Family Fun for Everyone at the aQuellé Tour Durban24/12/2022
Fastest fingers first at aQuellé Tour Durban03/02/2023
“We are going to work hard to make it better than last year!”
With those words Noel Baker, the course designer and “trail master” of the aQuellé Tour Durban MTB powered by Cycle Lab, is laying down a marker that the 2023 event will be building on the 2022 successes.
Baker is the current chairperson of EMBA (eThekwini Mountain Bike Association) which administers all riding on Tongaat Hulett land, and that includes all the trails used for the popular Tour Durban MTB event which takes place on May 13 in 2023. The experienced rider has been planning and co-ordinating the preparation of the mountain bike routes for the iconic Durban event for the past three years and is hard at work planning to make the 2023 event better than ever before.
The aQuellé Tour Durban MTB powered by Cycle Lab will start and finish just outside the Cornubia Mall and as always will be held the day before the aQuellé Tour Durban road race which is based at Moses Mabhida Stadium. Together the two events combine to create Durban’s top weekend of cycling.
“Last year for the long MTB event we had about 36 kays with about 800m of climbing … This year we will add in a few extra kilometres and will make sure we extend it to 40 kays,” said Baker earlier this week when going over his plans.
“The 40km race will be a mixture of surfaces for the riders to enjoy. There will be sugarcane roads – which are not always as straightforward as one thinks, especially after some rain which means they can get quite rutted – and some jeep tracks and some single track.
For the 2023 event the plan is to add in a shorter ride of around 10 to 12 kilometres so the off-road riders will have a choice of three distances.
“I am hoping to put a large portion of the 10km ride on the SASA land which is easier riding,” said Baker. “I think it will help attract new people to the event by bringing the shorter race into it. I think there will be benefits in trying to get the families into it who have bicycles hanging in the garages after they bought them to exercise during Covid – and the short race will enable schoolkids and development riders to be part of the weekend.
“The shorter event will be non-technical but there will be a few hills which will test some of the younger people. But you are never going to be able to make it perfect for everyone.”
Baker is currently rehabilitating after knee-replacement surgery and has only just returned to riding, but the time off the bike has allowed him to assess past events and look at how he can improve the 2023 race.
He believes he has learned from some tough circumstances in the Covid years. “In the first year I was involved we ran into problems with the council and metro who were not communicating, and we had problems with wind blowing away some of the markings.
“I also cannot understand why some people deliberately sabotage the signage. Why would some people take down the wooden stakes with a piece of plastic on it and throw it in the bush?
“Then last year we had a fire on the course right near the start. A sub contractor decided to burn the cane just before the races were about to start. Luckily we were able to re-route the guys around it without a problem.”
And of course the weather is a constant source of concern. “In 2022 we did not have any rain which helps … and I think having it in May is a better time of the year with more chance of decent weather.”
Preparing the course is a massive commitment of time and effort, which Baker does for no personal reward, although his sacrifice is rewarded by the knowledge that EMBA gets a donation from the Tour Durban, and all MTB riders in the Durban area benefit from that.