Wednesday 15 June 2011

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:03 | 1 comment

Sani2C 2011

When Little John asked me to ride Sani2C with him he unknowingly unleashed an internal discourse inside my brain. I'd always been under the impression that the South African mountain biking scene was divided into two mutually exclusive camps - those who do the Cape Epic, and those who do Sani2C. With the Cape Epic happening in my back yard, I naturally fell into the former camp with 4 unworn Epic Finishers shirts in my cupboard. What would happen if I said yes to Little John's offer? Would the mountain biking world as we know it cease to exist? Would we all be doomed to road bikes forever? The only way to find out was to take him up on the offer.
Bikes secure, ready to go!
In what was becoming a fairly well practiced ritual (4th time in 6 months) we boxed our bikes, packed our bags and climbed on an aeroplane. A stop over in Durban allowed us to see what we had left at home, and as it turned out Little John's obsessive dental hygiene regiment was severely impeded because his wife had forgotten to pack his toothbrush. As long as that was all she had forgotten to pack.
Our accommodation in Underberg.
A car trip later and we found ourselves at registration in Underberg, and already I had several problems, the first being that I did not have enough space for all the goodies and free stuff that they dished out at registration. And I'm not talking about an event T-shirt and a pair of socks either. My second problem was my lack of suitable riding attire. I had assumed that since the race is in Natal, and that Durban is in Natal, a quick check of the weather conditions in Durban would suffice when deciding on what cold or wet weather kit I should bring. Just like the Swazi Frontier, my trusty arm warmers were my only protection against the elements.
Little John putting his mechanical skills to the test.
Stage One
We had managed to secure a B seeding which, on the plus side, meant we got to start 10 minutes after the leaders. The downside was that this was at 7:10am, and in Underberg the temperature at 7:10am is somewhere between "I can't change gears because I can't feel my fingers" cold and "Is that a snoticle on my upper lip?" cold. At least I had my trusty arm warmers. Another downside in starting in the second group is that the second group is usually filled with riders who feel they should have been in the first group, and so start the race like the dogs of war are after them. This has never been my favoured approach to racing, but I do know that the enthusiasm is short lived and that sanity will eventually prevail, and so it was that after about 30 minutes of riding Little John and I found ourselves off the front, and slowly catching some of the slower A riders.
Where vanilla milk comes from.
On a particular piece of nicely manicured single track that Sani2C is renowned for I got a bit of abuse. From a girl. I thought I was flying through the single track, on the edge of my abilities, narrowly avoiding trees and doing my best to stay upright in the slippery, muddy conditions when I heard the sound of snoring behind me. That was followed with cries of "I'm falling asleep at the back here", and "Girl rider coming through". The final insult to my technical skills was the offer to attend a skills workshop hosted by the cheeky girl herself. My ego wasn't totally deflated though, as this isn't the first time I've been invited to a skills workshop by a female mountain biker, and I suspect it won't be the last.
An eight on the Smile-o-Meter.
It IS a smile - ok!
It doesn't take long for the ethos of Sani2C to sink in - it's not about hardcore technical sections with impossible climbs and life endangering descents. It's all about the smile factor. Farmer Glen and his team go out of their way to put together a route that will bring a smile to the face of the most seasoned mountain biker. And there were plenty of smiles, from the ear to ear grins of people crossing the floating bridge, to the smirks of amusement at the names of each section of single track.
Forgot where your bike is? Good luck!
Stage One accommodation.
Little John and I had a good day out and finished in 37th place, which gave us plenty of time to get down to the real business of the Sani2C - enjoying the hospitality of the farmers from Ixopo at MacKenzi Country Club, and drinking as many Clover Vanilla Milks as my system would allow. And to make my life even more difficult, we got more free stuff that I had to find place for.
Our tent. The boxes positioned to prevent any accidental touching.

Stage Two
If there is a Holy Grail of mountain biking in South Africa, the first half of day two of the Sani2C has to be it. The 25km descent into the Umkomaas valley along sections with names like "Wow" is an experience that I'll never forget.
Our good result from Stage One had promoted us to the A group with all the big boys (and girls) of SA mountain biking. With our promotion came a 6:30am start, and once again I was grateful for my arm warmers. A fast start ensued up to the first section of dual single track, and in a move that is worthy of an article in a Psychology journal, Farmer Glen made the right side of the single track much shorter than the left, and for the rest of the race whenever we were faced with similar decisions, every single rider took the single track on the right. Pavlov's classical conditioning in action, except mountain bikers are a little easier to train than slobbering dogs.
Lube - John's fixall tool of choice!
The other amazing thing about Farmer Glen is that he keeps popping up on the side of the route. We would easily pass him 4 or 5 times on a stage, sometimes he'd be there cheering us on, other times he would be with shovel in hand smoothing over some unwanted bump on the trail, always full of enthusiasm and a big smile to match.
Farmer Glen's chosen mode of transport - no wonder he is everywhere!
After the unforgettable descent into the Umkomaas valley we found ourselves amongst the racing ladies. While Little John will deny it, I'm pretty sure the crash he had was because he was focusing on things other than the trail ahead. Thankfully the only damage was a bruised ego and a lost water bottle. We were back on their wheels in a flash as we slowly meandered our way through the Umkomaas valley, crossing several rivers along the way, knowing that the only way out was up. The exertions of Stage One started to tell, along with some poorly maintained bicycle components and we slowly started slipping back through the field.
John Wakefield "working" on his bike
(i.e. watching Gavin work on his bike)
I also had to take on the role of parent in our team, as by now Little John had become Grumpy John, and so I had to apologise to all the friendly farmers and their wives and children that were on the receiving end of his one word orders like "Coke!", "Water!" and "Banana!" at the water points. Grumpy John was scoring a solid zero on the Smile-o-Meter and it was with much relief that we finally crossed the finish line in Jolivet to the welcoming sight of vanilla milk and jam doughnuts.

Decision, decisions.
Sani2C is all about the attention to detail, like the free beers dished out as we waited for the shower, the light each rider is given in their tent, the baths of ice cold vanilla milk, water and juice dotted all over the camp, the assortment of snacks to be had between meals, the meals themselves. And all the while you are quite aware that the event benefits the people of the region quite significantly, and just what it means to them. Farmer Glen really does have something special going with Sani2C.
All day lunch - what a bargain!

Stage Three
The last stage of the memorable event was billed as a quick dash to the coast through some sugar cane fields and a nature reserve. For once, my arm warmers weren't needed as we once again started at break neck speed. With everyone avoiding the left hand single track option, the bunch was quickly strung out when disaster struck for the front guys. As the sun slowly rose above the hills and into their eyes they failed to see a log sticking out from the undergrowth, ironically on the right hand side of the trail. By the time we passed the log there were several riders pulling themselves together with rather bewildered looks as they stared at their pretzel shaped wheels.
Little John looking like a race snake!
We once again found ourselves riding with the racing ladies, Little John once again slotted in behind the last lady while I went to the front to hurry our little group along, conscious that any mistake or blunder could result in another invitation to a skills clinic. It was Little John that made the first mistake (once again I think his thoughts weren't where they should have been) as he had the "almost crash" of the weekend. An "almost crash" is the beginning of a spectacular crash that doesn't quite work its way to completion, luckily for the crashee, and the crashee is able to walk away with nothing more than a racing pulse, wide eyes, and a sheepish grin. It was such a good "almost crash" that it brought smiles and comments from the ladies around us. Good thing Little John's wife didn't forget to pack his lucky socks! I shouldn't have laughed so loud, as moments later I had my own "almost crash", although nothing nearly as spectacular as Little John's, and with no other spectators.
With the last serious climb of the day done, the leading ladies having ridden away from us, we were left with 25km of sweeping sugar cane road to the finish in Scottburgh when Little John decided to turn on his invisibility cloak. Never before have I ridden with someone (including The Tourist) who was so good at disappearing when it was their turn to come through and share the work load on the front. The only reason I knew Little John was still on my wheel was every now and then he would bark out instructions or directions. The worst of all was that his directions often contradicted those of the route markers up ahead!
The longest row of porcelain toilets ever! 

The elation of crossing the Scottburgh beach to the cheers of the supporters is short lived as the last 3kms of the race head back up the hill, on tar, to the finish at Scottburgh High School. Little John had hung in there, and we finished just behind the winning ladies, who, in a nice gesture came up to us and thanked us for all the work we did (and entertainment that Little John provided). All that was left of the 2011 Sani2C was for us to shower, back our bikes and collect our finisher's top, before heading back to Durban. We thought we'd cap the weekend off by watching the Sharks beat the Bulls, but as it turned out I had to watch a rugby game where I wished both teams had lost for playing so badly!

There certainly is a place for both the Cape Epic and Sani2c in South African mountain biking, and they don't need to be mutually exclusive. If anything they compliment each other quite nicely in that they are two very different events, with different challenges and different rewards. Thank goodness, otherwise we'd all be riding road bikes right now!