The Trans Baviaans is a 24hr mountain bike marathon single stage race of 230km from Willowmore in the heart of the Eastern Cape Karoo through the world heritage site and remote Baviaans Kloof and finishes in Jeffreys Bay the surfing capital of South Africa.
Simply put, it is the original and toughest single stage race in the world!
As one of South Africa’s premier mountain biking events, this mountain bike marathon creates the perfect combination of extremely challenging cycling amongst spectacular scenery through exquisite mountain ranges, right into the heart of the magnificent Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area, all in a team format. Since its start in 2004 it has been growing annually, deserving its place on many mountain bikers’ wish list.
This initiative started on a family holiday in the Baviaanskloof. Being a family of mountain bikers, and wanting to share the Baviaanskloof experience, they decided that what better way than having a mountain bike race. It took them seven years to finalise the concept of how to go about such an event – one that captures not only the essence of the Baviaanskloof, but also to be a true test of endurance and a unique challenge.
This event had the title as the ‘longest single stage team MTB event’ in the world for six years, and emphasized that the focus lay on whether the route is rideable, unique, enjoyable and most of all achievable. Because this is a team event, consisting of 2, 3 or 4 cyclists per team, the concept is very different to that of an ordinary MTB race.
The event is also unique as the entire route is unmarked and tests the orientation skills of each rider. This ensures teamwork amongst everyone and brings out a camaraderie, making it an unforgettable experience. Teams have to check in and out at the checkpoints strategically placed on route, so their whereabouts can be traced. The late start (10:00) forces all the riders (even the frontrunners) to use lights for night time riding, for some this will be a much larger portion of their ride than for others – truly a test of character and endurance.
With a great race, comes great rewards! Due to the night time finish the first 10 teams home are greeted with the firing of a rocket. Every team that finishes receives a commemorative medal which completes a puzzle that fits into a shield after the completion of five events – motivating riders to complete the Trans Baviaans at least five times. The distance of 230 km from Willowmore to Jeffrey’s Bay must be completed in 24 hours to qualify for a medal.
So you think you have what it takes to conquer the Trans Baviaans? This is an event not to be taken lightly. However, with a well-planned approach, a fully charged night-light, good orientation skills, and loads of energy, it’s a very achievable challenge that will definitely transform you into the ultimate mountain biker!
We spoke to two amazing riders who took on the epic journey from Willowmore to Jefferys Bay, both as first timers but experienced riders. Lesleigh Beukes took on the race with her husband and two fellow riders in a four man team and Heather Slabbert took on the repeat race with her partner as part of a two man team. This is what they had to say about the endurance event of the year...
I’ll definitely be back next year……
Eight months ago, a colleague decided to enter my husband and I in the endurance race of the year… The infamous Trans Baviaans. With my colleague having done two previous Trans Baviaans races, we thought it was an opportunity for us to enjoy the adventure together.. The scary thing was that my husband didn’t even have a bike and I had just started mountain biking since the days for being a full-time mom to two young kids. But this was not going to hold us back… We bought a bike from Centurion Cyclery and joined the LCC Club and commenced our training. Every peddle stroke contributed to the grueling thought of having to sit on the bike for at least 13 hours not really knowing what to expect.
Months tick by so fast and training was going well. We ended up having each done approximately 3500km in the past 8 months as well as strength training which contributed a get deal to the aches and pains that our bodies were dishing out during long training rides. We had so much support from other cyclists and training friends on what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, what to pack, what to wear, what not to wear, what items to put into what number box, what lights to use etc and the pure anxiety of each person’s advice had come down on me like a tone of bricks. I had to take each person’s guidance and see what could work for me and my team.
Our trip down to Willowmore was smooth-sailing as our accommodation was only 20 minutes away from the village. Our bikes were safe and sound with Joggie’s Transport who was happy to hold our bikes until the morning of the race. The 11th of August was here and the nerves were an obstacle that I had to overcome and quickly. We had an amazing farm breakfast (which is probably the most important meal that day) and made our way to the start. The mere fact that we were there, amongst an incredible vide set out by the race organises was exciting, and every racer was ready to hit the Baviaans Kloof, gun blazing.
Our initial race plan, was to stick to leaving the check points at the discussed time and by doing this, we were sure to complete the race in approximately 13 hours. However, things happen that you can’t plan for, like a brand new broken chain in the first 4km which toss our race plan out the window. There were only two things we could do now. Fix the chain, and enjoy the adventure. 23 minutes later, we were eventually stone last and the entire race had pasted us by which was heart-breaking to say the least and forced us to push hard to catch up to the back-end riders.
We caught 1 or 2 strong bunches and use them as a recovery mechanism and to regain energy. The scenery was breath-taking to say the least and the overhanging cliffs in the Baviaans Valley seemed kissed by the sun, untouched and merely unreachable. We past many friendly locals along the route who seemed to understand the pains the we were enduring by the chants of “hou beene hou” (hold legs hold).
The check-points were well organised, appropriately stocked with food and were place at the right distances. The sosaties and sausages at check-point 3 were remarkable and the wholesome soup and bread at check-point 4 was just want we all needed after the Mother of All Climbs (MAC). Climbing this monster is a challenge in its own, but at the end of the day, it’s an achievement whether you walk up a few paces or whether you sprint up.
We approached the never-end in the dark, (which I felt was a blessing, because you couldn’t actually see how far you still had to climb, and boy oh boy, is it a long climb) and felt that we were in another area/climate altogether. It was pitch dark and there were no teams behind us. We all stopped for a second, switch off our light and looked up at the stars. The sky looked like a disco ball, breath-taking.
The next few km’s were tough, but we knew that the end was in sight. Jeffrey’s Bay had some rain the previous day and we knew that the route next to the railway line would be wet and slippery, which was even tougher on our bodies that were tired, cold, dirty and very hungry in anticipation for the complimentary Spur burger and Darling Brewery beer.
We were happy to end the race in a time of 14:49 and felt and unbelievable sense of accomplishment and pride. The team dynamic (4-mixed. 3 men and me) worked well by respecting each others strengths and weaknesses and working through the tough sections together. I’ll definitely be back next year……
Finished 12th in category
Being our 1st Transbaviaans as a team, communication was very important.
The strategy and nutrition for an ultra marathon is quite different to that of a multi day stage race. Although our team strategy differed on the day, we managed our expectations based on our strength and weaknesses.
Partnership is very important. You need to be able to read your partner's body language and to be able to communicate openly. Being a mixed team, means as a women you generally ride harder than riding in a ladies team. For this reason communication is vital. Róan is a great partner both on and off the bike. I love the dynamics of our team and being able to experience all these incredible races with him.
Transbaviaans is a well organized event with incredible scenery. The Eastern Cape hospitality is something you need to experience, especially the roosterkoek!
Our training could have been better, but due to illness and family commitments, we were not able to get in the hours of training required for this type of ultra marathon race and I could definitely feel my lack of endurance towards the end.
Our strategy was to skip check point #1 at 50kms, then to stop at each check point thereafter to fill bottles and refuel, with a change of kit at the top of Bergplaas. It's important as a team to know who is responsible to do what. Don't waste time faffing at check points.
Nutrition is crucial. You need to ensure that you drink and eat enough to sustain your energy levels.
We started with Enduren bars and droewors, and added a ham and cheese roll over the first 6hrs, switching to Race Food, FastBars and FarBars, together with Woolies soft gummies for the last stretch.
One of our main highlights of the event was definitely descending Bergplaas before dark. The views were incredible.
The condition of the road was a lot better than previous years and we were fortunate enough to have good weather, a cold, but sunny start and a gentle cross wind. The Fangs have since been paved, which made it a lot easier to ride and MAC has been "patched up" making for a more pleasant climb. Neverending climb....that was still the same, it went on for days
My tips for anyone planning to do this event;
- Invest in a good coach. Jaco Ferreira.
- Invest is a good dietician to help with your nutrition, on and off the bike. Sarlene Zwarts.
- Find a group of friends to cycle with. Longer training rides can become very lonely when riding by yourself.
- Be sure to choose the right partner. This is crucial.
- Choose good fitting kit. A pair of good quality bibshorts is NB NB. I love Ciovita.
- Ensure you have a good support team. Albert and Ilze we so supportive and made our quick check point stops easy and fun. They were amazing!
- Plan your trip well in advance. If driving down, allow for enough stops, hydrate and stretch well. Plan to arrive at least a day before. Be sure to visit some of the little towns in the area. We sta
yed at the Karoo Theatrical Hotel in Steytlerville which was a real treat. Mark and Jacques went out of there was to accommodate us and we enjoyed having extra time to experience the Karoo hospitality.
- Positive self talk, stay in the present moment, don't worry about what's to come.
Break it down into shorter sections. We rode from check point to check point.
- Most importantly, ENJOY.
We loved the entire experience and plan to go back in two years and race it as a four man family team.
Thanks Lesleigh and Heather for sharing your stories.
For more information on the race visit : https://www.transbaviaans.co.za/#about