Mountainbike: Waterberg Encounter
With the event organisers passionate about providing as memorable an experience as possible, seasoned mountain biker Gertjie Harmse firmly believes the Liberty Waterberg Encounter is a race up there with the best. The three-day race near Bela-Bela in Limpopo starts on June 9 and Harmse, who won alongside teammate Devan Kruger last year, said he was ready and looking forward to defending his title.
The boutique event forms the Encounter Series alongside the Liberty Winelands Encounter, which took place in the Western Cape in April.
While acknowledging that it was difficult to compare races, Harmse, from Vanderbijlpark, said he did not think there were many events where you were treated as well as at Waterberg. “I believe the crew involved with the Waterberg Encounter have a passion for what they do and for the event,” he said.
“From registration to prize-giving, you have the feeling that everyone wants to help wherever they can to make your experience great.” Off the bike, Harmse said the food and accommodation were “five-star all the way”, while the race provided a good range of single and jeep tracks to test the riders.
“Then there are also a few open roads to help you recover,” he said. “Add that to the spectacular scenery and wildlife and it doesn’t get much better.” This year organisers ASG Events have introduced a number of changes, which Harmse believed would elevate the race a further notch.
One of the most significant introductions, he said, was a slight shortening of the stages, which will now see participants cover at total of 172km. “I believe the changes will have a positive effect on the event,” he said. “More single-track has been added, but even more important is that the distances will be shorter. “Last year we underestimated the route, especially on day one. Keeping this in mind, I think the organisers have made a good call to shorten the days a bit.”
The Liberty Waterberg Encounter, in partnership with STANLIB, gets under way at Sondela Nature Reserve and will now incorporate two nights at the up-market Elements Estate in Bela-Bela. A clover-leaf route has been designed for the second stage before the riders complete the race by riding back to Sondela on the final day. “I believe the new overnight venue at Elements is great and I’m really looking forward to it. When you cross the line they make you feel like you’re in a five-star holiday resort.”
Harmse said the race, which catered for many “mid-range” riders, occupied an important slot on the South African cycling calendar.
“In my opinion the mid-range riders are all of us not racing professionally and the shorter distances and relaxed vibe are ideal for this market. “Most riders can still finish early enough and enjoy everything on offer at these venues. “It’s a great winter getaway weekend to the African bushveld with excellent treatment at a really good price. And you get to ride your bike on some really nice mountain bike tracks.”
Harmse, himself, will be looking to do well again, this time in partnership with his brother, Louis. “Louis can be really strong so we will be racing competitively, as hard as we possibly can,” he said.