When the 2024 B-Well Around the Pot, presented by SEESA, takes place on the 26th and 27th of July some of South Africa’s best gravel racers will be on the start line. With the fields split between the 100- and 200-Miler distances the national endurance and ultra-endurance gravel scene will converge on the Overberg town of Swellendam. The race is headlined by the former South African gravel champions, Matt Beers and his Toyota Specialized teammate, Cherise Willeit.

“The depth of the elite women’s field has grown in leaps and bounds and I would say gravel is the most competitive discipline in South Africa at the moment, as you see riders from all disciplines come together on the gravel start line,” Willeit said of gravel racing generally. “Gravel just also seems less intimidating than mountain biking, so it breaks down the barrier to entry for newbies but also, the route is away from main traffic so riders don’t have to be as fearful for motorists. There also seems to be a lull when it comes to racing, especially on the road calendar, in winter and the gravel events fill that gap perfectly.”

“I love the fact that gravel tests all your abilities – your technical strength, endurance and tactics,” Willeit continued. “It truly, in my opinion, is the discipline that measures all but in some sense doesn’t have the seriousness to it quite yet so you see competitors still laughing and making jokes during the event and really having fun.”

Matt Beers

Matt Beers will be lining up to defend his B-Well Around the Pot, presented by SEESA, title which he won in 2022. Photo by Angus Teeton.

Fun is certainly part of the appeal of the B-Well Around the Pot. With distances from 25 miles, or 42 kilometres, up to 200 miles, or 320 kilometres, the event has a distance for all types of gravel riders. Newcomers and younger riders can take on the short route and enjoy the beauty of the Bontebok National Park. The 60 Miler race takes on just under 100 kilometres of gravel roads and includes a crossing of the Breede River on the Malgas Pont.

The flagship 100 Miler distance will see the majority of the elite racers lining up to contest for the honour of being crowned champion of one of the country’s most prestigious gravel races. Due to the cancellation of the 2023 event, because of torrential rain, Beers is technically the reigning champion. “The roads are quite nice and smooth in the Overberg, in comparison to the chunky gravel of the US,” Beers said, reflecting on the differences between local and international gravel racing. “I think the rollers of the B-Well Around the Pot route are quite big compared to the US, or at least where I’ve raced. The closest comparison would be to racing in Colorado. It’s a hard route because you’re on the pedals all day. Not only are the rollers bigger to climb, but they’re not that steep going downhill so you must pedal them out too. That makes it really hard and produces a worthy winner.”

Beers’ teammate, Johan van Zyl will make his debut at the 2024 race. “It’s a bit of an unknown for me, I haven’t raced that much gravel yet,” the 22-year-old confessed. “I have a lot to learn, but there’s nobody better to learn from than Matt [Beers]. So, I’m pretty excited for the B-Well Around the Pot!”

Malgas Pont

The Malgas Pont (ferry) is an iconic feature of the 60-, 100- and 200-Miler routes. Though the old hand drawn ferry has been replaced with a motorised pontoon it remains a unique experience crossing the river aboard it rather than cycling over a bridge. Photo by Jacques Marais.

Beers and Van Zyl will be up against a formidable line-up of gravel racers, with road and mountain bike specialists converging on Swellendam to contest for the title. The women’s race, over the 100-Miler distance, is shaping up to be as fiercely contested for their teammate Willeit. Fellow former South African Champion, Hayley Preen should be Willeit’s fiercest competition, while Catherin Colyn and rising gravel talent Layla Schwellnus will be in contention for podium places with Elrika Harmzen-Pretorius and adventure racer Suzaan Hobson.

The elite women will start alongside the men, in one mass start, which produces a challenging and highly tactical racing environment. “If we start with the men, it’s basically ‘hak en k@k’ for as long as you can; without burning too many matches,” Willeit laughed. “Nonetheless, you have to choose wisely where you attack and to make it count when you do. It’s a long race and nutrition is vital, especially in the last 20 kilometres.”

Support from Food Lover’s Market, in terms of ample water point whole foods as well as sweet treats, and Enduren sports nutrition supplements will help the less competitive athletes through long days on the bike. The elite racers, like Willeit, are unlikely to stop for more than a top-up of their bottles, but further back in the field aid station aficionados will be eagerly anticipating well-stoked water points.

Around the Pot

Since the inaugural edition, in 2017, the number of gravel bikes in the field has grown exponentially and it seems unlikely that a rider on a mountain bike will be able to win the flagship 100 Miler distance again. Photo by Oakpics.com.

“Equipment choices will also be vital,” Willeit added. The racing has evolved significantly since the first edition in 2017. Long gone are the days of riders on mountain bikes being able to contest the finale alongside men or women on gravel bikes. “I’ll be riding my Specialized Diverge with Pathfinder 42 millimetre tyres,” Willeit confirmed. “I’m still playing around with tyre pressure a bit, but I expect I’ll race between 1.8 and 2 bar.”

200-Miler competitors will be even more acutely focused on their equipment choices, especially as they add the weight of lights and additional cold weather apparel to their set-ups. The favourite for the ultra-distance race is the Namibian endurance specialist, Drikus Coetzee. He will be up against Reece McDonald, Dean Hopf, and Grant Lottering; though Lottering is using the race as training for his upcoming Impossible Challenge. The women’s 200-Miler should be an even more closely contested affair as Tyla Setzkorn takes on Jessica Wilkinson, and Nicola Freitas.

Limited entries to the 2024 B-Well Around the Pot, presented by SEESA, are still available from the race website: www.aroundthepot.co.za. Online entries close on 23 July at midnight, thereafter late entries will be available, for all distances, at registration on the 26th of July. To follow the build-up to the event and to receive updates on the gravel road conditions along the route like the Around the Pot Facebook page and follow @around_the_pot on Instagram.

Around the Pot

Entries to all the B-Well Around the Pot distances are open, online, until the 23rd of July. Thereafter late entries will be available at registration, in Swellendam, on Friday 26 July. Photo by Jacques Marais.

2024 B-Well Around the Pot

Race Date 26 & 27 July 2024
Start/Finish Swellendam Showgrounds
25 Miler 42km with 500m of climbing
60 Miler 98km with 1 500m of climbing
100 Miler 160km with 2 350m of climbing
200 Miler 320km with 3 900m of climbing
Website www.aroundthepot.co.za
Facebook Around the Pot
Instagram @around_the_pot