Sappi Mankele MTB Challenge

The past Saturday I raced the Sappi Mankele MTB Challenge 65 km event. Mankele MTB Park is situated 30 km West of Nelspruit in the Sudwala Valley. The area is made up of lush bushveld mixed with high rise mountain ranges with typical forestry plantations common in this area.  It is one of the most beautiful areas in SA to host a mountain bike race.

The race started at 08:00 am which gave me enough time to travel from Pretoria at around 04:00 am. When arriving at the venue I did not expect almost a 1000 strong field of cyclist that would brave it and take part in the event. I was then sure there will be strong contenders for the overall win with such a big field of athletes taking part

Some of the contenders included local stars JP Jung (who is one of the best up and coming marathon cyclist in SA), Hennie Kriek (Local MTB legend) and Brand du Plessis the current sub vet World Marathon Champion in Mountain Biking  - also the best Duathlete South Africa has ever produced.

The start of the race was not ideal for me as I had no seeding position and had to start fairly far back from the front men. This meant I would have to work extra hard to get myself into contention and take some risk in doing so.

The route is best suited for strong climbers who can ride a bike technically well. As the 65 km route had1800 m of ascent and 19 km of single track. This suited me well and before long I was leading the race with Brand du Plisses and JP Jung. For most of the time it was fairly easy for me to ride with the two of them especially on the climbs and single track sections. The times I had to work hard were on the flatter sections of the course. Brands constant accelerations paid off and on one nasty climb at around the 50 km mark I all of a sudden ran out of steam. I lost all my power and went into cramping mode. I cramped so badly that I had to get 4 men to help me off my bike and bent my legs to stop my quads from going into a severe spasm.

The last 15 km was just survival. If the race was another 5 km long I would have finishes outside the top 20 men in my opinion. I luckily managed to hold my own on the down hills and slog through the pedaling phases. I lost to Brand 7 min in the last 15 km which shows you how much the cramps affected my performance.

Overall I was more than happy with my performance. I wanted a solid training race and push myself to the limit (something I have not done enough the last 2 years). The Scott RC Spark 900 performed second to none and I was clearly the most comfortable in the technical sections than the other two leading athletes.  I believe these events will strengthen me and prepare me to ride 4 – 5 min faster in Xterra events and help me regain my cycling prowess I lost in the last few years.  Those 4 – 5 min in the bike is going to make the world of difference in my Xterra career...
Brand du Plisses managed to win the race with JP Jung in second , Hennie Kriek in 3rd and Nohan van Tonder in 4th overall.

I loved every second of the race and wished I could do this every weekend if possible. These type of events and venue’s makes all the hard work and training worth it and the end of the day.

Well done to the Mankele MTB Park organizers for a fantastic event.

Safe Training,

Nico Sterk

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  • Sterk Span Coaching Academy specializes in tailor made training programs, coaching session and advice for triathlon, swimming, learn to swim for adults, cycling, running and related sports such as adventure racing. Our athlete base range from lifestyle orientated individuals to national level athletes who compete at the highest level possible. We also offer services and training sessions for weight loss and lifestyle management.