The 2018 edition of the uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge saw riders brave some extreme weather conditions as they rode from Hillcrest to Hilltop Camp over 340km in aid of Project Rhino and anti-poaching efforts on Saturday.
With a 1am start from Hillcrest on Saturday morning, the event is seen as one of the most gruelling mountain bike rides in the province. However, the taxing weather made sections of the ride that much more difficult.
South African adventurer Sibusiso Vilane took part in the 250km event which was one of five events on offer, and the task he undertook became a lot more challenging than he had anticipated. Nevertheless, he understood the importance of what he was doing.
‘I felt that when I got through the first 40km I had maxed out,’ Vilane said. ‘It made me realise that they don’t call it the uBhejane Xtreme for nothing, and it threw absolutely everything it could at us.
‘The conditions made it so much more tough, and due to the big storm on Friday night there was a lot of mud on the roads. When it got tough I just reminded myself of why I’m doing this and the importance of the cause we are representing.
‘I just knew that the cause was way bigger than me, and it was the motivation that I needed to keep on going,’ he added. In more recent times, as the plight of the rhinos has risen to the forefront of conservation in South Africa, many more initiatives to support anti-poaching efforts have been launched. Vilane believes that the efforts of events such as the uBhejane Xtreme will the battle against rhino poaching being won.
‘These sorts of events not only raise funds to fight against rhino poaching, but they also grow awareness of the fight that we are currently in.
‘It’s our duty to make sure that we do all we can to win the fight against the rhino poachers and I genuinely believe that we are starting to turn the tide in the battle. ‘In my lifetime I hope that I can do all I can to make a difference in the current fight that we have on our hands,’ Vilane added.
Former Springbok and Cell C Sharks backline star Joe Pietersen took part in the 100km race. Pietersen is heavily involved in rhino conservation through his Nkombe Rhino campaign, just outside Hoedspruit in Limpopo province, where a dehorning programme is part of his initiative.
‘We eventually did 109km into Hilltop from Canelands in Empangeni and the last nine kilometres felt like another 109km,’Pietersen said. ‘We had some great conditions early with some overcast weather and a bit of a tailwind, but that quickly turned into a massive storm with thunder and lightning, but it was phenomenal.
‘It cooled things down a bit and then when we came into Hilltop we had some serious mist, but it was an incredible day.’
Pietersen is encouraged by the growing awareness that events like the uBhejane Xtreme creates and believes that the riding community and raising money go hand in hand.
‘We know that the problem is not going away and so we need to do everything we can to try and overcome it. The riding community in South Africa is massive and I can only see this event growing and becoming more influential. ‘It’s great to see how different organisations have come together for the same cause and it highlights a big issue that we face in South Africa,’ he added.
The riders were met at the entrance to Hluhluwe by legendary cycling commentary and the ‘Voice of Cycling’ Phil Liggett, who, with a group of riders, joined the field for the ceremonial ride of 35 kilometres to Hilltop camp. The event had a sombre touch to it, as black armbands were worn in remembrance for Liggett’s fellow cycling commentator Paul Sherwen, who passed away recently.
Photo: The brave riders of the full 340km route from Hillcrest to Hluhluwe pose at the bronze Rhino statue at the Centenary Centre of Hluhluwe/Umfolozi, by Anthoby Grote/Gameplan Media