South African mountain bikers can look forward to the country’s first ever multi-stage racing series, the 2016 Liberty Encounter Series, which was launched at Rhebokskloof Wine Estate near Paarl on Saturday.
The inaugural series, which is presented by ASG and MTB Adventures, will kick off with the existing three-day Winelands Encounter in the Western Cape from April 15, followed by the newly added Waterberg Encounter in the Limpopo Province from June 10.
Speaking at the launch, series coordinator Wynand de Villiers said organisers were thrilled to introduce the concept to the national racing scene.
“Multi-stage races have proliferated over the past five years, with almost 50 offerings countrywide today. Our objective with this series is to create a trusted franchise.”
De Villiers said this would mean that riders could expect a certain level of offering when they entered an Encounter Series event.
“You can bank on the same product and the same service levels wherever you are and hence don’t run the risk of being disappointed. This is very important for stage races in particular, which are expensive exercises.”
He said Encounter events would afford mountain bikers with a passion for stage racing the experience of a lifetime with VIP treatment and five-star hospitality.
“Following the success of the Winelands Encounter, we are producing something very special in the Waterberg as well, emulating the first event as far as route diversity and off-the-bike spoils are concerned.”
Rebecca Eliot, managing director of Liberty Value Added Services, said Liberty was proud to be involved as the presenting sponsor of the Encounter Series.
“Our involvement provides us with a platform for financial advisers to build relationships with their customers as well as for us to promote our ProTouch Cycling Club, which entitles members to access free and discounted race entries, discounts on products and services, and special invites to rides, tours and packages, and Italian-made cycling kit.”
De Villiers said the series had originally started out as two separate ideas for races, with the title sponsor eventually providing the missing puzzle piece.
“Moving to Paarl two years ago, I quickly started thinking about the idea of a race route between Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl.
“The Cape Winelands is the most beautiful part of the country and I believed that riders would have the time of their lives if we could link up something special in a three-day format between these towns.”
Having presented the Sondela MTB Classic in the Waterberg for the past four years, De Villiers said he had also been trying to get a multi-stage offering up and running for some time.
“In 2016 it will finally become a reality.”
The race, which takes place near Bela-Bela, takes riders between the upmarket bush lodges of Sondela and Zebula.
He said the dearth of inland stage races in June meant that the Waterberg event would provide the ideal reason for Gauteng and Limpopo-based riders to keep their wheels turning during winter.
“Those riders who take part in both events will be rewarded for their loyalty with discounted entries and prizes for completing the series.”
He said plans were in place to add further events in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State over the next couple of seasons.
“For now we’re happy to activate the first two and concentrate on doing our best to present world-class events and then investigate routes in other provinces and work with Liberty to achieve their goals for the series.”
Riders who have already signed up for the Winelands event will have a four-day preferential entry window for the Waterberg race from December 7. They will also receive a 10 per cent discount on their entry fee.
ProTouch Cycling members are entitled to free entries on a first-come, first-served basis.
The field for the inaugural Limpopo race will be limited to 100 teams.