Starting at midnight on Friday, October 26, around 300 thrill-seeking mountain bikers will set out under the stars on the inaugural 170km Moon to Noon endurance race around Knysna.
In contrast to other long-distance events on the national calendar that finish in the dark, Moon to Noon turns the concept of night riding on its head, rolling on into the early hours of Saturday morning.
“It’s all about seeing that there’s a different way to ride these events,” says race organiser Patric Mosterd of Garden Route Events, who is also the mastermind behind the Rocky Mountain Garden Route 300 and RE-CM 200 three-dayers.
“It really levels the playing fields for pros and backmarkers alike, because from 12 to 5 o’clock they’ve all got to deal with the challenge of darkness. Usually the pros finish soon after sunset, leaving the rest to struggle all night with their lights.”
Mosterd says the midnight start also gives out-of-town cyclists the chance to get racing immediately and then have more recovery time to enjoy the sights of the Garden Route before starting their trip home. “Nobody sleeps the night before anyway!”
Riding under the stars presents some special challenges for riders, he says.
“It’s all about you, your bicycle and your thoughts. You have to focus on this little patch in front of you, with this big darkness all around and learn to trust yourself and your partner.”
Because of safety concerns, Mosterd says no solo riders will be allowed.
“There are bush pigs about and this is a leopard-friendly area. There’s also a big drop-off on the Uniondale Road, so you have to watch each other – it’s risky but that’s what makes it so exhilarating.”
The danger aspect also makes logistical arrangements interesting for organisers because the race is quite literally divided between dark and light, with a compulsory halfway stop at the foot of the Outeniqua Mountains.
“The first half of the route is marked with reflective tape and arrows. We’ve also got to stop the animals from eating our marshals,” chuckles Mosterd darkly.
“We go over the mountain at first light and it’s logistically quite difficult because no vehicles or even lead bikes can go over. So our whole infrastructure is split in two on either side.”
Medical support, with four-wheel drive vehicles and a helicopter on standby, is on hand to make sure all riders are kept safe, he says. “There will also be three waterpoints, five feeding stations and technical back-up along the route.
“We’re not enforcing cut-off times but we will make sure that nobody goes over the mountain in the dark and that the compulsory stop is enforced. Anyone who does will be asked to withdraw – it’s a safety issue.”
At 1 100 metres above sea level, riders will summit in a section of a hiking trail belonging to Garden Route National Park.
“There’s a part where we actually abseil the bikes down and riders need to climb down. On the other side, there’s a 10km downhill, so we want everyone to be fresh and make sure that their brakes are working.”
Mosterd says the route starts in the Rheenendal area just outside Knysna. “It goes through indigenous forest and then there’s a nice open road for about 10km so everybody will have a chance to find their positions.”
Serious racing is set to start with the descent into the well-known Hydro, which is part of the original Absa Cape Epic route, before making its way up to Buffelsnek through more forest.
“There’s a full moon that night, which turns the mountains into silhouettes and it’s incredibly beautiful. All the roads are white in the moonlight, so a light is almost unnecessary.”
Almost but not quite, says Mosterd, as front and back lights, as well as a cellphone, are compulsory items of kit.
“Once you hit the Uniondale road, you ride onto De Vlugt and then turn and go along a riverbed for 24km at the start of the Keurbooms River, before passing through the Kykoe and Noll settlements.”
Riders can check in with their loved ones at the compulsory stop at Louvain Guest Farm, which is also a spectator point. They can also wash bikes, lube chains and refuel with a Spur burger before disappearing over the mountain.
“On the other side, you’re back into typical Garden Route vegetation, with beautiful sea views and lots of river crossings.”
The old Seven Passes farm road takes participants all the way back to the race village.
“The whole race takes place in the farming community and the farmers have all been very supportive and excited about the concept.”
Mosterd says the race venue, Tottie’s Eatery, will be transformed into a country-style cycling village and everyone is welcome to camp there.
“We will charge a nominal fee and all proceeds go to our beneficiary, the Knysna Sports School, for the development of young local cyclists.”
Enter online at www.gardenrouteevents.co.za until September 7.
For regular updates, like the Garden Route Events Facebook page or follow @gardenroutelive on Twitter.
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