Tuesday 28 May 2013

Posted by Velouria Posted on 11:12 | No comments

Sani2C 2013

The astute readers amongst the vast following that this blog has (there are at least 4 regular readers out there) will have noticed that there was no 2012 Sani2C race report. For that I apologise, and before I get down to this year's event, I'd just like to share the reasons behind why I didn't dare make that post.

Everyone loves a cyclist
As with the previous year, I rode Sani2C 2012 with Little John. Unlike the previous year, I wasn't in great shape - a two week holiday in Paris combined with a bout of rather vicious Parisian flu meant that I went into the event quite short of form. For almost 3 days I followed Little John on our adventure from the Underberg towards Scottburgh, relying on muscle memory and experience rather than fitness and conditioning. I rode as if each pedal stroke was my last, giving it everything I had. To compound matters, I had discovered the night before we left for Sani2C that my bike was cracked. Literally - every pedal stroke could have been my last, and I was expecting a catastrophic life ending failure at any second. At the end of each stage I was both physically and mentally exhausted. But I was fine with that. That is what team racing is all about.

Look closely for the crack
With barely 20kms to go on day 3, after sticking to Little John's wheel like a remora suckerfish all race long, he sat up. To talk to a "pro". My theory is that anyone riding anywhere near us can't be that much of a pro. While Little John was blinded by the stars in his eyes, the people we had been racing each stage were slowly gaining on us. Had I suffered so much just so that I could witness Little John and his blossoming bromance with a B-grade pro? Like a rage-filled midget at a rock concert I finally snapped, and my mission wasn't to finish ahead of the B-grade pro or the chasing riders, but to ride Little John into the ground. To strike down upon him with great vengeance and furious anger. To crush his soul. With my legs on fire and my lungs screaming I mashed the pedals, each pedal stroke more violent than the last. My sight narrowed, the red mist descended and all I saw was the road ahead - I completely blocked out the spectators, the other riders, and everything else. Time for Little John to feel my wrath and fury. As the finish line approached I stopped and waited - a minute went by, and then another, and finally Little John made an appearance. While we might have crossed the line together, the smiles were fake and the back slapping was hollow - the anger still simmered below the surface. So much so that I was scared of what I might write if I were to do a blog post. What a difference a year makes.

Annabelle, born after last year's Sani
Little John, so named because he was one of the last mountain bikers in South Africa still riding an increasingly unfashionable old school mountain bike with 26 inch wheels, had finally upgraded to a 29er. We needed a new name, and Captain Craig came up with Old Man John - OMJ for short. We once again made the trek up to Durban, staying over in Umhlanga before heading off to the Underberg, somehow managing to cram 2 bikes and our luggage into the back of a Ford Figo. Nothing like abusing a rental car! After the usual chores of registration, putting the bikes back together, and repacking our gear for the event, we got a good night's sleep in the warmer than usual Underberg. A later start than in previous years meant that we could take our time getting ready, and after we'd loaded our boxes onto the trucks, we went for a quick warm up ride. I thought this would be a good time to put my gloves on, only to discover that I'd pulled a super amateur move  - I'd packed in two left gloves. I had three options - ride with no gloves, ride with one glove Michael Jackson style, or try to get the offending left glove to imitate a right glove. I went for option 3 initially, first trying the glove on upside down. That didn't work, so I then tried inside out. Still no luck, so I eventually settled on option one. No gloves (on my hands at least - I still had them in my pockets).

It's a rental!
After a fast start, OMJ and I settled into a comfortable rhythm, doing our own thing. I was determined to be a good partner, and so let OMJ set the pace. I quickly discovered that OMJ and his new machine were having relationship issues. He was trying to ride it like his old bike, and the bike was protesting. It's a strong man's bike, demanding strength and power, and OMJ was trying to gently caress and tease it up the hills, and as a result his legs were taking a beating. From a neutral bystander's point of view, it was an interesting battle to watch, and for once, I couldn't be blamed for inflicting the pain. Not yet anyway.

Old Man slippers!
Sani2C is all about the rider experience, from the manicured trails, to the free swag, the endless lunches to the infinite supply of vanilla milks. The water points are no different. And this year I was going to make a point of enjoying them. President Kennedy was probably thinking of Sani2C when he made his famous "Ich bin ein Berlinner" speech. I'd eat so many jam doughnuts each day that I think I was beginning to look like a jam doughnut too. Sometimes I'm surprised they didn't have to chase me out of the water points.

OMJ getting intimate with  his new steed
While there is always a rather laid back jovial mood at Sani2C, there was a slight mood of trepidation at the MacKenzie Country Club as night fell after the first stage, the weather forecast for the following day promised rain. And while we're mountain bikers and can handle most adverse weather conditions, stage 2 of Sani2C is the one stage where you'd like the weather gods to play nice. It is the reason 5000 cyclists make the pilgrimage to the Natal Midlands for the opportunity to ride down into the beautiful, unspoiled Umkomaas Valley. A 40km downhill with breathtaking views and frightfully fast descents. Any overnight rain would change all that and turn the descent into the world's longest slip and slide - a mudfest on two wheels. After a delayed start we inched our way on toward the Umkomaas descent to discover that is was as slippery as a bar of soap in a Pollsmoor Prison shower. It wasn't an uncommon sight to come around a corner and see a cyclist lying in a heap. And I'm not just talking about us weekend warriors, I saw plenty of pro's (both A and B grade) having little lie downs in the mud.

We eventually got to the bottom of the Umkomaas valley, having spent a lot time time riding, walking, sliding, and slipping. I personally wallowed in the mud 4 times. From there on it was an uphill slog all the way to Joliviet Farm, our next overnight stop. That was fine for us seasoned 29er riders, but quite cruel and nasty for OMJ and his new steed. I was still being the good partner, riding on his wheel, going along at his pace. Resisting the urge to race. I was having issues too, of the mechanical kind, and after breaking a chain that took two seasoned mountain bikers an embarrassingly long time to fix, was stuck with just my middle and large chain rings for the rest of the day. Rather me than OMJ. And just to show that no matter how badly you think your day is going we came across Red John lying in a patch of grass looking rather sore and annoyed. He'd had a massive crash and dislocated his hip. To show just how tough the guy is he'd ridden 8kms out of the bottom of the valley, dislocated hip and all, to where he could be airlifted to safety. Huge respect.

Modern day post stage prep.
With the end of the stage almost in sight, OMJ was fading fast, and I was forced to apply the hand of shame. It feels so much better dishing it out than being on the receiving end, although the receiver can be a bit demanding now and then. A couple ups and downs later and we rolled across the line at Joliviet farm - wet, cold, and covered from head to toe in mud. Everything took longer than normal, cleaning the bikes, showering, drying kit, and by the time the chores had been done it was supper time. TripAdvisor has several recommendations for the best place to get a steak, such as here and here, but if Joliviet were to ever get listed, the juicy, tender steak they serve for dinner would get 4972 five star ratings (and 28 no star ratings from some very envious vegetarians).

Team mates having an afternoon nap
Our agreed upon objective for this year's Sani2C was to finish in the top 100 after stage two, and we'd made it - position 49. Farmer Glen had introduced another fantastic idea in that the top 2 seeded batches would only start at 11am on the last day. Compare that to having to get up at 5am for a 7am start. I do have one complaint though in that the riders from the C batch showed very little respect and made an incredible amount of noise, so while we didn't have to get up at 5am, we were rudely awoken at 5am by the racket the rabble were making. I'd like to suggest to Farmer Glen that at next year's event a special area is set aside so that the A and B batch riders can enjoy a late morning snooze in peace and quiet.

The scariest 800m of the whole event
After 2 breakfasts, 4 cups of coffee, several visits to the toilet, 3 warm up rides and a mid morning nap we were eventually off - heading towards Scottburgh for the final stage of Sani2C. OMJ was once again doing battle with his machine, riding his bike like it was a contact sport - arms, legs and head flailing all over the place. At this rate it would be a TKO in the 5th round! Since the final day is relatively flat and fast, I hopped on the front to set the pace and offer some shelter to OMJ. Initially this worked out quite well and we made good progress, but slowly the memories from the previous year came flooding back. While I never set out to intentionally rain down fire and torment on poor OMJ, I realised that with 20kms to go he was either going to kill me, or go and hide in a sugar cane field and not come out. Our race was done, and all that remained was to get to the finish in one piece.

The view at the finish
Farmer Glen's other innovation for this year's event was a crazy stupid long floating bridge over the Scottburgh lagoon, and out into the ocean. As a sufferer of Gephyrophobia this idea had given me countless nightmares and sleepless nights. The added pressure was that my wife had successfully navigated the 800m long, 80cm wide bridge without incident the day before. Farmer Glen's advice to the race snakes was to ride on inside of the corners, to look ahead, and keep the speed up. He got two out of three right, and I suspect that was on purpose. DO NOT EVER ATTEMPT TO RIDE ON THE INSIDE OF THE CORNERS ON A FLOATING BRIDGE. Much to his disappointment I didn't end up taking a swim in the Scottburgh lagoon, I did however came far to close for my comfort.

The Crazed Wombats successfully navigated the bridge and the stage and finished in 51st place overall, another Sani2C safely completed. While his bike and I abused him, OMJ was in fine spirits at the end, and word on the street is that he was spotted doing some secret training on the back roads in and about Hermanus. I suspect Trans Baviaans is going to be the scene of his revenge grudge match between both him and his bike, and him and I.

The Crazed Wombats



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