Prudential PE Plett: The best of both worlds
Prudential clients receive a preferential entry fee rate to the 2020 PE Plett. Contact us for more info.
Between luxury tents and tricky single-tracks, live music and technical ravines, complementary wine and unforgiving headwinds, the Prudential PE Plett has everything a world-class mountain bike stage race could hope to offer. We discover why the event is becoming a highlight of the global MTB calendar.
You’ll notice something at the end of each of the four days of the Prudential PE Plett mountain bike stage race. As you wait at the finish line, watching the riders rolling in, tired and dirty, you’ll see that most of them are smiling. Each of them – the solos and the two-person teams – have just ended a hard day in the saddle, with all the aches and pains and rashes that come with it, yet they all seem very happy to be there.
That could be for any number of reasons. For the international riders, it could be because the route’s coastal scenery is just so indescribably beautiful. For the locals, it could be the satisfaction that comes from riding across a part of South Africa that is almost entirely off-limits to anybody else. For the pros, it could be because the race has UCI status, which means that they can score points on the international racing rankings. For the weekend warriors, it could be… Well, maybe they’re just relieved that they’ve finished the day’s racing.
It’s a tough event, make no mistake. “This race is right up there with the best of them,” says Mike Glover of race organisers Red Cherry. “It’s a good four days in the saddle, so it’s great training for the Cape Epic, which is held six weeks later.”
Like its bigger counterpart, the Prudential PE Plett runs through some of South Africa’s most beautiful – and most exclusive – terrain. As Glover traces the race route, you start to get a sense of just how beautiful that terrain really is. “The route alternates every year,” he says, “In 2019 we ran from Port Elizabeth to Plettenberg Bay, so in 2020 we’ll do that in reverse. The 2020 race will start at The Crags at Plett’s Kurland Polo Fields, heading straight into South African National Parks, down a single track to Salt River, and then climbing up through Groot Rivier Pass into Nature’s Valley on more single track. We then go into Bloukrans Pass, which is the elephant migration trail, all the way into MTO Forest and SANParks until we get to Storms River and Tsitsikamma. We end at the Adventure Village, where a lot of the riders will go zip-lining in the afternoon.”
And that’s just Day One. Day Two leads through the MTO Forest to Robbehoek and Regyne Protea Farms, one of the biggest Protea farms in the southern hemisphere. It then heads up into the Tsitsikamma Mountains, following contour lines until the finishing point at the Suiderland dairy farm. “Suiderland is about 20 km west of Humansdorp, and it’s very close to the N2 highway so accessibility is great,” Glover says. “There we set up a village of 200 orange tents, with mattresses, shower structures, chill zones and free beer and wine. There’s also general entertainment, and a luxury tent set-up for the riders who want raised beds and bedside lamps.”
Glover continues to trace his fingers across the virtual route map. “On Day Three we head back from Suiderland through the dairy farms to Churchill Dam Conservancy,” he says. “Nobody else is allowed to ride in the area. It’s only us, and it’s closed for the rest of the year. Then it’s up, over the top into the mountains, and on through various farms to Zuurbron. This has been our farm village for the past five years, and we’re set up among orange orchards.” The final stage runs through the Gamtoos River Valley into Longmore Forest, with its myriad of single-tracks made up of three river trails. “The whole area is just under 1,000 hectares of single-track, and we run all the way to a massive downhill finish, down an ox wagon trail, at Crossways farm village, which is about 20 km outside of Port Elizabeth,” says Glover.
What Glover has just described is the race’s Tough One route. A shorter route – the Lite One – removes some of the bigger climbs and more technical riding, running about 10 to 15 km shorter every day. “The Lite One isn’t always that light,” warns Glover. “But we want people to taste the route and see what it’s like, and then migrate the next year to the Tough One. That’s been the case for about 80% of our riders.”
In total, the two four-stage routes cover 326 km and 267 km on The Tough One and The Lite One respectively, running through 56 private farms, and into forestry and conservancy areas that are inaccessible without special permits and concessions. “We even ride on a portion of the Otter Trail,” Glover explains. “It’s closed territory for most of the way.”
That sense of exclusivity runs throughout the event. The Prudential PE Plett is a boutique race, limited to 200 riders. Optional extras like physiotherapists, biokineticists, sports massage therapists, airport transfers, bike washing and servicing, and luxury tents (yes, luxury tents!) only add to the feeling that this is more than just a mountain biking race. “The general sense is that it’s an incredible social event,” Glover agrees. “There’s live music every night, the wine is flowing, and everybody gets to know everybody else. When you’re in a big race with 750 teams and 1,500 riders, you just become a number. Ours is a personal race.”
The Prudential PE Plett (or Plett PE, as the case may be) started seven years ago, and almost immediately fell victim to bad weather and bad timing. “We held it in September for the first four years and it nearly killed us,” Glover says. “We had flooding every year. When we moved the dates to March, when the weather was a whole lot better, we started growing our numbers.” In 2019 the event sold out for the first time. In 2020, Glover is expecting a waiting list.
Part of the appeal of the Prudential PE Plett – apart from the gorgeous single-tracks and the luxury tents – is the innovative new approach that Glover and his team have taken in putting the route together. It’s a lot like the old approach. “There’s been a slow death of linear stage races, which go from A to B,’ he says. “There are very few left. Most come back to a common point at the end of every stage, running in a cloverleaf pattern. What makes PE Plett so unique is that you’ll start in Plett knowing that you’re going to finish in PE four days later. Every day gets you closer to your destination.”
It’s easy to see why so many races return to central points. Linear races like the Prudential PE Plett involve enormous logistical effort, with the camps and race villages and support crews moving as the riders do. And while this makes for a complicated behind-the-scenes operation, the result is a race with refreshing diversity. “Because of their cloverleaf routes, a lot of races nowadays stay very, very similar,” says Glover. “If you look at the Prudential PE Plett, one day is unlike any other. Day 1 has forests, beach and fierce, technical ravines. Then between Day 2 and Day 3 the landscape changes dramatically, with Day 3 being open plains and open farms, with not so much elevation. Day 4 is a unique day of custom-made single-tracks. Overall, it’s a broad spectrum of mountain biking, and over the four days you’re exposed to every type of terrain you could wish for.”
Bookings are now open for the 2020 Prudential PE Plett, which will take place from 6 to 9 February 2020. Go to www.peplett.co.za for more information, and for team and solo entries.