attraction is always on other parts of our beautiful country. We want to ride the hills of KZN or conquer the mountains and dramatic landscapes of the Western Cape. It’s about seeing things we don’t see every day or being punished by the trails with features we can’t ride every day. The sheer number of stage races in South Africa in a calendar year gives us concrete jungle natives a chance to get out there and ride our beautiful country with various options to suit.
The Glacier Cradle Traverse is a small 3Day stage race, compared to some of the larger ones like Wines2Whales. It includes a 2 day event and the Sunday also featured a kids and schools race which allows the family to come down and enjoy the hospitality and vibe. This being the second installment of the event means there was still room for growth and improvements and that Dryland want to still grow the event but will cap it to keep the event attractive and unique. “The event doubled its entries from last year which is fantastic growth and we hope the attraction continues.” says Seamus Allardice, Head of Marketing and Communications.
The fact that the race takes place at the world heritage site of the cradle of humankind in Gauteng sounded a little close to home, or so I thought. I have ridden the fantastic cycle lanes around the cradle many times. The terrain is hilly and when looking out at the mountains surrounding you, the landscape is rocky and dry… creating a perfect environment for a challenging mountain bike stage race. We have a few races hosted in the cradle, and some great bike parks, such as the Biogen Bike Park at Avianto, the Cradle Moon Reserve trails and Van Gaalen’s Trails just down the road. I can imagine every Gauteng mountain biker saying to their riding buddies, “I see there is a stage race here in Gauteng, I bet they just follow the trails we already ride and routes we already know, not worth spending money on that”
This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Glacier Cradle Traverse route master has found the most remarkable trails in and around the cradle. A highlight for me was on Day 1 while riding through a single track next to a small river, I imagined myself to be elsewhere in the country. I had flashbacks from Wines2whales as we travelled in a dark green canyon along the river on purpose built trails. Day 3 allowed us to ride some old cattle trails which gave a similar connection to the earth as that of the ancient cattle paths in the KZN battlefields at the Berg & Bush. Herds of buck running across the trails, giraffe watching over the action and the views after a long climb gave the impression I was travelling African plains and not 20 minutes from the business hub of JHB. Who knew this diverse trail network was right here in my back yard! It was sublime. I could not wait to head back to my riding crew and tell them about the trails we have in Gauteng and that this race allows us to ride them. True credit to the event for creating the diverse routes up here on the Highveld.
The distances are not long in length each day but the routes are not easy. Some technical sections allow you to test your skills and some climbing requires a few more hill repeats on your training rides. The perfect combination on all three days. First box for sublime trails and routes had been ticked!
Every stage race follows a similar format and layout with amenities being available to riders staying in a rider village and no comforts of home. Being a local I had the option of travelling every day to ride, but that doesn’t feel right to me. A stage race requires a full experience. It’s like taking a holiday package and then not using the benefits and activities you have paid for. The energy of a race lives in the race village, and it’s important as a rider to get the whole “vibe” of the race. Trust me, it will change your experience. Dryland events are notorious for their hospitality. I had not taken part in a dryland event and so this was a tall order and I was hoping they lived up to their stellar reputation.
Registration was smooth sailing with friendly volunteers and staff making sure all bases are covered and that you get your paperwork in order. The usual groups of friends (probably made the year before) are grouped together catching up and already sampling the fantastic craft beer and gins on offer. Registration is always a great scene that plays out, with a mix of “newbies” looking around and silently trying to familiarise themselves with the race village layout, and the groups who have done it before, laughing and looking like they have been residents of the village for a week prior.
The energy of the Glacier traverse is ALWAYS “rustig”, you can tell the riders and staff are here to enjoy the three days. The elite riders are even tasting the gins and relaxing on a beanbag, sampling some chocolate goodies. If you came into the room, you would not even know it was a timed race, the feeling of a relaxed, organised get-together is definitely the vibe here.
The race briefing dinner is our introduction to the “Dryland Team” and again, there are no fireworks or flashy intros here. It is simple, uncomplicated, wholesome hospitality that carries throughout the entire three days. Dryland Events have some large flagship events on the calendar in many sports. They are an event company which is familiar with large numbers and complicated logistics, yet the way in which they host is inclusive and genuine. It is as if they are hosting a party for their mates in their backyard. Don’t get me wrong, they are logistical masters and everything runs smoothly and like clockwork, but they offer a personal and genuine touch that keeps them grounded and involved with their customers. It’s an incredible spot on combination of people, vendors, venue, sponsors, staff, logistics handling and hospitality that creates a great experience which is more than just a race.
As a rider I can see they haven’t just slapped together a venue, got a vendor to cater, and provided some marshals to stand in the right places. They have thought about every element which is going to contribute to that overall score of a race experience. The race venue of Avianto is “luxury” in the wilderness. Their facilities are outstanding and create a wonderful space to chill after each day. The food was top notch. Lamb on a spit, original South African Braais (complete with braai broodijies), burgers and desserts to die for. Not a Spur burger in sight! I won’t even get started on the water points…. You will have to ride the event to get to experience that!
We ride a lot of trails and we have so many races in our beautiful country. It is races like this that change the game. It is companies like Dryland and their sponsors who allow a rider to walk away from three days with all the boxes ticked. The money spent on races by the amateur riders can amount to a small fortune and riders are looking to get maximum value from their experiences. I personally felt like I was on a mini vacation where I rode my bike, made new friends and got treated like I was at the family home. I would pay for that any day of the week!
If you are still unsure at the quality of this race, watch the highlights video below and feel the essence that is the Glacier Cradle Traverse. I hope to see you on the start line next year….
TRAILS: A great first stage race as the distances are manageable but can be technical in parts and some climbing is involved. For seasoned riders, you will be challenged with enjoyable routes and a chance to sharpen up your skills. Highlight: Water points
RACE VILLAGE: Excellent facilities. Chill zone and food were superb. The race vibe is relaxed and everyone can find a spot to recover for the next day’s adventure.
HOSPITALITY: Some of the best we have experienced at any race. Dryland events are a must for any rider. You will feel at home from the start of the event.
VALUE FOR MONEY: Good price for the event. Great goodie bag included. There are lots of accommodation options to suit everyone and you can choose your level of comfort.
For more information on the Glacier Cradle Traverse visit their website: http://www.cradletraverse.co.za/ and look out for 2019 race details coming soon.
Photo credit: www.oakpics.com & ZC Marketing Consulting.