Synopsis: Eselfontein is far more than just the staging ground for the 2020 Absa Cape Epic’s first marathon day. It is one of the original mountain biking hotspots in South Africa, where Deon Malherbe first constructed a purpose-built cycling singletrack 35 years ago.
Few places are as steeped in the history of the sport of mountain biking in South African as Eselfontein. 35 years ago, long before carbon 29ers and stage races were conceived, Deon Malherbe built the first section of singletrack on his family farm. It would be 25 years before the then 10-year-old’s creations were first used in the Absa Cape Epic. Now another decade later the race is returning to South Africa’s original mountain biking trail destination.
“We used to race cross-country here, back when I still raced cross-country” laughed Absa Cape Epic route director Hendrico Burger. “I remember some huge battles unfolding here as a junior. Having returned recently on a recce ride, I was excited to see that the trails are as challenging now as they were back then – a great sign for the racing, come March next year ” Christo Toua, Absa Cape Epic Brand Manager, added. Burger and Toua are separated in age by more than a decade but their love of mountain biking and fond memories of Eselfontein made returning to the farm for the 2020 route recce a special experience. For as long as there has been mountain biking in the Western Cape, Eselfontein has provided a testing ground.
“I started building singletracks on the farm when I was 10 years old, 35 years ago, just for the fun of riding singletrack before there were even real mountain bikes” Eselfontein owner Deon Malherbe recalled. “The trails here are raw and not particularly groomed. I try to use natural obstacles and gradients to work with momentum against gravity, in order to create trails that are sustainable and erosion free. The aim is to keep the carbon footprint as low as possible, so the trails are built by hand and weave among the area’s most sensitive flora, rather than cutting through it. I also try to build the trails so that they can be ridden in both directions, thus giving riders more options. But without doubling up and counting the same trail in clockwise and anticlockwise directions we have over 100 kilometres of singletrack on Eselfontein!”
During Stage 1 of the 2020 Absa Cape Epic, the farm will provide over 60 kilometres of trails for the race’s opening marathon day. The trails are by-in-large rocky and technical, making up for the day’s sub-100-kilometre distance with challenging terrain throughout. Singletracks like Death Drop, Dead Man Walking and the Eselfontein Dam Loop will test reflexes and fitness to riders’ the limits. The stage’s Land Rover Technical Terrain is also among the longest of the race, at 3 kilometres in length. Dropping from the highest point of the day, at the Dimension Data Hotspot atop the Deadman Walking climb, the Pipeline trail epitomises what Eselfontein is all about. Rocky trails, best ridden a full speed.
The farm also provides a central point from which to watch the racing action unfold. All three spectator points are within 150 metres of each other. Mountain biking fans can park at a central point and walk between the designated spectator points. After the final pass through the farm’s central area, the route returns to Ceres along those first trails that Malherbe built in the mid-80s. For riders eager to test-ride the Eselfontein trails ahead of the 2020 Absa Cape Epic, there is no better opportunity than that provided by the Tru-Cape Eselfontein MTB Festival. The three-day stage race takes in 145 kilometres of scintillating mountain biking and will provide Absa Cape Epic entrants with an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the unique challenge provided by the farm’s trails. For more information on the event, the farm and the trails, please visit www.eselfontein.co.za
Articles about the mtb trails in and around Eselfontein
VICIOUS, LUSCIOUS CERES SINGLE TRACK http://www.eselfontein.co.za/article-4
The EzelEnduro: Enduro on the next level https://www.bikehub.co.za/features/_/articles/ride-reports/the-ezelenduro-enduro-on-the-next-level-r3836?source=related