Champagne Sports Resort and nearby Bergville provide the focus for the opening weekend of the Drakensberg Extravaganza sport and cultural festival when the cycling and running events kick off the physical activities of the 11-day fiesta.
This week saw a tourism summit and a business fair opening the Extravaganza and then a jazz festival will take place on Friday. However, the action steps up a notch over the weekend with the mountain biking and trail running events on Saturday (November 23) at the Champagne Sports Resort and the cycling road race which starts and finishes in Bergville on Sunday (November24). A road running marathon also takes place in Bergville on Saturday.
The 84km cycling road race which takes riders around the Woodstock Dam, looks like providing the highlight of the weekend with all three young riders who dominated the action in 2018 back to fight it out for the title once again.
Last year Travis Stedman, taking part in his final race as an U17 junior and thus riding with restricted gears, stunned the field by breaking away with U23 runner up Bevan Reddy and third-placed U18 junior Cian Leveridge. The trio managed to build a massive six-minute lead over the chasers before Stedman outmanoeuvred his rivals at the final turn to claim a popular win as they sprinted back to the Bergville Sports Centre.
Stedman, who spent some time successfully racing in Ireland this year, is determined to defend his title, but Reddy and Leveridge, who has moved up to the U23 ranks this year, will both be keen to prevent a repeat of their 2018 disappointment. With the benefit of hindsight they may not give Stedman as much leeway this time out and the now U19 rider may find things a bit tougher.
These three will, however, need to be careful not to spend too much time watching each other which could allow somebody else to slip away, particular with the course changes making for an extremely fast finish which may make it difficult to close down a breakaway rider.
Other riders who could upstage their younger rivals include Callan Deacon and Llewellyn Patrick, while Dian Janjetich is a strong time trial rider and if he makes a break he may put the chasers under pressure. Strong veteran Werner Moolman, who finished fifth in 2018, could also spring a surprise, particularly if the race turns into a tactical battle.
In the women’s race, defending champion Frances Janse van Rensburg has not yet entered, but may still enter on the day. If so the recently crowned SA youth champion Â could face a strong challenge from young U17 Chloe Bateson and elite rider Alesia Ruthaven.
Road riders also have the option of a 40km and a 15km ride.
KZN Cycling’s Kelvin du Sart said this week the organisers have built on what they had learned from the 2018 event and he was confident this year’s race would be a step up.
“We have made a few subtle changes using what we learned last year and I believe the 84km route for this race now provides a nice mix of terrain for the riders,” said the Westville Cycle Club Chairman. “There is enough climbing to test the strength and fitness of the top riders, but not so much that it will make the race too tough for the average cyclist looking to have a safe and fun ride.”
Gavin Ryan, the well-known KZN trail builder who has been one of the driving forces behind the Howick trail network, has designed the off-road events for both cyclists and runners. The trail run offers runners a choice of 5km and 10km distances, while the mountain bikers can chose from 10km and 20km routes.
“None of the routes are too technical and difficult, but they should be fun and entertaining for all levels of riders,” said Ryan this week. “There are some magnificent trails already criss-crossing the Champagne Valley so all I have had to do is link them up. We have attempted to make the mountain biking event suitable for family participation so nothing is too hectic, but the faster you ride some sections the more technical it becomes.
“The fact the routes are already well-used means they are well bedded down and should provide riders with a smooth and entertaining ride.
“The route is predominantly in the forest area, using forest roads and about 40% of the longer route is single track. There is biggish climb in the 20km, but riders are well rewarded with some flowing trail after that.”
Registration for the mountain bike and trail run is at Champagne Sports on Saturday from 6.30am to 8am. The mountain bike and trail runs start at 8am.
Registration for the road race is at the Bergville Sports Stadium on Sunday from 5am to 6.30am. Road race riders can register on Saturday at Champagne Sports. The road race starts at 7am.
For more information and entry forms go to http://drakensbergextra.co.za/ or contact Michelle on 084 407 5566 or Kelvin on 082 446 9833.