Both stages are around 50 km long with approximately 1600m and 1400m of climbing on stages one and two respectively. Don’t let the distances fool you, though. There are few restful kilometres in those figures, but that’s a good thing. The U talks proudly of its single track density and so it should. Over the two (and a half) days riders are treated to absolute single track delight.
Episode 1 (Stage 1) is 49.8 kilometres long with 1567 meters of ascending. It features the 5 kilometre “let the brakes go” descent down “Livingstone & Stanley” followed immediately by the long climb back up the “Ossewa Pas”. That morning we emerged from our battered tents to an uncharacteristic gale force wind pummelling the race village. With parts of the route placing riders precariously on the mountainside, safety was the key concern. After a slight start time delay, some route checks and calls for additional medical support, it was announced that the “race” would go on as a neutral, untimed stage.
For the large majority of the field that didn’t change much. We were there to enjoy the trails and challenge ourselves. And so we did! “Hello Kitty”, “Dammit”, “Fairy Meadows”, “River Run” - just a handful of the single tracks of the day, all meticulously date stamped and marked by sturdy engraved wooden panels.
Prologue and Episode 1 Video Highlights
After a great day out on bikes, it was all about the beanbags and beers beside the dam. Sharing stories of stoke with fellow riders and high-fiving the trail builders. When it eventually came time to call it a night riders moseyed off to one of three accommodation options available at The U: standard tents, luxury tents, and deluxe tented cabins. The wind aside, each offered its own comforts and even at the entry-level it was comfortable with always clean ablution facilities and minimal shower queues.
Perhaps the only criticism to be had was that there just wasn’t enough food on the dinner tables to fully satisfy hungry bike riders. The restaurant-chef prepared food was delicious... most people just wanted a little bit more. For a young, growing event it’s no doubt a pain point that will be swiftly addressed, especially considering the sharp attention to detail paid to all aspects of the event.
Episode 2 (Stage 2) took riders on a 51 km route across the opposite side of the valley with 1418 meters of climbing. Thankfully on Sunday morning, we awoke to less wind and clear skies signalling a hot day ahead. After some dusty and loose trails on Episode 1, the day’s stage provided some contrast with its natural rocky trails threaded between giant boulders and dense fynbos.
Despite having experienced the magic of these trails at the same event in 2016, it’s almost impossible to comprehend how many of the trails were imagined, let alone crafted. Criss-crossing the hills above the race village, the trails weave audaciously over, through, between, and under rocks to create a near perfect flow on terrain which quite often shouldn’t be rideable.
One of the defining features of this event is the trails. For most riders, they are physically and technically challenging, but generous in their rewards. Between the frequent rushes of stoke and fragrances of Buchu, you can’t help but think “Who on earth was bold enough to build out here?”.
Episode 2 Video highlights