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Summerplace Game Reserve’s mountain bike team racers, Inus du Preez and Lilian Baber, contested the Tankwa Trek for the first time in early February. The four-day stage race in the Cederberg is considered one of the toughest short stage races on the international calendar and it attracted a strong field comprising top South African and international racers. It was a huge success for them. Here’s how it went.

Since it’s a two-rider team event, Inus and Lili needed to find appropriate partners for the race. This can be a challenge as a good team dynamic isn’t a given and can often become a weakness if teammates are mismatched on any level. Fortunately, both found very solid teammates. Inus paired up with Johan de Villiers of Project Dream SA to form the Summer Dream team; while Lili partnered with Karlise Scheepers of Skynet Worldwide Express to form the Summerplace Game Reserve team.

The weather was hot and the stages were generally quite technical, ranging in distance from 26km to 96km to offer a formidable allround challenge to the competitors. As a UCI-rated event, the route needs to change each year, but, as with every edition, the organisers included the Merino Monster on Stage 3. This climb is one of the toughest in South African mountain bike racing and is generally feared by most.

Inus and Johan raced in the UCI Elite Men’s category and finished eighth overall, while Lili and Karlise raced in the UCI Elite Women’s division and also secured eighth overall. Very respectable results for such inexperienced stage racers in a stacked field.

We had a chat to Inus and Lili to find out more about their Tankwa Trek experience:


This wasn’t your first stage race, but it was the first one you have done with a teammate. How did that dynamic feel for you?

It was quite special. We did train for a week and a half together beforehand and we also share the same coach. That helped a lot. But training together and racing together can be quite different. Fortunately, from the first stage we just clicked immediately. We already knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we used that to our benefit. I’m grateful to Johan for being such a great teammate. We are very chuffed with our performance.

You and Johan were 10th (Stage 1), 10th (Stage 2), 8th (Stage 3) and 7th (Stage 4). You moved up the positions as the race got longer. What do you attribute this to?

A lot of things happen over four days of racing, such as injuries and illness. It’s really important to look after yourself, which we managed to do well. Some teams unfortunately had to pull out because they didn’t’. We are both quite inexperienced in terms of racing those distances, so we went in quite conservatively. The longer the race went on, the more we realised our potential. We started pushing harder as the race went on, looking for our own and each other’s limits and that saw us finishing higher up by the final stage.

Which do you feel was your best stage – and why?

I would say the last stage. The terrain on the last stage suited us as XCO racers. Very rough, rocky and with a lot of singletrack over a shorter distance than the previous two stages. Because we raced mostly on the conservative side, the legs felt really good still and we still had quite a bit left to give on that last day.

The Merino Monster is a huge climb by anyone’s standards – how did you tackle it and was it as hard as you had heard?

Beforehand, looking at the maps and graphs and hearing what people were saying about it, that was an intimidating stage. With the climbing only really starting 70km into that stage, pacing is important. Johan and I paced well. When you come around the second or third corner you can actually see the top of the mountain and it’s quite daunting. Mentally it was quite hard because you want to hold back a bit to keep something for the last bit. But in hindsight, I think we could have pushed a bit harder on that climb. It really is a massive climb.

You and Johan finished 8th overall, beating some experienced pro teams. How did this make you feel?

We were super happy with this result. Especially me, who didn’t feel as good as I hoped to at the Trailseeker race at Banhoek the weekend before. I’m sure happy how we worked together to get a proper result. This is also a bit of a reflection of how well my base training went over the summer.

Did you have any major bad luck incidents during the race?

We didn’t have any bad luck or technical problems. But to an extent, you can avoid some incidents. We saw how rough the terrain was and we just tried to manage our bikes as best we could by being more cautious at times, rather than just charging and hoping for the best.

You are focusing mainly on XCO this year, but after that solid stage race result, do you see marathons and stage races playing a bigger role in your future as a racer?

XCO stays my main priority for now, but marathon racing will always be there and something I can move up to more in future. The marathon racing market is big in South Africa and I do look forward to exploring it more as I mature as a mountain bike racer.

What is your next major racing goal for 2024?

The XCO SA Cup Series and SA XCO Champs. Getting closer to the XCO season now and all my attention will be on those national level goals for the next couple of months.


You were the youngest competitor at the 2024 Tankwa Trek! Did you feel like the youngest or were there times where you felt more experienced than other riders?

I did feel very young in terms of the bigger distances, racing strategy and just being at a high-profile stage race, but technically I felt a bit more experienced than other riders.

What was the best thing about the Tankwa Trek experience for you as a first timer?

I would say I loved almost everything about it! It was also my first stage race ever. For years as a XCO racer, I do a lot of training for a one-hour race, so it was so nice to be racing longer and for a few days in row! The team dynamic was also something different for me and I really liked it.

And what was the worst part?

There weren’t really any worst parts for me. If I had to choose, I would probably say the early mornings where we had to warm up while it was still dark and quite cold. Also, after a stage when you feel your legs are sore and you know you must race again tomorrow. And maybe the fact that you have to eat so much to stay fueled for so much racing time.

As a skilled mountain biker, what did you think of the race route?

I loved the race route! I don’t think they could have made it any better. They included a lot of different features and a great mix of different types of riding. It was also good to hit really challenging climbs. I loved the climbing!

Was the Merino Monster climb easier or harder than you expected?

It was easier than I expected. Everyone built it up to be one of the worst climbs you can encounter, so I was expecting the worst on Stage 3. When I was overseas last year I did a lot of climbing. I have done bigger climbs than that before, so it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I actually felt that Stage 2 was harder than Stage 3.

You finished eighth overall against a strong field. How did this make you feel?

Our main goal was to finish top 10 overall. It was amazing to finish to eighth overall. It was such a competitive field, so that makes it more special.

You teamed up with Karlise Scheepers, who has more experience than you in these types of races. Did you connect well as teammates?

We connected really well! It was a bit of a risk because we had never ridden together before. The first time we rode together was on Stage 1! Karlise gave me bits of advice, which helped a lot. We used our strengths well. I would go to the front on singletrack and she would pull me along on the road sections. We also communicated really well, which I realise is so important in stage races.

Did you have any major bad luck incidents during the race?

I had some bad luck on Stage 2 with a puncture about 35km in. It cost us about five minutes. After that I noticed my back wheel was a bit loose, so we stopped to tighten it. Not too bad considering the rough terrain there.

You are primarily a XCO racer, but based on this stage race, do you see yourself doing more stage races in the future?

I loved it! I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I did. So yes, for sure. I have already planned to do Cape Pioneer and Wines2Whales at the end of this year. People say stage racing can rob you of your XCO speed, so we have made sure the stage races I do are at the beginning and end of my season and form part of my base training. It’s so much fun. In a couple of years I can see myself doing the Cape Epic.

What is your next major racing goal for 2024?

Qualifying for the 2024 XCO World Champs. I’m a first-year Under-23 racer this year, so I’m up against some faster girls than before. It won’t be easy, but I am looking forward to the challenge and I will be honoured to be selected for World Champs.

Inus and Lili live and train at Summerplace Game Reserve, one of South Africa’s premier mountain biking destinations. They have daily access to a world-class trails network that appeals to all levels of mountain biker. To secure your own Summerplace Game Reserve mountain biking experience, book your accommodation here.


Summerplace MTB Team’s Lilian Baber and Inus du Preez recently spent five weeks racing in Europe. They stayed in the new Summerplace Game Reserve camper van and travelled to races in Switzerland and Italy. It was an incredible experience to race in the hot bed of global XCO racing. Here’s what they thought of it.

What did you find to be the biggest difference between European and South African XCO racing?

In South Africa, it’s flat out straight from the start, but in Europe it’s more strategic. I could keep up with them from the start. At home, we push as hard as possible throughout the race, but I found there, they ease up a bit and recover on the flats and then push super hard on the climbs. They do it so intuitively though, which took me a while to get used to.

You are the dominant Junior female in South Africa. How did it feel to be in races where you weren’t the fastest?

It felt different, but good. I was chasing others instead of being chased. I pushed myself harder than I do at home. I felt like I achieved new levels of personal performance.

What are the key things you learned from your European racing stint?

You must know how to race technical climbs, especially the slippery ones! You also must be aggressive. Their starts aren’t super fast, but they are aggressive. You have to fight to get into the first singletrack in a good position. There’s no politeness in the races. And you must stay calm. You mustn’t freak out when someone passes you because often, they blow and you pass them again later.

What was your racing highlight from your trip?

I would say my first race, which was in Switzerland. It was 42 degrees Celsius on the start line and the whole experience of racing in Europe made such a big impact on me. And the last race, in Italy, which had a lot of mud, but also a bunch of pros racing and seeing how I compared to them on the same course.

What was the racing low point of your trip?

I would say the Swiss Bike Cup race, which was my fifth race in five weekends. I was really tired and I was fighting with the course. I needed a rest week, but it was an opportunity to get in another European race. I know I could have pushed harder, but my fatigue was a factor.

What are you doing differently in your training after your European trip?

I am working more on intensity. I have a good endurance base, so really have just been sharpening up, which is where I struggled a bit in Europe. I can go hard, but not for as long as the European girls. I have been working on that.

What is your goal for the 2023 UCI World Champs?

My goal is to finish in the top 20. I think only one South African has ever finished in the top 20 at the Junior World Champs before so that will be my focus.

What did you find to be the biggest difference between the European and South African XCO races?

Definitely the level of competition. The fields there are bigger and the level is so much higher. In South Africa you have your 20 top riders or so and you still end up alone somewhere in that field, whereas in Europe there is always someone just in front or just behind you, which pushes you to new limits.

What are your key learnings from your European racing stint?

The race isn’t over until you cross the finish line. It sounds obvious, but it’s more evident to me now. If there is a crash at the start and you get held up, you still have six or seven laps to make up for that. You have to keep on fighting to the end. I also learned that you can’t go by looks. Some riders look strong, but aren’t necessarily stronger than you. You must focus on yourself and not compare yourself to others. The racing speed is also higher there, so I have to learn to adapt my training to race at that speed.

What was your racing highlight from your trip?

Definitely racing the World Cup in Val di Sole, Italy. It’s so much bigger than I thought. You see it on TV and know it’s big, but when you are there and see all pro teams and the pits, it just feels so much bigger. Being able to start with the best guys in the world was amazing. I started quite far back, but just knowing than I was racing in a World Cup race was insane!

What was the racing low point during your trip?

I would say that would be the last race. After racing six weekends in a row and going onto a seventh race, my body was really tired. I didn’t achieve what I wanted to. Your body can only take so much.

What are you doing differently in your training after your European trip?

I need to get faster overall. I will be getting on a gravel bike more and going on those long rides. The gravel bike will help me do longer intervals better. My base training also starts earlier so that I’m ready in January when the season starts.

What was it like racing a World Cup compared to other races you have done?

It’s hard to describe the feeling of being on the start line at a World Cup! The biggest race we had in South Africa was in Stellenbosch where we had about 50 riders on the start line. At the World Cup were had 120! It’s overwhelming. Going to practise the course you see the big international pro teams on either side looking at the lines and you are riding the course and they are watching you and the lines you take. In the race you have to deal with mistakes made by the riders in front you, which all add up, but you must stay focused on yourself. It was a massive highlight for me, not just for the trip but in my life.

You have improved significantly in XCO racing since 2022. What are your racing objectives going forward?

I just finished my first full season of racing. I’m happy with the improvements I made. Even just the improvement from the first races of the season to the last races. It can take months and years to build a foundation and speed. You have be dominant in your home country to even hope to make an impact in international races, so my goal is to focus on becoming one of the best in South Africa.

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