I’m not sure if it was the organisers’ prescience or sheer good luck, but I don’t think I’ve ever done an event that’s quite as on-brand as the Dirty South Gravel Race.
It took place in the Southern Cape – easy enough to be brand-aligned there. But I’m not sure even organisers Archie and Jeremy were anticipating just how filthy the Dirty South was going to be.
And that’s the gravel ride vibe, right? Brands don’t market their gravel bikes with images of dappled country lanes, perfectly graded lattes, and shiny, smiling cycliste.
No. It’s all about gritty folk wearing monochromatic lycra and grim expressions, riding bikes that can take on anything from changing surface conditions to biblical weather. This is why Dirty South was pretty much the perfect gravel race.
The basic structure was a point-to-point format from Stillbaai through to Stanford, broken up into three stages: Stillbaai to Witsands (86km); Witsands to Arniston (87km) and finally Arniston to Stanford (83km).
And it was a race, but not in the usual sense. The winner wasn’t the person who crossed the line first – rather, it was all about timed Strava sections on each day. That meant you could chill for most of the ride and then gun it when you hit the timed sector, gaining points for your position on each of those sectors.
And talking of being chilled, this would be an excellent time to talk about the weather and the delight it took in making sure the Dirty South Gravel was what it says on the tin. It was uncanny.
Driving through to Stilbaai on Thursday afternoon, the weather was positively warm and balmy, but it was drizzling softly by the start at Stillbaai harbour, on Friday morning.
This was pretty much the pattern for the next three days, save for an apocalyptic storm on the second day, accompanied by a vicious headwind for all of its 86km. Put it this way, it was an excellent test for all the expensive rain gear being carried in bespoke gravel bike bags.
Life’s all about balance, right? Archie and Jeremy know this. Ride hard. Live easy.
The waterpoints were carefully chosen places of refuge serving vetkoek, boerie rolls, warm soup and hotdogs. There was also a selection of Cadence Nutrition drinks, bars and gels (and a blood-warming shot tequila by special request), but the nightly lodgings were hotels rather than tents.