Mountain bike racing under lockdown

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A new event format could be the solution for riders who want to race during the pandemic. (Photo: MediaticStudios)
A new event format could be the solution for riders who want to race during the pandemic. (Photo: MediaticStudios)
  • The Pursuit Challenge is a unique way of racing under Covid-19 lockdown regulations.
  • Organisers set the course and the date and riders submit their time via Strava.
  • Time trialling on a mountain bike is tougher than you think.

Lockdown has decimated the once stacked South African racing calendar. Although some events have featured limited numbers and spread out fields, many riders are still not comfortable with showing up on the start line of a traditional race format, bunched. 

During lockdown Francois Theron devised an interesting idea and the Pursuit Challenge was born, serving as an example of how mountain bike racing can happen, during the pandemic lockdown. 

Organisers set the course and date, challengers decide their own starting time, pace and strategy within a four-day window. Times are then submitted via Strava and winners are awarded.

With entries limited to 300 participants across a four-day window the field was thin enough that Covid-19 social distancing protocols were easily achieved.

The Pursuit Challenge had no drafting rule, with participants expected to keep a distance of 7m from the rider in front. If you caught a slower rider on the course, there was 15-second overtaking opportunity to make a pass them. 

Upon completion, riders upload their times to a leaderboard via Strava, which is then vetted by organisers and hosted on their website. Prize money and prizes are awarded in each winner’s nominated category, couriered to the winners once all participants have posted a time.

Best of all if you are not happy with your time, there is the option of giving it another go. 

The Pursuit Challenge served professional riders too, with their own time frame within the four-day window. In the end Philip Buys and Kim Le Court set the fastest times in their respective categories.

The Pursuit Challenge is a unique way of racing under Covid-19 lockdown regulations. (Photo: MediaticStudios)

Much tougher than you think 

Pursuit challenge #3 was held at the popular Buffelsdrift Trail Park. The organisers set out a 45km route that comprised some of the best sections. 

Starting off with the infamous Ockies climb, it was tough going from the word go, with your heart rate quickly near maximum. This early effort was rewarded with a long run down Supertube with its flowing bermed corners before joining the flatter Nguni route along the canals, which is made up of jeep track and a couple of single track segments for good measure.

Riding an event like this was tougher than I thought it would be. In essence, you are racing a 45km mountain bike time trial. For a mid-pack rider like myself, that means 02:15.00 of going as hard as you can. 

The Pursuit Challenge is a great way to test yourself and see what your form is like after months of indoor trainer sessions and lockdown rides. Time trialling is a big mental game, especially over longer periods because you have no idea of how you are doing against the competition until you cross the finish line. 

Remaining motivated to keep pushing at your maximum, is the best chance of a good result. As American cycling legend Greg Lamond said, “It never gets easier, you just get faster”.

The Pursuit Challenge is a great way of getting your racing fix in our current situation and I think its popularity will see this form of racing remain as part of our new normal.

Keep an eye on the Pursuit Challenge website as they have plans to roll this series out across the country this year. 

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