Varsity Mountain Bike Challenge

The Varsity Mountain Bike (MTB) Challenge is a two-day race that will take place in Franschhoek from 1-2 October. There will be a total of 1 500 entrants that will take part in a battle between the University of Pretoria, Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town, North-West University, and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

The race is broken up into two categories: the respective teams competing against one another for the USSA event, and the open category, which is divided into students, the general public, and university alumni that take part in university colours. UP will be taking a team of three men and three women. The confirmed riders so far include Edwin O’Neil, William Mokgopo and Michelle Benson. They have been chosen based on their performance and times since the start of the second part of the season which began at the end of July. The race caters for cyclists and spectators, with two days of varsity festivities on the cards with music, a lunchtime ceremony, cheerleaders, mascots, and the varsity-themed race village.

Perdeby spoke to Jaques Horn, chairperson of TuksCycling, 2016 team manager, and the captain of the past two USSA road tours, about the upcoming race and how to train for it.


How have the UP cyclists been training?

The cyclists have been racing quite a lot. They have been doing two or three races over a two to three week basis. Leading up to the race, maybe two weeks before, they’ll tone it down a little bit and not do any hard races.


What advice would you give beginner cyclists attempting this race?

The race is about 52 km on the first day and 54 km the next, so just under 110 km in total. The distances aren’t super far. They specifically went out to make it a fun, themed race. There are some tough climbs, but it is not [impossible] for the general public. Eat properly, drink lots [of water], and make sure your bike is in good working order, so take it to a bike shop. You don’t want [to stop] half way through the first day because something broke or wasn’t taken care of properly. ]


What are UP’s chances of winning?

I really think we have a good chance of winning it. With the [women], I definitely think [Benson] is one of the strongest mountain biking [women] in the university circuit and also in the general racing scene around South Africa. I’d say that Maties [Stellenbosch University] is our greatest competition – they won the men’s side of the USSA national tour in Potchefstroom and they’ve also got some really good mountain bikers coming from that area, so they know the routes and have been training out there. The men’s race is always a tough one, but I really think we’ve got a really good chance with our men’s team. [Mokgopo] and [O’Neil] have got plenty of experience and they’ve been getting really good results for the past couple of months.


How have you seen TuksCycling grow?

TuksCycling has definitely gone from strength to strength. Just four years ago we were five or six cyclists at the club, and this year [we] will have competed at two tours. One was where we successfully defended the South African title.


What does it take to be a Tuks cyclist?

Basically we’re an open club. If you have a bicycle, if you like to ride, if you want to start riding then phone us or send us an email on the TuksSport website. We’ve been working with the club now and growing it, and I’m very excited for next year.


What defines UP’s professional rider students?

I like to say cycling is not a sport for these people, it’s a lifestyle. Everything is planned around cycling. Even though they study full time, cycling is their first priority. They’ll go for a ride in the morning, come to class in the afternoon and then they’ve got another training session. I think that defines the professionalism behind the cyclists, everything from meals to training. 


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