Heroic efforts for rhino conservation
uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge 2018
The 2018 uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge saw riders brave extreme weather conditions as they rode from Hillcrest to Hilltop Camp over 340km in aid of Project Rhino and anti-poaching efforts on Saturday.
Having set off from Hillcrest at 1am on Saturday morning (those doing the full 340km) the event is seen as one of the most gruelling mountain bike rides in the province, however the weather made sections of the ride even more difficult.
South African adventurer Sibusiso Vilane took part in the 250km event. Although the going was tough he understood the importance of what he was doing.
“I felt that when I got through the first 40km I had maxed out,” Vilane said. “It made me realise that they don’t call it the uBhejane Xtreme for nothing and it threw absolutely everything it could at us.
“The conditions made it so much more tough, as there was a big storm on Friday night and there was a lot of mud on the roads.
“I just knew that the cause was way bigger than me and it was the motivation that I needed to keep on going,” he added.
As the plight of rhinos has come to the forefront of conservation in South Africa there are many initiatives that support anti-poaching efforts and Vilane believes that the work of events like the uBhejane Xtreme will see the battle against rhino poaching won.
“These sorts of events not only raise funds to fight rhino poaching but also grow awareness of the fight we are currently in.
“In my lifetime, I hope that I can do all I can do to make a difference,” Vilane added.
Former Springbok and Cell C Sharks backline star Joe Pietersen rode the 100km race.
Pietersen is heavily involved in rhino conservation through his Nkombe Rhino campaign just outside Hoedspruit in Limpopo.
“We eventually did 109km into Hilltop from Canelands in Empangeni and the last nine kilometres felt like another 109km!” Pietersen said.
“We had some great conditions early with some overcast weather and a bit of a tailwind but that quickly turned into a massive storm with thunder and lightning, but it was phenomenal!
“It cooled things down a bit and then when we came into Hilltop we had some serious mist but it was an incredible day.”
Pietersen is encouraged by the growing awareness that events like the uBhejane Xtreme create about the rhino poaching crisis.
“We know that the problem is not going away and so we need to do everything we can to try and overcome it.
“The riding community in South Africa is massive and I can only see this event growing and becoming more influential,” he said.
The riders were met at the entrance to Hluhluwe by legendary cycling commentary and the ‘Voice of Cycling’ Phil Liggett, who, with a group of riders, joined the field for the ceremonial 35km ride to Hilltop camp.
The event had a sombre feeling to it is as black armbands were worn in remembrance of Liggett’s fellow cycling commentator Paul Sherwen who passed away recently.
Those interested in taking part may apply to enter. Donations can be submitted and more information can be found via the event’s website, www.ubhejanex.org.
Main picture, top: The riders of the full 340km route from Hillcrest to Hluhluwe pose at the bronze Rhino statue at the Centenary Centre of Hluhluwe/Umfolozi at the 2018 uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge on Saturday. Pictures: Anthony Grote/Gameplan Media