In the enormous Western Cape mountains of Wellington, just short of 300 ambitious riders saddled up to take on the Imbuko Big 5 MTB Challenge on Saturday. Conditions were cool in the morning with minimal wind, a welcome contrast to the previous year’s gale-force conditions, looking to heat up into the mid-20s celsius later in the day.
Set shortly before the ABSA Cape Epic in the calendar to give riders a litmus test for how they will size up to its infamously arduous stages, the Imbuko Big 5 means business when it comes to the physicality and technicality of the course. Riders ascend and descend 3020m over the 75km course and often on unforgiving terrain. Traction and smooth lines are hard-earned on the climbs and there is no time to rest on the brilliantly crafted but relentlessly technical singletrack descents! All aspects of a well-rounded mountain biker are put to the test at this race.
As may be assumed by the name, the vertical gain is made up from 5 big climbs. Haweqwa, Seven Peaks, Obiekwa, Groenberg, and Patatskloof. Climbing terrain was made up of a mix of jeep track and single track while all descending, apart from the Patatskloof gravel roads, was done on the top-class single tracks of the area. Many riders participated in the event purely for the incredible descending trails.
Coming into Saturday’s race the women’s entry list was looking potent. Mariske Strauss (Liv South Africa) and Yolande De Villiers (The Coopetto) looked to be the favourites in the women’s race but Danielle Strydom, Mari Rabie and Cathy Colyn were also eager for a podium tussle.
Last year it was Candice Lill who rode off the front of their competitors on the first climb and held the lead all the way to victory but we were in for a much more exciting tussle in 2022. Mariske opened up a gap over the chasing group of Yolande, Danielle, Mari and Cathy. Yolande would start to put time into the other 3 ladies and held a close gap of just over a minute to Mariske who had to keep the intensity up to avoid slipping into Yolande’s grip.
“I actually caught myself glancing back a few times” said Strauss, aware of Yolande’s close proximity, even spotting the South African marathon champion close behind on a few of the more open sections of the course. Mariske managed to keep her focus forward, going as hard as she could manage, and it paid off in the end with a gap of nearly 2 minutes to Yolande. Danielle Strydom battled the big mountains of the Western Cape and the other ladies to secure 3rd ahead of Cathy Colyn while Mari crossed the line in 5th.
Women’s Top 5
1st - Mariske Strauss (04:33:33)
2nd - Yolande De Villiers (+1:53)
3rd - Danielle Strydom (+14:28)
4th - Cathy Colyn (+23:16)
5th - Marie Rabie (+24:29)
If you want to test your metal as a mountain biker, the Imbuko Big 5 stands as one of the ultimate tests of strength, endurance and technical bike handling skills in the country. Keep an eye out for it in the 2023 calendar if you are up for the challenge!
Visit the event website https://imbukobigfivemtbchallenge.co.za