SA’s Toughest MTB Marathon Is Going Big In 2023

by | Feb 9, 2023 | Event News, Bike, Bike Events & Racing, Sports

The highly anticipated Imbuko Big Five MTB Challenge will take place on 18 February and will provide participants with the opportunity to take on some of the most scenic and iconic single tracks around Wellington, a town in the Western Cape with an evolving network of phenomenal mountain bike trails. It truly is a race that you have to enter to know what is it all about!

This notoriously gruelling climbing (and descending) challenge of 75km, features some 3000 metres of vertical gain and takes its name from five major climbs (the ‘Big Five’) of the Hawequa mountains surrounding Wellington.

“The Imbuko Big Five attracts two kinds of riders: Those who can climb and those who can descend!” commented Sarah Hill, 4th female finisher in 2021. “It’s one of the few events that actually showcases what true mountain biking is all about and that’s what makes it so exciting,” she added. See the highlights from 2022 here.

Stong Field Expected At Imbuko Big 5, Sa'S Toughest Mtb Marathon
A potent field of pros from South Africa and abroad will line up on Saturday the 18th, ready to lay it all down in the big mountains!

The event usually attracts a host of local and international elites as well as serious amateurs who are testing their legs and lungs ahead of the upcoming multi-day stage races, such as the Absa Cape Epic which has used sections of the Big Five course over its years. The Imbuko Big Five was designed to raise the bar of South African mountain biking by hosting a challenge of international standards and that is what you can expect in taking to the startline of this unique event.

Sa'S Toughest Mtb Marathon Is Going Big In 2023
The climbs feature a lot of single track but also forestry road sections that keep the racing sharp! The terrain is relentless though.

2023 also sees the exciting addition of a new section of world class singletrack, in partnership with the Canetsfontein Organic Wine & Fruit Estate. On peak three of the ‘Big Five’ is a 100% singletrack climb dubbed the “Cliffhanger” that will take the riders all the way up to 1000m above sea level! The trail then descends via expertly crafted switchbacks through a spectacular, narrow gulley.

Imbuko Big 5 Course Preview: The Cliffhanger

The start of the third climb takes riders across Bainskloof Pass and up the classic “Aap d’Huez” trail, down a short descent on’ Full Monty 3’, from where riders will climb to the summit up more newly built climbing singletrack before joining onto the new Cliffhanger trail when they leave the treeline, taking in 900 vertical metres from the base of the second descent to the summit of climb 3!

“I think this year’s edition of the Imbuko Big 5 is going to be hotly contested, probably the best field we have had to date,” said Marco Joubert of Team Imbuko {Type} DEV.  “I think everyone is on form right now, everyone is working hard and the level of competition in SA is really high for marathon racing so I’m expecting a really hard day on the bike!”

South Africa'S Toughest Mtb Marathon Take Place In Wellington Western Cape
The looming peaks of the Hawequa mountains mean business. Finding 3000m of elevation gain here isn’t too hard!

There will be an international presence from team Bulls with Urs Huber, Alban Lakata, Simon Schneller, and Axel Roudil-Cortinat joining the race on Saturday and turning the heat up a notch in the competition for sure! The strong Cape Epic teams know how to race hard in South Africa.

According to Joubert, he believes the racing effort is going to be difficult to balance. “The start will always be fast as we race up forest roads to get to the trails first. With a long descent from the first climb, positioning is quite crucial. It is hard to catch up to someone if they get away but not impossible. That said, you also need to pace yourself of course,” he said.

Sa'S Toughest Mtb Marathon Is Going Big In 2023
The freshly crafted single tracks of the Obiekwa mountain are going to knock the riders’ socks off! The local Imbuko {type}DEV team powered by Giant are expected to be fast on the descents. (c) Max Sullivan / Giant Bicycles

“We will be pushing at threshold at least on the climbs and then on the downhills just trying to recover but they can also be used as a point to attack. If you go over the climbs a little fresher and focused then you can easily close 30 seconds to a minute over someone that is trying to recover on the descents!”

You’ll be able to follow the racing live though our video updates on the @wildairsports Instagram Stories on 18 Feb.

Aside from the world class trails, the Imbuko Big Five MTB Challenge will once again feature a great race village at Imbuko Wines, in Wellington with delicious food available from the restaurant and of course their renowned wines to sip on.

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