Monsters incorporated ~ By Raymond Travers

Photo Credit:  Jetline Action Photo

Would a monster by any other name still be a monster?

A bit Shakespearean perhaps, but it is still a pretty good question. Particularly if asked about the difference between the 70 and 35 kilometre-versions of the FNB Magalies Monster MTB Classic.

Although the longer version has an additional 35 kilometre loop, with yet more mountains to conquer, the terrain is the same and the same 1500 metre “monster” is still tackled well before the 15 kilometre mark.

So do both distances qualify for the “monster” label?

Short answer – DEFINITELY!

Perhaps not for the “A”-batch racing snakes, who no matter what the terrain still seem to clock up 25 kilometre-per-hour (or more) average speeds. They don’t seem a bit phased about anything and, because of that, qualify for everyone’s respect.

But for just about everyone else and no matter what the experience- or skills-levels are, the Magalies Monster remains one of the toughest one day events available to any mountain biker. However, thanks to the good folk from Stillwater Sports, it remains one of the best organised mountain bike events with an amazing spirit in the race village.

While plodding along during my second “monster” in as many years, I noticed the same “sort” of cyclist doing the same things up the same hills.

The “mean dude” with trail shorts and zooty helmet slamming the hill with everything he’s got only to slip on a loose rock and walk. The fit and slim fitness fanatic grumbling about the trail blockages by the previously-mentioned (but secretly thanking them for the chance of a bit of a rest), the riders – like yours truly – who try their best to climb the hill but who have to “hike a bike” a bit and the serious self-proclaimed “professionals” who shout at everyone on the way up only to slam down in a heap at the point where the degree of difficulty exceeds their skill level.

And then, on the way down, one of the greatest advantages of being in “B”-batch of the second distance, you ride the downhill while catching glimpses of that particular downhill’s various “victims”. The thing is, many people place huge emphasis on climbing and train themselves into comas in their attempt to “conqueror the Monster”, but they don’t train for the downhill which is way steeper and more treacherous with its loose rocks and hectic drop-offs than the climb.

Not one to laugh at anyone’s misfortune (unless of course it’s really very funny), I did find myself smiling at the “A”-batch riders who fell foul (pardon the pun) of the Monster’s rather nasty downhill “tail”. The verges of both sides of the trail were littered with riders clutching knees, elbows and puncture kits.

Like our roadie brethren quickly find out in races like the Giro and the Tour de France, descending skills are just as, or even more, important than climbing skills. And if you don’t know how to handle a technical descent, then the Monster will bite you!

I did find the back wheel of a guy who descended very well indeed. Like I believe the best approach should be for “B”-batch riders, his descent opted for the controlled approach rather than the speed approach and both of us made it down the helter-skelter without even a footdab. Riders who passed us mostly fell or stopped before any particularly gnarly section whereas the two of us just kept going. I complemented him at the next water point and he seemed to agree that many cyclists try and do technical descents too quickly with disastrous consequences.

The rest of the ride went off swimmingly, until I nearly bonked. When Max Cluer announced that the route had changed from last year, I obviously wasn’t listening and didn’t leave much in the tank for the last 10 kilometres. Because shortly after the point where the 70 kilometre riders and 35 kilometre riders parted ways, we started climbing again and although the trail wasn’t nearly as hard or difficult as the Monster, it was a challenge.

I had to stop and take a breather.

After catching my breath and a gel, I got back on the bike and continued. The rest of the race was fun, particularly when Amy Beth McDougall went passed me with a posse of “agro” dudes trying to keep to her rear wheel.

One guy said to me: “Daardie meisie is op ‘n missie! Ek moet haar vang!”

He obviously had no idea who Amy Beth – the current Single Speed World Champion – is, so I told him:

“I’ll give you a thousand bucks if you catch her!”

Off he went.

I caught up to him later and said:

“I guess I don’t owe you a thousand bucks?”

He shook his head …

“Wie is daai meisie?”

“Stay for prize giving and see,” I answered and finished ahead of him, sprinting for the line with third place 70 kilometre woman rider Theresa Ralph. I can’t remember whether she let me win or the other way around but it is always good crossing the line with a friendly face.

And that is the other cool thing about riding the half distance of the Magalies Monster. If you start in the “B”-batch and keep up a reasonable speed, you finish with the top 50 riders of the full distance. And if you follow good trail protocol and ethics, they really don’t freak you out that much with their cries of “track please”. The really good riders, like the previously mentioned Amy Beth, will find a way around you anyway. If you’ve still got something in “the tank”, you can even grab onto their rear wheels and cruise in with them.

No matter what distance you rode, or how well you did, you get a medal and congratulate the rider next to you in the Rehidrate Zone, toasting the finish together with your paper cup and jelly baby! Because every rider with a medal at the finish has conquered the monster, overcome rocks, descents, single track, drop offs, gnarly surfaces and, of course the massive monster itself.

You see, the thing with the FNB Magalies Monster is that you need a fair share of all three cycling necessities: bike skill, fitness and strength. You need to have the skill or technique to know which line to take and how to get through the obstacles, the general fitness to survive all the way up and the strength to power yourself over those short but particularly gnarly things in your path. And this race, no matter which distance, tests all three of these attributes.

It’s not really surprising it is called a monster, no matter what distance is chosen. Because a monster remains a monster. So, ‘til next year, arrrgghhh you lil’ monster!

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