Tips from the pros on tackling Helshoogte at 65kms

There is a curveball in store for cyclists in the 2019 Medihelp Stellenbosch Cycle Tour – the final premier seeding event for the Cape Town Cycle Tour. In Val de Vie Estate, the event has found a spectacular new home, but that also means a slight change to the route. It now features the proverbial ‘sting-in-the-tail’, the iconic Helshoogte Pass.

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Photo credit: Sam Clark.


Helshoogte is the biggest climb on the 102km circular route and comes well after halfway, rather than at the start of the race. This will necessitate a slightly different riding strategy. We quizzed a few locals on how they would attack it.


“It is crucial to eat and drink enough in the first 65kms,” advises marathon-distance specialist Ariane Lüthi, a long-time Stellenbosch resident who does much of her training on the climb. She suggests cyclists start fueling after about an hour. “At the latest,” she says, “not after two hours, which is what a lot of people do because that’s when they start feeling hungry. Then it is usually too late.”


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Photo credit: Sam Clark.


As predominantly a mountain biker, she is also all-too aware of the benefits a rider can get from riding cleverly in a bunch. “Ride smart and draft as much as you can – while taking your turn at the front of course – to conserve as much energy as possible.”


Men’s elite racer Max Sullivan, who also trains on the pass almost daily with his team, Mad Macs presented by Häzz, echoed Lüthi’s sentiments.


“Ride smart and then be ready for the climb,” he says. According to Sullivan, whether a climb is at the start or the end of a race, it always helps knowing how long they are, both in distance and in time. “Strava has the pass set as a category three climb, although a European mountain goat would refer to it as a speed bump,” he jokes adding that the official Strava segment is 4.6km long at an average gradient of 5%, with the first 500m or so are at around 10%, whilst the rest of the climb meanders between a gentle 1 and 5 percent. “Gert Heyns, the South African XCM champ, has the fastest time at just under nine-and-a-half minutes, whilst the elite bunch is likely to go just over 10 minutes on a good day. Most riders will spend anywhere between 14 and 25 minutes getting up the climb,” he says.


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Photo credit: Sam Clark.


Sullivan advises riding the first steep section as steady as possible. “Keep a rhythm spinning through the pedals as the gradient is very consistent. Find that rhythm that you can hold for the first five minutes or so and stick to it, the rest of the climb will be a breeze once you've crested the first rise,” he says.


“From there on you can shift up into the big ring or down on the cassette, for the racing bunch this is where the speed picks up and the fun starts. There are a couple little ramps around some of the corners, so I suggest building up speed on the flatter sections and carry momentum whilst shifting up the gears as you hit the kickers.”


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Photo credit: Sam Clark.


Upon cresting Helshoogte, cyclist will be treated to a spectacular view of the Winelands and the Franschhoek Valley, followed by the pedal-free descent into Pniel, which will allow some recovery before tackling the last, fast 30kms to the finish.


“For the elite racers, the new route will change the game somewhat, with more fatigue and tactics at play, there's no telling how the race will unfold,” Sullivan says of the sharp end. “Personally, I expect fireworks and explosions on the climb, with a small group going clear to the line, it is close enough to the finish to have a crack and really give it some. The new venue, route and event date is a change for the good, I'm looking forward to lining up on the start line on Sunday and kicking 2019 off with a race to remember,” he says.


Pure Savage, Jan 14 2019 02:46

Here is a top tip from someone that had too many mince pies over xmas, try get a head start on the group before the climb, this way when the fireworks  go off you can roll over with the back markers. 60% of the time it works every time. 

Jetstar500, Jan 14 2019 03:19

Ok, let me know when we go before the climb.

Jewbacca, Jan 14 2019 04:36

Here is a top tip from someone that had too many mince pies over xmas, try get a head start on the group before the climb, this way when the fireworks  go off you can roll over with the back markers. 60% of the time it works every time. 

HAHAHAHA Does this move only work if you smell like a used diaper filled with Indian food? I've heard it's illegal in nine countries.......

J Wakefield, Jan 15 2019 08:32

Heres a tip:

Ride over it.

lechatnoir, Jan 15 2019 10:24

my legs see the hills before I do!!

Moridin, Jan 15 2019 12:04

I think the problem is the back markers that would have used up all their matches on the rollers back to Stellies and that nasty blip after Klapmuts. Their hammies and quads are gonna seize up on them on that first nasty part of the Helshoogte climb. Moi included in that select group.

Kom, Jan 15 2019 05:31

Take your time and latch onto the leaders of the chasing group - wont impact your time more than a couple of minute's according to the start times.


Doesnt help you burn your matches braking away from the group only to be caught out of breath half way up a 5km climb.

G e r h a r d Odendaal, Jan 16 2019 06:16

Give it horns on the climb