Racers ready for Crater Cruise

Approximately 2023,000,009 years ago, a meteorite hit the Free State.

Now, in 2012, something else is heading towards the rural farmland along the Vaal River in the Free State - with a potentially higher impact than the meteorite that hit this once peaceful, now World Heritage site. This time, you will not be looking up to the skies in anticipation of a meteor shower, but rather notice the arising of a shower of power and endurance approaching from the wheels of thousands of mountain bikes, creating a horizon of dust.

On October 13-14, more than 2000 mountain bikers will embark on an adventure through the mountainous rim of the Vredefort Crater in the MTN Ride Crater Cruise. This is the last race in the MTN National XCM Series and will comprise of several different distances (i.e. Saturday's 23km Dirt Flirt and 106km marathon, and Sunday's 13km Dirt Flirt and 56km half marathon).

The MTN Ride Crater Cruise is one of South Africa's most prestigious mountain bike festivals. Every second weekend of October, mountain bikers from across the continent flock to Parys, Free State, to compete for the mountain bike marathon title, i.e. King and Queen of the Crater. Not only is the ride itself an unforgettable experience, but the surroundings and historic scenery that come along with this adventure. The beauty of the Vredefort Dome World Heritage Site along the Vaal River makes for indulging in the environment as well as the friendliness and hospitality of the rural community.

The Petit Paris venue, home of the event, is specially equipped to host the annual Crater Cruise weekend. The venue features a 3,500 square metres 'Louvre'; an exhibition hall in which all Crater Cruise events finish, the Eiffel tower; a miniature tower that weighs 2 tons and reaches 12 m into the sky (where all the Spur Petit Cruise Kids rides will start), and the Arc de Triomphe; that will serve as the finish line to all the respective events. The Place de la Concorde is a fountain that will drown the groans of the tired and serve as a cool down pool, and the Obelisk is a 15m high monument listing all previous winners of the Crater Cruise.

Amongst the bushveld vegetation along the Vaal River, the main event, the 106km route, is tough and requires a high level of fitness. Considered an ultra marathon, this rocky climb on Eben Esbach's farm, is a real test of character. According to Tim Fair, route planner from Advendurance, the organising company, the overall route is not too technical for all the respective races, although fairly technical at high speeds, which guarantees a very tactical race from the riders. The final challenge of this marathon will be the three to five kilometres of generally corrugated gravel road at the 80km mark, and the last sting in the tail, is the little climb over the rock plates, called Sorry-berg.

It starts in Carl Preller avenue, with the first 8km tar road being relatively flat. Continuing on a rural dirt road with three pieces of jeep and single track cutting though the Koedoeslaagte and USN farmland, followed by 10km of district road past Venterskroon. The first real climb is up Suikerbossie with a concrete jeep-track leading onto the Suikerbos Nature reserve. This path will lead riders through farmland and the Espach's game farm. From the winding jeep-tracks of the game reserve, riders join onto the winding dirt road that leads to the half-way mark at Schoemansdrift. 800 m from Schoemansdrif riders will leave the district road. For the next 25km, riders will deal with jeep-track and mainly singletrack along the river with a few technical sections, like rock gardens, sandy spots and short steep climbs.

From the swim spot water station at Hakuna Matata riders will be challenged with a partly corrugated dirt road and a few longish drags. At the next water point, the route leaves all the ‘nice’ roads and continues on farm tracks. The last 12 km, beyond the final water point, is partly on the side of a railroad following onto the single track trough the blue gum forest until Petit Paris is reached. When reaching Petit Paris, riders will cross a bridge to enter the Champs Élyseés up to the Arc de Triomphe and into the Ride Arena.

The other races include the 56km Nissan Ride Crater Cruise on Sunday, and the respective Dirt Flirts - BuyCycle 23 km Dirt Flirt #1 and USN 13 km Dirt Flirt #2. By entering for the ultra and half marathons, riders are automatically entered in the Dirt Flirt races.

The half marathon's route is generally an undulated route that requires a fair level of fitness. The final challenge will also be the three to rive kilometres of generally corrugated gravel road at the 35km mark. The main climb, Sorry-berg, will also be one of the main challenges along this route. This 56 km half marathon has six water stations and a swim spot. The final 3km singletrack through the blue gum forest is considered a highlight along the course.

The first Dirt Flirt will take place on Saturday and will be a new route that includes a fair number of moderately steep climbs. The second Dirt Flirt will take place on Sunday this time with a 13km newly designed route.

To make a crater 300km wide, the meteorite must have been about 10km across (as big as a mountain) and travelling at more than 10km per second (36 000 km/h).

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