As South Africa and the world get set for the opening leg of the 2018 UCI World Cup in Stellenbosch on March 10, the final touches have been put on a course that has been described as a world-class setting for world-class athletes, with the added bonus of South African flair.
The 4.3km course on the slopes of the famous Coetzenburg mountain trails attached to the Stellenbosch University has been designed to challenge the world’s best athletes and allow fans an up-close-and-personal view of the action. With names such as “Puff Adder”, “Varsity Drop Out”, “Wine Barrel” and “Howzit”, course designer, Nick Floros, and builder, Corrie Muller, have ensured the first cross country race of the season will give the competitors a very African welcome to the season.
Alan Hatherly, the South African under-23 star who took silver in the UCI World Championships in Cairns in September, has ridden the course numerous times and is looking forward to taking his 2017 form into his first World Cup in his home country. “It’s a World Cup track, and it lives up to that with brutal climbs and challenging technical descents,” said Hathlerly. “The course flow stays quite close to the centre hub, which will really allow the spectators to enjoy every moment of the action. It’s going to be even tougher in March with the summer heat and dusty conditions but I couldn’t be any more excited to get out there and race.”
Cross country racing is extremely spectator friendly, with riders completing several laps in races that last from 90 minutes to almost two hours. This allows fans to stay in touch with every second of the action as the likes of five-time World Champion Nino Schurter, the Swiss superstar who sees Stellenbosch as his second home, seeks to defend the World Cup title he won in 2017. Schurter dominated 2017, winning every one of the six legs of the World Cup, and topping his season off with the World Champs win in Cairns, Australia.
His fellow Swiss and Stellenbosch resident, Christoph Sauser, five-time winner of the Absa Cape Epic and former World Cup winner, praised the Floros-Mulder creation. Floros designed the course for the 2016 Rio Olympics, while Muller, a local dentist by profession, has a reputation as a top trail builder in the region.
“The Epic World Cup course layout is great, and very spectator friendly…which is exactly what you want,” said Sauser. “The technical sections such as Wine Barrel, the Rock Garden and Pickup Sticks are super cool features which make the Stellenbosch course unique.”
The course will have 180m of climbing per lap with the technical sections; from the steep, switch-back climb of the Puff Adder from the second lap onwards, the tricky drop-out of the Varsity Dropout, the deep gully of the Wine Barrel, the Howzit, a two-foot drop-off on the apex of a descending corner, Khoi Spirit descent and the delicate skills needed for Pickup Sticks, showing off the talents of the world’s best riders. For South Africa’s top women rider, Mariske Strauss, the Stellenbosch World Cup will be a return to her old stomping grounds.
“It’s going to be so special to race next to my old faculty at Coetzenburg, and bring the world of XCO racing to the local community,” said Strauss. “It is a top-class course for top-class athletes. We must give massive thanks to the Absa Cape Epic team and Stellenbosch University for making the South African riders dream come true.
“The Wine barrel is amazing. It’s nice and steep and looks way more intense than it actually is but that’s what we need. It’s super impressive for the spectators to watch, and we as riders can still race it.”
The venue and course at Coetzenberg offers spectators a variety of options when it comes to viewing the days racing, whether it is on the course, the grandstands on the finish line or with an ice cold frosty in the chill zone. The event is a perfect day out for the whole family, and children have a host of activities they can participate in a safe and secure environment.