Race Recap: Ngwenya MTB Challenge 2017Stryder
On the 8th of July 2017 Ngwenya Glass held their 7th annual Mountain Bike Challenge, with some of the best MTB trails in Swaziland! Logico Unlimited was privileged to get great feedback from this years first place finisher and defending men’s national MTB Marathon Champion, Max Knox.
“I was privileged enough to ride in the Engen Ngwenya Glass mountain bike race in Swaziland. I have been coming to the annual event for the past three years, even though it has often clashed with our major local races in South Africa. The first year I competed I really enjoyed the route. Everything was amazing. From the country side to the people, not only those involved in the event, but all the little villages you pass through, using their foot paths as wonderful trail networks, to the awesome atmosphere at the race village. It is really an amazing experience and one I look forward to eagerly every year.
This year was no different, every year the event is evolving. The goody bags the riders receive are amazing with quality handmade glass products to take home. Something so unique and different. The course has also evolved. Initially we stuck mainly to jeep tracks. However, as the years have passed and the local cyclists who enjoy riding have really bought into the event, they have worked hard at producing some of the finest single track you can imagine. The course is littered with amazing trails, ranging from cattle paths, foot paths and your more traditional handmade single trails in the pine forests bordering South Africa. The terrain is really diverse and to experience it all in one go makes the event magical and a must do race for any cycling enthusiast.
I have an absolute blast every year taking in everything the event has to offer. It’s such a great weekend away not only for me, but also for my wife and daughter. It is so surprisingly close and easy to access for all South African mountain bike riders. A real hidden gem, which I can say if you have not done then you really have not lived a good day on your bike. This year the competition was quite a lot stiffer for me. However, I was determined to win the race for a third time! The course starts and initially undulates for 25 km through the countryside surrounding Ngwenya. Using a beautiful network of foot paths that flow through small gullies and tiny obstacles. This keeps the average speed high and to break away from any riders is quite difficult. However, great early morning fun on the bike and wonderful to warm up for what lies ahead.
The middle quarter of the race is where my strengths come into play, hilly sections in the remote pine forests above the RSA border. What was new this year was the amazing trail network developed on this mountain. There was never one boring section. You were continually going into small pine trails, climbing and descending and just generally having a blast and testing your limits as a cyclist. One completely forget about the climbing that was being done to get up onto the top of the mountain at roughly the 50 km. Finally after lots of smiles I arrived, however mindful to never keep the foot off the gas as young up and coming athlete, Declan Sidey was in close pursuit . He really put on a sterling performance for a young athlete and has the makings of a top professional in South Africa with the right guidance and support.
However, after reaching the top, I knew the last third of the race (my favorite!) no one would catch me. It’s basically all downhill. Using beautiful trails that keep on going endlessly all the way down off the mountain till you reach near the Ngwenya village. For a mountain biker like me the smile disappears and the desire to ride up again just for the 15-20 odd kilometers of paths and cattle tracks from the top of the mountain down, is high on my list of things to do. However, being professional, one must always focus on the job in hand and try get over the finish line as quick as possible. The last five kilometers I kept the pressure on as my gap was never very large, and often I could see Declan in second position chasing hard. There is one nasty surprise in the last 2 km of the race climbing the old train tracks before a small descent down into the race village.
Cresting the hill I knew I had the race in the bag. What a special feeling, especially as I had to work hard all day! I crossed the line tired but with a huge grin, thinking of all the amazing trails and beautiful areas we had covered during the race. I have no idea how the Ngwenya team is going to improve on what is really a world class event and course! I certainly can’t wait to return next year and I think so should you! Especially all those South African mountain bikers looking for something fun and new right on our door step.
Another immensely impressive thing that strikes one is the post-race atmosphere. There is no rushing off after the race to beat the traffic, or head home quickly. All the riders and their families spend the afternoon enjoying the lovely day after the race at the beautiful Ngwenya Glass factory on the lawn. Everyone makes use of the facilities, shopping, picnicking and socializing with fellow cyclists. I have had so much fun doing this and have met some amazing people at this race, particularly afterwards. To see people spend their afternoons at the race venue and not rush off is fantastic! That’s what cycling is all about – a great day out with the family.
Prize giving is always a blast with amazing trophies to be collected by winners, and this year I took home the big one for three years of hard work finishing first! I’m sure Gary can share a photo of his beloved floating trophy which will know proudly find a spot in my small trophy cabinet! Next time, I think Gary will think twice about challenging me to win three in a row, before allowing me to collect such an awesome trophy! It must be 20kg and is by far the most beautiful hand crafted glass trophy I have ever seen. I think even the formula one drivers might get a little jealous if they had to see it!
All in all, I was immensely happy and I think it was very important for me to win the race and build some much needed good morale going into the second half of the year. This year has been challenging with plenty of bad luck, and I can think of no better venue and true mountain bike race to turn my luck around and really push myself.
In South Africa at the moment, races are becoming easier and easier and less challenging. Average speeds of events are in excess of 27-28km an hour. That’s not mountain biking. It’s road racing. So to come to a proper mountain bike race again where the average speed is 23 and you’re working hard all day, focusing on trails and riding your bike over real mountain bike terrain is fantastic for me. My inspiration to get going into the second half of the year is renewed after having such a jol on the bike!
To Ngwenya glass and their team, thanks once again for the most magical event! I think if every race in Swaziland is as beautiful and fun as yours, I might have to consider moving! To those thinking of putting the event on your calendar, just do it! It’s what life memories are made of. I’m already looking forward to next year!
Thank you to the Ngwenya team for making my weekend not only possible, but also amazing as usual.”