2015 Race Report: PWC Zuurberg Trek

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Race SPECS: 200km, 4500m climbing, 8hr51min

Zuurberg Eastern Cape

2nd overall (2 stage wins)

 

DAY 1

No free pass on day one of the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek

Chris Wolhuter Writes

After a short flight into Port Elizabeth Airport, I was greeted by the friendly Unity in Africa team – the official race beneficiary of the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek.

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Andrew Hill (left) and Chris Wolhuter (right) claimed the second step of the podium at stage one of the 2015 PwC Great Zuurberg Trek. Photo: Full Stop Communications

I was escorted to our shuttle, which would take us to the race village at Zuurberg Mountain Village perched high atop the infamous Zuurberg Pass.

With the course markers already out, the level of nervousness among the riders rose as we had our first view of the climb that would confront us in the morning.

My partner for the race, Andrew Hill (TIB Insurance), unfortunately didn’t have as smooth a travel day as I did; delayed flights meant that he only arrived at the race village at 8.30pm.

After a hearty dinner and a good night’s rest we were on the start grid for the first stage. The views encountered from a spin the evening before meant that I knew we were in for a treat with the scenery – when we weren’t bombing it down the finely crafted single-track or red-lining it in the hurt box with blurry vision.

Kevin Evans and Pieter Seyffert laid down the law on the first steep climb, Monty’s, up to the first water point. Andrew and I crested the climb in second and started the chase before being joined by the Isostar youngsters Jurgens Uys and Jason Meaton on the descent. The group rolled well together but it wasn’t enough to close the gap.

A rougher section through a game farm brought rewards in terms of the game viewing, as we had a giraffe to animal-pace off for a few hundred metres. This was followed by a taste of the Hayterdale trails that await us later in the race.

And then there she lay, in all her might, Zuurberg Pass. We had closed the gap to Kevin and Pieter through Hayterdale and being just 25 seconds off them here, it was game on. They held us off and opened the gap to finish just over a minute ahead of us and win the stage with Isostar rounding out the podium in third.

The queen stage awaits tomorrow and I’m sure it will probably hurt a bit more than today. I’ll try to distract myself with the scenery when the opportunity allows.

DAY 2

PwC Great Zuurberg Trek queen stage throws curve ball

COETZEE GOUWS

On day two of the three-day PwC Great Zuurberg Trek, Chris Wolhuter and teammate Andrew Hill proved themselves kings of the queen stage. But the win came at a price – aching muscles and a few curve balls. Read more about Chris’s triumphs and tribulations on In the Bunch.

As it often is with three-day mountain bike races, the second stage is usually the queen stage. What does this mean? Well, it means you’re going to hurt; it’s often the hardest stage and day two of the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek was no exception.

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Chris Wolhuter and Andrew Hill took one back from overnight leaders Kevin Evans and Pieter Seyffert as they sprinted to the stage win on day two of the three-day PwC Great Zuurberg Trek near Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

With 80km of riding, 2 000m of ascending and the rumoured bumpy, grassy drags, it was going to be one of those days.

Andrew and I rode on the front up the first climb until it was just ourselves, Kevin and Pieter left. Up to the first waterpoint we encountered a number of steep rocky drags, each hurting a little more than the last.

The views from here on in were outstanding; although looking at them was evidently not an option as I hit a rock from not watching where I was riding, so from then on viewing the scenery was off the cards.

A steep technical descent brought us to the base of the next major climb up to the radio tower. Last year, from this point on the going had been exceptionally rough but thanks to some hard work by the course builders, along with a tailwind, this section wasn’t as taxing as before.

Mountain biking can and often does throw curve balls. With what we estimate to be a decent gap to the third team, a sort of truce is often reached on the more technical dangerous sections.

It’s worth backing off a bit in order to avoid rider injury or mechanicals with the compromise being a bit of time lost. Today however a curve ball that wasn’t even on the radar was thrown.

The lead motorbikes were passing us in the grassy section on the side of a road as we approached the final waterpoint. What we – and the lead moto – didn’t see was an old barbed wire fence, rolled up.

The lead bike unfortunately rode straight into it and crashed. With that the fence kicked up and got stuck in Andrew’s cassette and derailleur.

Fortunately no one was hurt and we managed to get the wire out fairly easily. Kudos here to Kevin and Pieter, who showed good sportsmanship in waiting for us at the next waterpoint.

The final technical descent dropped us back into the valley and to the base of the final climb. The queen stage had a sting in the tail waiting for us; the hiking wasn’t over yet as we had to dismount again in the final push to the top.

In the drag to the line Andrew and I managed to win the friendly sprint to take out the second stage. It was a sweet feeling to take the stage.

Super ballies Andrew Mclean and Bruce Diesel showed that the diesels kicked in during the long hard stage and rounded out the day’s podium.

With no time gap today, we go into the final stage still 1:15 off Kev and Pieter. Tomorrow we will enjoy the fine Hayterdale trails before one last drag up the Zuurberg Pass.

Wolhuter, Hill win stage two of Zuurberg Trek by a whisker

MAY 30, 2015 BY COETZEE GOUWS

Chris Wolhuter and Andrew Hill took one back from overall leaders Kevin Evans and Pieter Seyffert when they outsprinted them to win stage two of the three-day PwC Great Zuurberg Trek near Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

Wolhuter and Hill, riding for TIB Insurance, finished in 3:43:01 to hold the Biogen Volcan-Altech Autopage duo at bay by a single second and claim the 78km queen stage that took in remote portions of the Addo Elephant National Park.

Cycle Lab’s Andrew Mclean and Bruce Diesel finished third in 4:03:00 on the tough stage that featured almost 2 000m of climbing.

Evans and Seyffert retain their positions at the top of the leaderboard with an aggregate time of 6:23:29 and will take a 1:18 lead into the final day.

The young Isostar team of Jurgens Uys and Jason Meaton finished fourth in 4:03:25 to remain third in the general classification in 6:52:24.

The stage is now set for an interesting showdown on the fast-paced 50km final stage.

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Chris Wolhuter (left) and Andrew Hill (second from left) outsprint Kevin Evans and Pieter Seyffert (far right) to claim the second stage of the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek near Addo outside Port Elizabeth on Saturday. Photo: Full Stop Communications

While Wolhuter and Hill may have the technical advantage on the Hayterdale cross-country trails, the race could come down to the final climb up Zuurberg Pass, where Evans and Seyffert asserted their authority on day one.

“I think a minute’s enough to win this race if you don’t have any bad luck or mechanicals,” said Evans.

“Andrew and Chris were stronger today than yesterday, so our goal was just to ride with them, not lose time and defend our lead.”

The race started briskly as the riders descended into the valley from Camp Figtree towards Slagboom Dam, with the foursome going clear on the technical Monty’s Python climb just before the first waterpoint.

“Then we climbed up and out of the Addo Park grasslands, where I just sat at the front and rode a nice consistent pace,” said defending champion Hill.

On one of the recommended portage sections after the second waterpoint, the Isostar youngsters caught the leaders but the elastic snapped once more when the tempo was increased.

There were some anxious moments for the overall leaders when Evans’s chain kept dropping, forcing him and Seyffert to chase back several times on the northern ridge of the Zuurberg mountains.

“We then set a really strong pace through the third and fourth waterpoints along the Karoo Koppies section, with a tailwind behind us and a nice smooth track,” said Hill.

However, his turn for trouble came when a lead motorbike crashed in front of him, snagging a roll of farm fencing and his rear wheel in the process.

After extricating Hill from the barbed wire, the foursome paced together on For Pete’s Sake, the final sting-in-the-tail climb, before deciding the stage in a nail-biting finishing sprint.

DAY 3

Evans and Seyffert win Great Zuurberg Trek battle

MAY 31, 2015 BY COETZEE GOUWS

Kevin Evans sealed what could be one of the last wins of his professional career when he and teammate Pieter Seyffert claimed the overall victory in the second edition of the PwC Great Zuurberg Trek mountain bike race near Port Elizabeth on Sunday.

Evans and Seyffert (Biogen Volcan-Altech Autopage) were one second behind defending champion Andrew Hill and partner Chris Wolhuter (TIB Insurance) in the 50km final stage that finished at Zuurberg Mountain Village.

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The podium finishers in the PwC Great Zuurberg mountain bike race were (from left) third-placed Jason Meaton and Jurgens Uys, winners Pieter Seyffert and Kevin Evans, and runners-up Chris Wolhuter and Andrew Hill. The three-stage mountain bike race finished at Zuurberg Mountain Village near Port Elizabeth on Sunday. Photo: Full Stop Communications

 

The duo, who hail from Plettenberg Bay and Johannesburg respectively, clocked 2:26:52 to secure the title in 8:50:21.

Despite taking their second stage win, Hill and Wolhuter could not erase the deficit of more than a minute created by the overnight leaders on the opening day.

They retained their runner-up spot in the general classification throughout to finish in 8:51:38.

The rising Isostar pairing of Jurgens Uys and Jason Meaton rounded out the daily podium in 2:29:36 to remain third in the standings in 9:22:00.

Multiple South African marathon champion Evans said the win in the three-day Eastern Cape race was a special one for him.

“It’s possibly one of my last ones, so it’s nice to tick off the Zuurberg Trek as one of the races that I’ve won.”

Seyffert said it was an honour to race alongside Evans in his final season as a pro.

“And then to take the win just tops it off.”

Seyffert, who finished second with Hanco Kachelhoffer in the Old Mutual joBerg2c earlier this month, said he and Evans had been climbing well since taking the opening stage.

“So with our lead and knowing the pass was coming, we decided not to take any unnecessary risks on the descents today. Chris and Andrew pushed very hard on the technical single-track sections but we kept our cool and luckily had no mechanicals.”

The foursome rolled together with Meaton and Uys for most of the day. However, on the final climb, Evans and Seyffert upped the tempo to drop the youngsters.

Then it was left to the top two teams to tough it out, with Hill working hard on the front in the closing kilometres.

Turning into the finishing straight, Wolhuter took the more risky outside line but stayed upright to cross the line first, followed by Seyffert, his teammate Hill, and Evans.

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