We’re generally a friendly bunch of folks, so it’s not like you need a reason to spend more time socialising with other mountain bikers. But there is an added perk to these friendships that you may not be aware of yet. You see, stage racing is a team sport. It often takes the stars and planets to align to get two people through the journey from entering a stage race to actually making it to the start line. The nature of the sport and the demands placed on your time for training often conspire to derail even the best of plans. And this is where the saying “It’s all about who you know” comes into play. Here’s a few stories from our journeys that illustrate how an unlikely series of events have panned out in our favour.
by Paulo Conde and Gresham Enerson
Photos: Kelvin Trautman/Dino Lloyd
Sani2c. It’s more than a race, it’s a rite of passage into mountain biking adulthood for many South African mountain bikers. One of the first mass stage races in the country, the event has been cutting the proverbial trail for other events to follow for over a decade. Everyone has heard of the famous Day 2 descent into the valley (and the even more infamous ascent out of it), the manicured singletrack, the pioneering dual track, and the race village hospitality that only a farming community can muster up.
The only bad things you ever hear about the race are the complaints from those that can’t get an entry. We have first-hand experience in this regard! For six years – six long years – we tried to get an entry the ‘normal’ way. Each year we upped our game thinking that would give us a better chance of success. We would block out our calendars, create documents with all our details pre-filled so that we could do a quick copy-and-paste and pre-load the webpage hours before. We once even resorted to recruiting friends to try enter on our behalf to maximise our chances. But every year the story had the same gut-wrenching ending. Then one year, opportunity knocked.
A friend of a friend of mine, let’s call him Chris, called me up out of the blue. We’d had a few good chats about mountain biking around the braai over the years, but we’d never connected outside of that, so the call was a bit of a surprise. As it turns out, Chris and his dad had entered Sani2c, but his dad had broken his collarbone and was no longer able to participate.
It was two months before the race and now he was facing the prospect of giving up his entry if he couldn’t find another partner. Clearly my campfire stories had made an impression, so the next thing I knew I was on the receiving end of an invite into the hallowed Sani2c. It wasn’t the way I’d write the script – there wasn’t enough time to get sufficiently fit, and the entry wasn’t with my regular partner in crime – but after a restless night’s sleep, the opportunity was too good to pass up and I signed on the dotted line.
A few weeks later I crossed the finish line in Scottburgh with tired legs, a bag full of memories, and a new friend for life.
Fast forward a few years and it’s more of the same, but this time the stakes are a tad higher. I’d randomly decided to push the boundaries over December in a bid to kick start my base training (for Sani2c funnily enough), and I’d put in a mammoth 1000km’s during the month. My friends thought I was crazy, and I couldn’t really argue with them – I often found myself thinking that too!
But then, in the second week of January, I got a call. A friend that I had worked with a few years back, let’s call him Wayne, was looking for a partner… For the Absa Cape Epic… which was set to start in two months time! He’d happened to notice the mileage I had put in over the previous month, and I was one of the few people that had a good enough base to join him at such a late stage. I laughed. A lot!
There was no way I could get fit enough in that short time frame, and I could think of better ways to spend the money that I would have to cough up for the hefty entry fee. But then came the kicker – the entry was fully paid for! All I had to do was get to the start, preferably with a bike.
Again, this wasn’t the way I’d write the script, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I searched high and low for an excuse good enough to turn the entry down, but my quest for an escape route was fruitless. Family, friends and co-workers all re-iterated the fact that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
There were a few restless nights this time around, and my mind changed more times in those few days than our finance minister changed in that absurd week in December 2015. But I now sit here writing this piece a few weeks after the Cape Epic, in the form of my life with a an adventure of a lifetime at the top of my memory bank and a Cape Epic finisher medal on my desk.
So what’s the moral of these stories? It’s simple really. If you’re keen for a few spontaneous adventures, keep yourself in decent form and enjoy the company of others while you’re out riding or having a cold one after a ride. You never know when opportunity will come knocking.
The Rookie Project, MTB for average bros comprises of Gresham Enerson and Paulo Conde, who share their average bro experiences as South African mountain bikers in this column and on twitter – @Rookie_Project.