When asked about MTB meccas, does Plettenberg Bay make the list? Well, it should.
Plett is a jewel of the Garden Route – great beaches, happy vibes in the town, year-round sunshine for the most part, and incredible mountain biking in every direction!
The Dr Evil Classic is one of the reasons Plett should be seen as an MTB mecca as it offers a challenging, honest, and spectacularly beautiful route that incorporates forest roads, grin-inducing singletrack, groan-inducing climbs, views, more views, laughs and memories that’ll last a lifetime. And that gets repeated for three days of racing.
Read on for the blow-by-blow experience of Luke Lockhart-Ross’ first Dr Evil Classic.
Stage 1 of the 2023 Dr Evil Classic – Schoolboy errors. Serious cramps. Snakes. Smiles.
Stage 1 of the 2023 Dr Evil Classic began at the historic Wittedrift High School, a small school nestled in the Wittedrift Valley that dates back to the early 1800s (long before even Dr Evil himself was around 😉) and set all riders off on a point-to-point stage that ended at the Cairnbrogie Dairy Farm.
The day promised 56(ish) kilometres and 1200(ish) metres of climbing (stats I rather overconfidently scoffed at). Mistake 1.
As we left Wittedrift High School to singing students, cheering fans, and paparazzi armed with cameras, the pace was sedate. In fact, it was sedate right up until the first climb of the day reared up and just kept going. I managed to hang onto the front group for roughly the first half of the climb, then looked down to see how my heart rate was reacting and got a bit of a shock (Z5) so I eased off the power (which did nothing to bring my HR back to an acceptable BPM rate) and linked up with two riders (later to be discovered as Cecil and Jaco Bosman – weapons). We worked well together up the climb, and across through the farmlands, all while keeping an eye on the lead group up ahead. Yes, the group was slowly riding out of eyesight, but on we pushed.
At 45 minutes I slurped down my first gel with the hope of not having done too much damage early on and I was feeling great. We charged into the Petrus Se Brand singletrack and were doing some low flying. So much so that I clipped my foot on a sniper root and launched myself off the trail and lawn darted myself onto the ground. Graham Tyrrell, who had caught up with our trio just before the singles gave me a quick “you ok?” as he rode in the N2 size gap between me and my bike; I groaned “uhu” jumped back up and chased them until I was red in the face and gasping for air (mistake 2 followed swiftly by mistake 3). I caught up and considered that a win (the first of the day? Perhaps).
From there I started to suffer. The undeniable tingle of cramps started crawling their way through my quads, threatening to render me useless if any power was pushed. But on I went and as tingles they remained. Up Coffee Pot. Under the N2 at Bracken Hill. Up the shockingly steep kickers in the forest. I was determined not to get dropped. Long story short. I got dropped. Hard.
My battleship was sunk. With my head hung low and legs feeling like jelly, I missed a left-hand turn, turned right, and found myself pedalling back towards the N2 (mistake 4). After about 1km of not seeing any signs or any friends I turned around and made my way back to where I’d come from, cursing Erik Klootwyk for his “shoddy” route marking. I ate my words very quickly when I saw the BRIGHT RED ARROW very clearly marking a left turn. Idiot.
In the distance, I could see Neill Clark and his partner, Tracey Campbell.
Renewed vigour suddenly surged through my fatigued body – how long it was set to last, I couldn’t tell (post-race I can tell you that it wasn’t very long). I chased and I chased, and I chased. I caught them (the start of mistake 5). Those tingles I mentioned earlier became full blown cramps (mistake 5). Man, I was starting to question if I had ever done an MTB race before as I was riding like a complete newbie… some heavy breathing and gel number 2 later and things started to feel ok again, even though Neill and Tracey had ridden off into the distance, with Neill laughing. At this point I was ready to call it and day, and walk back to the N2 to catch the first car back to Plett; but what’s an MTB race without some self-induced suffering? Without it you wouldn’t be this far into the story.
At this point we’d entered Harkerville, and I was back on familiar forest roads, lush singletracks, and the thought of home. After making up a few positions in the welcome shade of the forest, Harkerville was behind me and I was into MTO trails at the trail head of Rock ‘n Rolla – big berms, fast and fun turns, a few jumps, and nothing but stoke from start to finish.
No PRs were set on Rock ‘n Rolla today but I did catch back up to Neill and Tracey and I was met with, “Luke… where have you been bru? Hahahaha!”. That laughter brought me back to life, thanks Neill!
Shortly after the thrills of RnR, we were heading back uphill, though thankfully it was via a singletrack and in the shade of the pines. About halfway through the first turn, I looked down and thought to myself “that’s on odd coloured stick… that’s an odd coloured stick that’s MOVING!!!” In the outer corner of the turn was the biggest Puff Adder I have seen in ages, luckily, he was chilled and snake wrangler extraordinaire/MTB racer Neill (be sure to ask him about his 8kg bike next time you see him) chased the puffie off the trails and we were back in business, huffing and puffing our way upwards to the start of Ziggy’s Zig Zag. This trail is fast, fun and was the perfect way to wrap an eventful stage 1 before charging across the line at Cairnbrogie to the joyous tones of a young Jeff Ayliffe.
As I am sure you’ve picked up, today didn’t exactly go to plan. Did I have fun? Absolutely. Was it fun the entire time? Absolutely not. The route was amazing, the marking was great, the waterpoint staff were full of beans, and it was without doubt a huge success! Let’s see if I can redeem myself tomorrow.
Dr Evil Classic Stage 1 by the numbers:
Total KM (including a detour): 57.54
Total climbing: 1 245m
Number of crashes: 1
Number of gels consumed: 2
Number of mistakes: at least 5 that I can remember
Dr Evil Classic – 1
Luke Lockie – 0