Every rider who has attempted the Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, knows exactly how tough it is. It manages to roll all of cycling’s cliches into one. “It never gets easier, you just get faster” rings momentarily true, except nobody gets much faster. “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them,” certainly captures the essence of racing through the Attakwaskloof, while many have discovered that “crashing is part of cycling as crying is part of love.”
What Le Mond, Hemingway and Museeuw knew to be true the Hell of the South epitomises. In fact, the only famous cycling quote which participants in the South African season opener cannot identify with is Danny MacAskill’s: “if you do something right the first time, then it’s not hard enough.” The Scottish trials rider may be able to navigate razor-sharp ridgelines, balancing precariously on the edge of a hundred-meter-high cliff, riding this is another matter entirely.
When the race was conceived, in 2006, mountain biking was in a very different space in South Africa. The vast majority of the field in the inaugural edition, in January 2007, rode on hard-tail 26ers, full suspension bikes were still very inefficient. As mountain bike technology improved one would have thought the race would have become easier.
That is not the case, however. Kevin Evans’ winning time for the 2007 race was 5 hours, 10 minutes and 3 seconds. This compared to the 2023 times would have been good enough for sixth, splitting Arno du Toit and Keagan Bontekoning. “When 29ers started to really gain momentum we thought we might have to make the route tougher,” Henco Rademeyer of Dryland Event Management confessed. “But the times never dropped significantly. In fact, 2023 was one of the slower years in recent times, as the gravel roads after the Attakwaskloof were quite eroded after heavy rains in December.”
“It’s amazing how the race never got any easier,” Rademeyer reflected. “Bikes, nutrition and training have all improved so much in the last 17 years. But the Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, remains extreme. It’s an honest test of any mountain biker. It was conceived as a race to help riders prepare for the Cape Epic. While it stands alone, as I believe the premier one-day MTB race in the country, it still aids people in their Epic prep. If you can complete the Hell of the South you know you’re on track. No single day in the Cape Epic will be as tough as the day you have out on the bike here.”
It is also one of those events which riders swear off on the finish line. Then a few days later they start to reconsider. By the time entries open most have forgotten how much they suffered and are keen to relive the experience once more. The Ratel Club, for riders who have completed five or more editions, is 475 individuals strong. There are also 56 riders who have ridden it ten times or more and 3 men have completed every staging of the event.
Why anyone would do this to themselves is difficult to determine at first. Upon closer reflection the answer is obvious. “Never stop just because you feel defeated. The journey to the other side is attainable only after great suffering,” wrote Santosh Kalwar.
What the race has taught riders over the years one can only speculate about. Yet it has certainly enabled and encouraged suffering. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. recontextualised do seem to fit a bike race. “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
Perhaps it is what each rider takes, for themselves, from the suffering the race inflicts. It makes them better and stronger, brings them closer to their full potential. Athletically certainly, but emotionally too. There are few opportunities to inflict extreme experiences like that upon oneself in modern life. Especially in a safe environment where medics are never far away and regular water points provide the hydration and nutrition required to survive.
Logically entering the 2024 Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen, is not a great idea. But logic be damned. Growth is illogical. “Buy the ticket, take the ride … and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well … maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion…”
Hunter S Thompson may have preferred motorcycles to bicycles. He would have approved of the self-flagellation however. So, sign up. Commit to the training. Prepare for a challenging day out. And ride the eighteenth Hell of the South. You will not think it wise while riding; but later, upon careful reflection, you will realise all you gained from the experience…
2024 Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen
|Race Date:||20 January 2024|
|Entry Fee:||R1 750 (Early Bird Entry Feel, until 31 October 2023|
|Start Venue:||Chandelier Game Lodge, Oudtshoorn|
|Finish Venue:||Pine Creek Resort, Great Brak River|
|Route Stats:||121 kilometres with 2 900 meters of climbing|
|Facebook:||Momentum Medical Scheme Attakwas Extreme, presented by Biogen|