This off-season seemed like it just flew by. For many of us in the Northern hemisphere, winter seems to be maintaining an icy grip, but it’s bright and sunny here in Stellenbosch, South Africa. This is the home of the legendary Cape Epic, and we are looking forward to a brand new World Cup season.
That said, this seemingly idyllic land is facing some very real and tough problems this year. Due to a population boom in Cape Town and the surrounding areas, a severe drought has caused reservoirs to start drying up. Most accommodations are asking guests to limit showers to two minutes, not dirty an excess amount of towels, and to be generally conscientious of one's personal water consumption. Teams have had to ship in huge quantities of water to keep hydrated in this heat. It would seem a poor choice to hold a race here, but this problem wasn't looming so large when the venue was chosen. Once the UCI, teams, and manufacturers commit to a race, they can't just walk away. There is a lot of money that goes into to getting a team to these more exotic locations, and the wheels are set into motion early.
So, here we are. Although our hotel pool is taking a hit as a pre-shower rinse station, the crew down here in Stellenbosch has done a great job putting together the track for round one of the XC World Cup. This course has an excellent mix of gnarly technical sections and hard power sections. It's going to be fast-paced racing considering the dry conditions. The course measures 4.4 kilometers with 180 meters of climbing. Race laps will likely be five for the Women and six for the men. Let's take a look at some of the important features of this course with Trek Factory Racing's Anton Cooper. You may notice a few changes on his ride, but rest assured that we will dive more into that and other exciting tech for this opening round.
Anton Cooper, New Zealand and Oceanic Champ and all around good dude.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the Start / Finish arch hadn't been completed, but this is Africa and the pace here is a bit slower. Probably has to do with the heat.
High and dry. An odd reminder of the lack of water here in Stellenbosch.
Water. It's in short supply here. Teams are having to order tons of it to get through the weekend.
Out of the arena and into the A loop.
The long road climb out of the arena and into the A loop.
Barely room for two at a time. Watch for snags here in the first couple laps.
This course features plenty of punchy little climbs with nice dusty rocks that provide just the right amount of slip to keep things interesting.
High speed bumps. Don't touch the brakes and you will skip right over them.
A line and B line signs are reversed here. It caused a bit of confusion on day one of practice.
Entry into Varsity Dropout. It's a rocky roll-in followed by a loose berm and into a proper drop.
The Varsity Dropout.
Rob Warner is in full approval of this track. Racing is going to be intense and there is a feeling that the Schurter vs. van der Poel race is going to be akin to a knife fight.
Cooper finds his flow in the Rock Garden. Several riders have commented on how well-constructed this section is compared to other, rather awkward man-made rock gardens.
Exit from the Rock Garden and over to the A loop. It's a relatively flat traverse with ample places to pass. Mathieu van der Poel will be putting the power down on these sections trying to shell everyone.
The Wine Barrel looks like a good bit of bike park fun.
The Wine Barrel: It's a beautiful bit of track, especially when filled with backlit dust. This should be worth paying attention to come Saturday.
Tech zones down in the field with mountains looming in the distance. Stellenbosch isn't too bad.
High speed drops into the arena, then through the tech/feed zones and out for another lap.
Loose over hardpack and one compression after the other. Pick Up Sticks is a rodeo ride on an XC bike.
Pick Up Sticks is a logjam with two lines. Both will have consequences when there are 20 or more racers funneling through it at a time.
Riders right on Pick Up Sticks is the fast line, but practicing both lines will be advantageous in the event of traffic.
Khoi Spirit runs like a pump track with small gaps, rollers, and buttery berms.
The Khoi Spirit section of the track offers flow and airtime, as well as some pretty impressive views. We will see you back here tomorrow to look at some of the bikes and new gadgets for the upcoming season!