The UCI MTB XCO: an EPIC World Cup!

Nino and Sam, looking relatively calm and relaxed at this stage as there were still 3 laps to go at this exact moment.

What a day, a last-minute decision to travel down to Stellenbosch on Friday to watch the first UCI MTB World Cup on Saturday was more than worth it! The power and skill of these elite athletes is on another level and watching them gives you a whole new perspective on the level that the human body can perform at.

Sport, in general, has an amazing ability to bring people together and the crowds that turned up to watch the MTB World Cup, on the side of the Coetzenberg mountains, were amazing. Stellies may be a mountain biking mecca and there are definitely a lot of people who ride bicycles in the town, but it was great to see people who aren’t “traditional” bike riders make their way out onto the course to spectate and be part of a global spectacle.

You have to turn the clock back two decades since Stellies hosted a World Cup for one of the MTB disciplines, that’s a long time…too long in fact! With this in mind and while the hype from Saturday’s race is still fresh in everyone’s minds, it’s great to know that World Cup action will be back in SA for the 2019 UCI MTB XCO season. So, good news, if you missed out on Saturdays spectacle, you have another chance to watch the world’s best in our very own backyard (the dates are still yet to be confirmed). This event is going to do wonders for the growth of cycling in SA and our tourism, bringing cycling fanatics to the Western Cape!

So how do you watch a MTB XCO race? Well the short answer is that it’s not like a rugby or cricket match where you head to a stadium and are either seated in a private box or the grandstand. You do have the option of watching it on the big screen in the main area where the start/finish area is located, but there are only a few cameras out on the course and they can’t be everywhere at once. Thus, my mates and I opted to walk the course and watch the action live.

We made our way around the XCO course to watch different elements of the racing, because each part of the course offered a different perspective of the race and riders ability. The XCO course in Stellies received high praise from a number of big names on the pro MTB circuit, the riders loved the course (it had the right mix of everything a competitive XCO course needs) and it had been built in a way that was very spectator friendly. Three highlights for me personally were watching riders tackle the “Wine Barrel”, “Pick up sticks” and of course the final sprint finish! I am not going to write about these, but I suggest you check them out on YouTube or the highlights of the World Cup as they were phenomenal!

Nino, the current world champ is one hell of a bike rider. Here he is, giving the crowd a “tail whip” on the flow section of the course.

The men’s elite race was for the most part a two-horse race, with Nino Schurter (one of the most decorated MTB riders in history) and the young gun Sam Gaze giving it everything they had and taking the race down to the last 50 meters where Sam won the sprint. If you want the full results you can find them here.

With Social media being a big part of our lives in today’s digital age, I follow many of the top athletes and have watched them race countless times at MTB XCO cups in Europe. To watch them “in the flesh” was special and the race day vibe made the day. I can only imagine the adrenaline that the SA athletes who were racing must have felt. it will certainly stand out as career highlight for them regardless of the results.

Congrats and thanks to the Cape Epic team who were the main team behind the organization of the event and getting the event to SA. If you weren’t there this year, be sure not to miss next year’s spectacle. Let’s show the Europeans that we can also have crowds 10 rows deep. I know I will be there!

Oh and if you are racing the Cape Epic, good luck with the final touches in your preparation. Keep the rubber side down in the last few days leading up to the Prologue on Sunday.