Race Report: Isuzu Trucks PE Plett by team Squirtlube Ben Melt Swanepoel
As the name implies, the Isuzu Trucks PE Plett is run between Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay, with the route changing direction every year to keep things interesting. This is one of South Africa’s most beautiful regions with the warm Indian Ocean on the one side and the heavily forested Tsitsikamma mountains on the other, it makes a perfect setting for a mountain bike race.
After racing as Team Garmin (with Yolandi du Toit) in Europe during July and August, I was back in the dark blue colours of Squirtlube for the PE Plett race alongside Natal sugar cane farmer Derrin Smith. We raced as a team at last year’s Berg&Bush event so had an idea what we were getting ourselves into. Or so we thought until Mother Nature had her way with us...
Stunning spring weather bookended the 4 day event, but from the pre race briefing to crossing the final stage finish line the rain varied between fine mist and proper downpour making life miserable and muddy for everyone at the event. To their credit, everyone involved just viewed it as another challenge and got on with things!
Derrin had obviously been training more than farming lately and was in sublime form making ‘the farmer’ more than a handful out there. After a determined fight back from a nervous start, we finished 2nd on the opening 95km stage behind Cape Epic All Africa jersey winners Waylon Woolcock and Darren Lill from the USN Purefit team.
Stage 2 was extremely muddy at the start and as we headed inland the stage finale dried out, but got increasingly tough. After a super fast start I never really recovered and we seeded some time to USN Purefit and Imbuko Wines who were on a good day.
A rare bit of sunshine in the afternoon at our overnight stop on Soloko Game Farm recharged the batteries and by the start of a shortened stage 3 Team Squirtlube was ready for battle. Derrin flew up the first climb, going so fast that even Team USN Purefit was under pressure. This drew us clear from the rest of the field and we put our heads down and went for it with USN Purefit along for the ride as they protected their overall lead.
It was an interesting day and despite racing through intermittent showers, a howling wind, a crash for Derrin due to an errant farm wire fence, a loosening cleat for me and worn brake pads all around, we took the stage win with USN Purefit right behind us. The finish line was too slippery to put our hands in the air, but it felt good to be rewarded with a stage win after all our efforts.
The final stage was a quick dash to Crossways Farm Village just outside of PE. Rerouting due to mud saw us on district and some tar roads for half the stage before hostilities resumed in anger. Derrin was the first to accelerate but when USN Purefit attacked they drew Imbuko Wines with them leaving us to chase a few seconds behind. We caught the leading teams when they stopped at an intersection unsure which way to go. We let them re-establish their gap at the following King of the Mountains sprint and proceeded to race from there. We decided to take things steady and not risk at all rolling in 3rd on the stage and 3rd overall.
1. USN Purefit (Waylon Woolcock & Darren Lill)
2. Imbuko Wines (Chris Wolhuter & Dylan Rebello)
3. Squirtlube (Ben Melt Swanepoel & Derrin Dez Smith)
We were happy with our ride taking a stage win and ending up on the podium after a few character building days. Then it was on to unofficial stage 5 which is arguably the hardest and longest as we are still busy washing the mud off everything we had at the event. There is no doubt that had it not rained the race would have had a completely different complexion but the race’s hospitality, uniqueness and adaptability is sure to lure us back next year. Just don’t tell Mother Nature when we’re coming...
Until next time, happy trails!