Having performed at the pinnacle of mountain biking in KwaZulu-Natal and around the country, Hayley Smith will now branch out in the gravel racing scene when she tackles the Underberg Gran Fondo on Sunday, 30 July.
The 29-year-old from Durban North will be making her gravel racing debut over the 140km race and is eager to build on what has been a good year for the Bell Equipment star.
“I’m preparing for the Cape Pioneer at the beginning of September, so this will be a great opportunity to get some time in the saddle,” Smith said.
“I won the Berg and Bush mixed race and then finished second at Karkloof, so it’s been good but there hasn’t been much racing since then, so this will be a good chance to train in racing conditions.
“I will be riding a mountain bike as well so I don’t have any expectations and I’m just going to try and hold onto the bunch for as long as I can!”
This toe-dipping exercise for Smith is a chance for her to see whether gravel racing is a viable racing option for her going forward.
“I see gravel races popping up on the calendar all the time and it’s really growing in popularity, so I am excited to give it a go.
“I also don’t really know who else is going to be there from a women’s racing perspective, so I am going to keep expectations low and enjoy the day,” she added.
Having spent a lot of time in the Southern Drakensberg region, Smith understands the conditions, but is in the dark when it comes to the route.
“My family and I are going up to Underberg for a holiday next week and I will take my bike to see if I can familiarize myself with some of the roads we will be riding on.
“It’s one of my favourite areas to ride in and with the altitude it’s also a great place to train.”
Heading into the event, Smith expects the race to be an exciting one and the distance to be a challenge.
“I haven’t ridden 140km in a while so it’s going to be interesting to see how the body reacts at the 4.5-hour mark.
“The pace will be high especially from the people that come from a road riding background, but I’ll try and hang on for as long as I can and enjoy the ride,” she commented.