Imvelo is an annual mountain bike race set in the beautiful Mlilwane Game Reserve. It is as scenic as it is challenging, with wildlife obstacles, multiple water crossings, climbs up and over rocky boulders necessitating carrying of the bike, and long climbs. The 65km route even had a segment through a pitch-black tunnel – the lucky cyclists knew to bring a torch.
For this reason, Imvelo is also one of Swaziland’s biggest events and, by far, its most competitive cycling event. It attracts mountain bikers from all over South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana. Each year they cap it at 600 entries, and this year it sold out in three days. Thanks to my friends at Inyatsi, I managed to secure a precious entry.
Imvelo 2012 also happened to be my first ever mountain bike race, a baptism by fire. Last year, I placed a very respectable 19th in the 35km route, and this year my aim was to beat it.
My preparation consisted of something like this:
- Contract a cold one month before the race, with a chesty, barky cough that persists for two solid weeks.
- Spend every weekend away so that you miss out on the training rides.
- Work late nights to the point of exhaustion, and to prevent you riding to work (because you can’t ride in the dark here).
- Pull a muscle in your back three days before the race.
On the plus side, I did have some advantages over last year:
- Actual experience doing a mountain bike race, including experience on this track.
- Better equipped with the bare essentials, namely drinking water and gloves.
- Much, much, much warmer weather (a balmy 28oC) and a later start enabling a decent night’s sleep.
So I bet you’re all wondering: how did I go? Other than my camelbak (water pouch) bursting open and giving me a refreshing bath 4km into the ride, and a strong wind causing me to swallow several kilos of mouth-drying dust, I actually thought I went quite well. I was more assertive when it came to the big drops and “danger zones”, and managed to cycle almost the entire way up the lengthy ascent. Plus I didn’t have any unintentional detours like last year, and I knew that once I got over the top of the mountain, it was a flat / downhill 5km to the finish line, which I sprinted to overtake a number of people who peaked too early.
Was it enough to beat 19th place?
I placed 6th! Out of more than 50 women! Furthermore, I came 4th in my age group, and I think I may even have been the first “Swazi” woman to cross the 35km finish line, being beaten only by South Africans. Needless to say, I was stoked. I had wobbly legs and was out of breath, but stoked, and still with enough energy reserves to do some crazy fist pumps. The morning was topped off nicely by free tickets to a VIP lunch in appreciation for Gone Rural contributing a prize to the event. Then yesterday, I also found out I won a prize: you guessed it, the Gone Rural basket. Clearly, it was meant to be.