2017 Mt. Elgon MTB race (XC and Enduro)


2017 saw the 7th annual Mount Elgon Mountain Bike Race (MEMBR) up in Sipi Falls in Eastern Uganda. The MEMBR is very much a grassroots event - purely held for the love of the sport and to showcase the incredible trails in the region.  This year was the first year where a proper Enduro race was also held after last years 'taster' Enduro. So over the weekend we had a XC race on the Saturday morning and on Sunday morning a 4 stage Enduro.

Saturdays XC race followed the same course as 2016 - a mix of murrum roads (dirt roads kinda like fire roads), plenty of singletrack and a little tarmac tying everything together.  It's only 33km, but with an elevation gain of 1110m, a max elevation of 2100m and plenty of technical singletrack its certainly a tough all round test of ability - it's not just the fittest rider, but the fittest rider with good bike handling skills that is going to prevail.

As a grassroots event we currently have no sponsorship and the event is run completely from entry fees.  The winner has traditionally always won a nice bottle of single-malt whisky. This year it was a bottle of Glenfiddich 12yr.

This year we had 17 riders line up on the start line and once the flag had dropped it was straight into race mode and with the first 5km being predominantly uphill there was no easy warm up!  It was a pretty close race with the top 5 all pushing pretty hard - Simon Blake from Kenya would likely have been pushing for the lead had he not have had his derailleur stop working with about 10k left to go.  Simon wasn't the only one to have a mechanical - another rider snapped the rear mech hanger completely - those guys making it home with the help of the ever present boda-boda's (motorbike taxis). 

In the end Will Clark (me) came home with the win breaking last years course record by 10 minutes, and Daniel Jamison second also beating last years time, 8mins back.

Full XC results below:

1. Will Clark 2:02:02
2. Dan Jamison 2:10:26
3. Paul Belknap 2:27:46
4. Theis Timmermans 2:34:50
5. Alex Van Enst 2:39:01
6. Gustav Asp 3:01:28
7. George Salt 3:01:29
8. Jean Bernet 3:21:08
9. Rachel Jamison 3:35:58
10. Daniel Willete 3:44:11
11. Paul Mullard 4:03:37
12. Dick Foss 4:41:37
13. Alex Rowan 5:54:29
Simon Blake DNF
Ben Mitchell DNF
Benjamin Kearns DNF
Meital Kupfel DNF

In order to run this event we employ almost 70 local marshals to point the way.  The reason we have so many is that previous experiments with signs and tape are that if we put it up the day before, come race day the kids will have moved or stolen them - so people used to get lost.  As we are using village trails, certain sections have so many branches and turns we have to put someone at every junction and this soon adds up!  Add the water stations plus a few random helpers then this year we almost hit 70 people!!  It's all good though, we pay them very well and so almost all the entry fees go straight back into the communities we're passing through and everyone does ok from the race - certainly is help keep a great relationship with the people along the course.

So with everyone back in from the XC race we had prize giving and a nice afternoon with a few drinks and sunset out at the lookout.

Sunday morning was timer for the Enduro.  This was what I was most excited for!  I have spent the last year doing as many Enduro races as possible to get a good feel for what the discipline is all about.  I feel that our Special Stages (SP) were pretty awesome and very much fitting to the true nature of Enduro.  There was a mix between flat out open sections, tight technical rocks, loose dirt and flowy singletrack. We don't have access to suitable electronic timing here in Uganda so we had a pretty rudimentary but simple set up.  I would sync stopwatches at the top of the stage and race first with a 2min head-start, Simon my buddy from Kenya then releasing riders at 1min intervals before he raced last, I recorded the end times and we could then work out everyones finish times. SP1 and SP4 were part of Saturdays XC race so everyone had already been through those, at SP2 we were able to have a pre-race walk as it was fairly short - then SP3 was raced blind.  SP2 and SP3 both started at my favourite boulder garden - a pretty intimidating start for sure, but once you have your line dialed in it's super fun and pretty fast.

Simon started SP1 with a catastrophic chain tangle likely from his derailleur problem the previous day which cost him 10min, however after 4 stages and mistakes from his closest rival John he ended up taking the win by a mere 9 seconds - proof if ever needed that you should never give up after one bad section.

Enduro is not a big sport in East Africa, however there are a bunch of us trying to change that and with 3 or 4 Enduro races starting up in Kenya and our Enduro here in Uganda we're hoping to form an East African Enduro Series and try and push this incredible race format in the region.

Full Enduro results:

Name                   SP1        SP2    SP3    SP4    Total    Rank

Simon Blake         10:32    3:35    6:10    5:32    25:49    1
John Cleverley       4:46    4:08     7:11    9:53   25:58    2
Paul Belknap          5:24    4:54    9:04    8:12   27:34    3
Will Clark                3:50    3:00    DNS    4:51    -
Ben Mitchell           6:02    DNS    DNS    11:09    -
Jean Bernet           6:22    DNS    DNS    DNS    -
George                  7:50    DNS    DNS    DNS    -


Massive thanks to everyone who volunteered to help - our medics and media team and thanks to everyone who came to race.

Next year may seem some changes as we change the date and format to incorporate a multi-day multi-stage Enduro - aiming to attract riders from outside of Uganda and offering a week long ride and race package. We feel this way we can keep true to our roots of offering real mountain biking on real trails and end up with a marketable and profitable plan for the race.  The current scene in Uganda is not of Enduro racing and technical riding and so we feel that we will continue to struggle to get entries if we are only marketing to the domestic market.  Watch this space as we look towards a possible February 2019 date for the next instalment of this incredible race.

Will Clark