22-year-old Wayne van der Walt gambled on his gear choice, racing a gravel bike at the 2023 36ONE MTB Challenge. Despite warnings against it and being the only rider in the elite group to be on a drop-bar bike he prevailed. Perhaps in fact because of his bike choice. Though doing so required a significant amount of skill as well as superb conditioning.

The weather, with intermittent drizzle falling on already muddy roads and cold temperatures played their part in determining the winners too, on Friday 12 and Saturday 13 May. In fact, the conditions were probably the toughest they have ever been for The Ultimate Race. This was accentuated by both defending champions being forced out with mechanicals. In hindsight Van der Walt’s 45mm tyres cleared mud better than the 2.1 inch, and wider, mountain bike tyres on his rivals’ bikes. He also reported being able to save energy in the early phases of the race, which paid dividends later. These factors certainly aided him in overcoming not only his rivals but also the rain, mud and icy temperatures.

The early kilometres, which looped north of Oudtshoorn before turning east and then south east towards Louvain, were raced into a brisk headwind. “Drikus Coetzee, set a really fast pace on the first climb and split the group into just six of us,” Van der Walt explained. That group, which included the leading Relay Team, RDX Powerbar’s Theuns van der Bank, was made up of Van der Walt, Coetzee, Freddie Visser, Gareth Jooste and Pieter Korkie.

The 36ONE MTB Challenge

Drikus Coetzee (leading) was forced to withdraw with a mechanical, leaving Wayne van der Walt (second) to contest for victory against Freddie Visser (third) and Gareth Jooste (fourth). Photo by Oakpics.com.

At Check Point 1, 100 kilometres into the 361 kilometre route, Korkie withdrew sighting the muddy conditions and the desire to spare his equipment further punishment. Shortly thereafter the defending champion and course record holder, Coetzee, was forced out by a broken crank. The Namibian’s mechanical threw the race wide open.

With Chris Cronje, RDX Powerbar’s second relay rider, forging ahead the top three solo racers were left to battle among themselves. “I spoke to Freddie [Visser] and said let’s work together,” Van der Walt continued. “But then he went to the front and rode 350 watts. I knew that was unsustainable and I let him go. Gareth [Jooste] and I then worked together to through the next Check Point and onto the Rooiberg Pass climb.”

On the Pass Visser faltered, as his bike light stopped working. This allowed Van der Walt and Jooste to regain parity. The recently graded northern road up the pass was in perfect condition, despite the rain. This allowed Van der Walt to establish a lead over Visser and Jooste, who endured a minor crash on the descent.

The 36ONE MTB Challenge

The descent of Rooiberg Pass was in near perfect condition, despite the rain. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Coming into the final check point, in Calitzdorp, Van de Walt held a 5 minute advantage over Visser and Jooste. Over the final 83 kilometres of the race, back to Oudtshoorn, he extended his advantage to an impressive 22 minutes and 53 seconds. His winning time was 15 hours, 37 minutes and 52 seconds. Jooste finished second, with Visser completing the podium.

In the women’s race Yolande de Villiers set the early pace, as she, Mariske Smith and Rebecca van Huyssteen settled into groups separated by 2 minutes each, on the roads to Louvain. Shortly after Check Point 1 de Villiers also suffered a race ending mechanical. In the mud a rock became lodged between her crank and the chainring, which broke her chain and damaged the frame of her bike.

The defending champion’s misfortune handed Smith the race lead, which she never relinquished. As the groups broke apart she and Van Huyssteen were isolated and largely ground their way through the second half of the race solo. Smith nonetheless continued to extend her advantage on the road, eventually winning by more than 2 hours.

The 36ONE MTB Challenge

Mariske Smith rode to a commanding victory in the women’s race. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Van Huyssteen secured second, but confessed that it had been an exceptionally challenging day out: “The cold was the toughest part. I think the cold was harder than the mud actually, and the mud was ridiculous. It was freezing!”

Smith and Van Huyssteen were joined on the solo women’s podium by Francis Visser. The four rider relay teams race was won by RDX Powerbar. Following Van der Bank and Cronje’s strong rides through legs one and two of the course Reese McDonald and Andreas Studer completed the victory for the squad, posting a time of 14 hours, 21 minutes and 16 seconds. The EuroSteel Ciovita team of Donovan Geldenhuys and Garth Ennion won the men’s team competition, while Swimmers with a Riding Problem’s Kirsty Thompson and Georgina Smith won the women’s race. “We’ve done a lot of stupid things over the years,” Thompson laughed on the finish line. “But this tumps everything. It was brutal out there!” The Mixed Team competition was won by Nicola Freitas and Willem Mouton.

There were also ten riders who completed their fifth 36ONE MTB Challenge. Fred van Zyl, who was also among the four finishers over the age of 70, completed his tenth edition. The fastest over 70 was Bles de Wet, ahead of Philip Erasmus. The men and women who finished their fifth were: Riaan Robbeson, Danie van Wyk, Bianca Cooper, Gerrie Mentz, Carlos Monteiro, James Hellawell, Michael Adonis, Elaine Beytell, Guillaume Nel and Chris Viljoen.

The 36ONE MTB Challenge

Jean Biermans, a former 36ONE MTB Challenge course record, was among the riders to take on the most difficult conditions the event has ever experienced in its 12-edition history. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Such is the difficulty of the full 36ONE course that the Half is considered easy by comparison. In reality it is anything but. Especially in 2023 when the addition of a 11 kilometre neutral zone to the 189 kilometre route took the effective distance to 200 kilometres. The course also took in the Rooiberg Pass to Calitzdorp, as well as the Kruisrivier Road along the foothills of the Swartberg Mountain range.

Warren Langridge was the first man across the line in the Half. Rethe Mostert took the women’s race victory. Mostert’s husband, Marius Mostert held off Brandon Willcocks in a sprint for second. While Channel du Chene and Roxanne Kemp completed the women’s podium places.

The 36ONE MTB Challenge

A muddy Warren Langridge posing for a winner’s photo after his Half success. Photo by Oakpics.com.

2023 36ONE MTB Challenge Results

Full | Solo Men:

  1. Wayne van der Walt (15:37:52)
  2. Gareth Jooste (16:00:45 | +22:53)
  3. Freddie Visser (16:09:58 | +32:06)

Full | Solo Women:

  1. Mariske Smith (19:32:27)
  2. Rebecca van Huyssteen (21:43:01 | +2:10:34)
  3. Francis Visser (23:07:15 | +3:34:48)

Rebecca van Huyssteen rode to second in the women’s race on a gravel bike and reported that the cold had been a far tougher challenge than the muddy course. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Full | Men’s Teams:

  1. EuroSteel Ciovita: Donovan Geldenhuys & Garth Ennion (17:35:19)
  2. #FlatOut!: Wynand Oosthuizen & Jannie Goosen (18:54:39 | +19:20)
  3. Endure SA: Marius van Schalkwyk & Michael Chumbley (21:28:47 | +2:53:28)

Full | Mixed Teams:

  1. #Attack!: Nicola Freitas & Willem Mouton (20:39:00)
  2. Arthur & Martha: Angelique Nel & Willie Jonker (26:36:55 | +5:57:54)
  3. Katie Kakiebos II: Jolene de Bruyn & Riaan Robbeson (26:38:22 | +5:59:21)

Flooded rivers, swollen by 48 hours of rain, made the final 83km leg, from Calitzdorp to Oudtshoorn, exceptionally muddy and wet. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Full | Women’s Teams:

  1. Swimmers with a Riding Problem: Kirsty Thompson & Georgina Smith (28:02:58)
  2. Ordinary Girls Doing Extraordinary Things: Francina Kloppers & Chrisna van Lille (31:21:42 | +3:18:44)
  3. N/A

Full | Men’s Relay Teams:

  1. RDX Powerbar: Chris Cronje, Theuns van der Bank, Andreas Studer, & Reece McDonald (14:21:16)
  2. Autorama: Philip de Klerk, Dusty Day, Eugene du Plessis & Gerhard van der Westhuizen (16:17:33 | +1:56:16)
  3. Hopefools: Haupt Herman, Dean Berry, Johann le Roux & Johan Ernst Higgs (22:13:18 | +7:52:01)

It rained virtually throughout Saturday, ensuring a wet ride for competitors of The Ultimate Race in 2023. Photo by Oakpics.com.

Half | Solo Men

  1. Warren Langridge (8:27:33)
  2. Marius Mostert (8:41:51 | +14:18)
  3. Brandon Willcocks (8:41:54 | +14:21)

Half | Solo Women:

  1. Rethe Mostert (8:13:42)
  2. Channel du Chene (9:09:50 | +56:44)
  3. Roxanne Kemp (10:23:21 | +1:23:30)

For the full results from the 2023 36ONE MTB Challenge click here, or visit www.the36one.co.za for more information.