The Ladismith Cheese 7Weekspoort MTB Challenge is one of the Western Capes oldest and largest single day mountain biking events. Each year, for the last thirteen years, nearly one thousand riders descend on the small Klein Karoo town of Ladismith for a typically South African marathon mountain bike race. This years edition takes place this weekend, on Saturday the 30th of September.
For 2017 the event boasts a largely local field once more, with the majority of social and competitive riders hailing from the Southern Cape region. This is bolstered by the fact that the title sponsors, Ladismith Cheese, donate over two hundred entries to the local communities of Ladismith, Amalienstein and Zoar and sponsor the prize for the first Ladismith resident to cross the finish line of the main, 85 kilometre, race.
Heading up the Southern Cape locals challenge are two of South Africas top marathon specialists, Robyn de Groot and Yolande de Villiers. Both women have the Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen, firmly in their sights for mid-October so the Ladismith Cheese 7Weekspoort MTB Challenge will act as a welcome tune-up event.
De Groot has endured a season of mixed results by her own high standards, after placing second, to Annika Langvad, at the Momentum Health Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, in January she opted to race the Momentum Health Tankwa Trek, presented by Biogen, in the mixed category with her Ascendis Health teammate Gert Heyns. Three days of over-speed training and a victory there set her up well for the Absa Cape Epic, but a couple of crashes for her partner put pay to any chance of victory in the main goal of her season. Thereafter she successfully defended her South African marathon champions title and raced to a tenth place in the XCM World Championships in Singen, Germany. Following the World Championships De Groot has struggled with a back injury and bronchitis, but is now back to full fitness. So unlike many of her competitors, she should be relatively fresh for the final few months of the South African mountain biking season.
It will be her first outing at the Ladismith Cheese 7Weekspoort MTB Challenge, and De Groot had the following to say about the event: The 7weekspoort MTB will be my first race back in a while, after having to take some time off due to injury, so I am just happy to be get out and race again this coming weekend. Its part of a training block in preparation for the Cape Pioneer Trek which is in a few weeks time. Its also the first time I will be doing this event, so I look forward to riding through the scenic Seweweekspoort, Swartberg nature reserve and the Karoo.
While it is De Groots first outing De Villiers is the defending champion. An Oudtshoorn local and the wife of Dryland Event Managements route director, Henties de Villiers, she knows the route like the back of her hand. Even the change in finishing venue is unlikely to cause her much concern.
For 2017 the race finish has moved from Ladismith High School to the Shalom Academy, adding three kilometres to all the race distances. The route will enter town via the Hoeko Valley road, traverse the golf course to the west of Ladismith, skirt the Ladismith Cheese factory and cross Route 62 before finishing at the Shalom Academy.
For her part De Villiers is looking forward to the event. The Ladismith Cheese 7Weekspoort MTB Challenge is family orientated, has a scenic route through Seweweekspoort and a really festive finish line, with typical Karoo hospitality and treats, so there is a lot to love about it,” De Villiers said. The event also supports the local communities, not just through Ladismith Cheeses sponsored entries, but also by attracting so many people to the town; which has a huge financial impact. All the bed and breakfasts are fully booked and the restaurants are busier than at any other time in the year. Plus Ladismith High School raises money by catering and providing accommodation for riders in their hostel, and the post-race shuttle and car drive services bring in much needed funds too she concluded.
The Ladismith Cheese 7Weekspoort MTB Challenge takes place this Saturday, the 30th of September 2017, and though online entries are closed line entries will still be available at registration on Friday the 29th and on Saturday morning. The racing starts at 07:30 from the Lutheran church in Amalienstein and if you cannot take part yourself you can follow the action live on Twitter, @7WeeksMTB. There will also be post-race photos and highlight videos on Facebook, Ladismith Cheese 7Weekspoort MTB Challenge, and if you are taking part join the conversion by posting your photos to Instagram with the hashtag #7WeeksMTB.