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IT’S A CRAZY RACE. BUT IT’S PERFECT FOR A FEW

Written by Sean Badenhorst – TREAD Media

It seems crazy to purposely race your bicycle on gravel roads from one place to another 260km away – in one go. The Ford Cullinan Ultra-Gravel, presented by King Price is just that occasion and it takes place on 20 April 2024. Tell your crazy friends because they’re the only ones that will appreciate the challenge, the grind, the beauty, the suffering. And the finisher medal…

There’s nothing quite like suffering on a bicycle for hours and hours to discover the real you. Manners, diplomacy and empathy are peeled away, layer by layer as you pedal your way deeper into a state of exhaustion. Questions are brief and answers seldom longer than one word. Swear words seem very appropriate. This is how you are likely to find yourself after 240km at the Cullinan Ultra-Gravel. With just 20km to go.

Just 20km to go, but… BUT it’s a 20km climb! Your lower back is aching. Your neck and shoulders are tight. Your gears aren’t shifting smoothly. You’re tired of drinking and eating sweet carbs. You’re covered in a sweat-caked layer of dust. Your one eye is stinging. Your hands are sore. You can feel chaffing in the crease between your butt cheek and hamstring –on the left side. Your sense of humour is in a coma and you’re feeling a little weak. Although you don’t acknowledge it at the time, this is your happy place.

This is when your teammates’ words of encouragement keep you pedalling. One pedal stroke at a time. A hand on your lower back gives you some comfort and a little more speed for half a minute. You’re half a minute closer to the finish. You’re not alone. Your teammates are sharing your load, partly physically, but mostly emotionally. The energy gel you sucked on a few minutes ago kicks in and you feel motivated. Now you’re the one on the up and your teammates are going into their lows. You can do it. We can do it.

Nothing tastes quite as good as the first sip of the first drink that you gulp down at the finish line of an ultra-endurance race. Time seems to stand still as you try and absorb what you have just done. You and your teammates raced your bicycles from Cullinan in Gauteng to Dunkeld Country Estate in Mpumalanga over a distance further than most three-day stage races. On less than perfect roads that have sections of sand, corrugations and ruts. You climbed a total of 3200 metres – all at an altitude above 960 metres.

You watched the sun rise – from your bicycle saddle. Because you’re not a podium contender, you watched it set again – from your bicycle saddle! Breathtaking moments in time where dark and light swap places. You realise this is the privilege of only a few. You’re tired, but also a bit wired. The euphoria of conquering something so damn formidable has you grinning broadly and brimming with pride. Your teammates are on your same plane. They’re sharing your pride and relief. They’re more than friends now. Much more. They’re witnesses to your suffering and your success. And you’re a witness to theirs…

The new-format Ford Cullinan Ultra-Gravel, presented by King Price is a team-only race (two, three or four-rider teams) and has a 500-rider limit. You must have decent lights (front and rear) and at least one of you needs a GPS to navigate. There are five premium level water points and four spectator points for your supporters. There’s a bag-drop service, a vehicle transfer service, medical support and chip timing. Top finishers get cash or vouchers, depending on category. Everyone that finishes gets a cooked meal and gets to feel good about being crazy.

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