Face masks, smaller race fields, variable start times, virtual race briefings, bigger gaps between start batches, no-touch water points, cattle-spray sanitisers… These are just some of the changes mountain bikers can expect from events that will take place this year according to the organisers of KAP Sani2c, FNB Wines2Whales, Grindrod Bank Berg and Bush, Nissan Trailseeker Series and The 36ONE, among others.
By Sean Badenhorst
Will MTB racing ever be the same again? Grindrod Bank Berg and Bush 2019 | Photo Em Gatland.
What should have a been a dream year for South African mountain bike events has turned into a coronavirus-fuelled nightmare. Starting with the cancellation of the Absa Cape Epic the day before its planned start, all subsequent events from March until August 2020 have had to be postponed or cancelled due to the government-induced lockdown.
With the Covid-19 virus seemingly nearing its peak (late July-August) and Cycling South Africa recently announcing that group events may resume from 1 September, there’s a good chance this nightmare may soon over. Of course in the big picture, participating in a mountain bike event is a significant privilege and perspective should be maintained at a time when children are going hungry due to a crushed South African economy.
The fact is though that tens of thousands of South Africans participate in mountain bike events each year and a multi-billion Rand cycling industry has developed from this that creates employment for both full-time and part-time workers. What is a leisure activity escape for many is a livelihood for some.
Group races/events under Cycling South Africa’s current definition may not number more than 300 (including event staff). For mountain bike events accustomed to catering for up to 4000 participants that’s going to offer a real challenge. Hopefully by September the Covid-19 situation will be more under control and event restrictions will ease. But right now, some of the country’s biggest mountain bike events are scheduled to go ahead between September and December.
We asked a few 2020 event-related questions of the organisers of the KAP Sani2c (Glenn and Tamika Haw), Grindrod Bank Berg and Bush (Gary and Roxanne Green), FNB Wines2Whales (Johan Kriegler), Faces/Advendurance, organisers of the Nissan Trailseeker Series, Race to the Sun and others (Fritz Pienaar); and Dryland Event Management, organisers of The 36ONE MTB Challenge, Momentum Medical Scheme Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen and others (Henco Rademeyer).
How has the Covid-19 lockdown and ban on events impacted your event so far?
KAP san2c start 2019
The 16th edition of KAP sani2c would have taken place in May 2020. On the 16th March 2020 we released a statement on our decision to move the event to December 2020. Riders have the choice to move their entry to December 2020 or May 2021.
As a true community based event where all service providers work for an essential community organisation, not running the event this year would have severely affected many organisations’ ability to function. It was essential then that we planned to run the December sani2c this year.
This will allow us the opportunity to support all our community organisations again. KAP sani2c has become a big part of our community. Not only is it a financial injection for many organisations but it has also become an annual highlight for all those farming communities who proudly work at the event.
Who really knows what Covid regulations will be in place by December? Whatever they are the one thing we do know is that the sani2c communities will make a plan to run the event in whatever form it needs too. For now we are planning to run as normal but should it be needed, the farmers will all ‘Make a Plan’ and allow our valued supporters the opportunity to experience the gees created at sani2c.
It has impacted a few of our events, but the effect has been minimal as we were able to either move the events to later dates or postpone them by 12 months to 2021. It also makes it more tricky having 10 events to negotiate. Although the effect now remains minimal, we are all too aware that a sudden spike in Covid-19 infections could see us return to the levels where we were in April. We have a good mix of local and international clients, and our overseas customers are obviously affected on a far greater level than South African participants due to the international travel ban that will probably be with us until December at least.
The Covid-19 lockdown hit us like a rugby tackle from the blind side! We were very optimistic about our events in 2020 before lockdown, and expected a great year. Our first leg of the Nissan Trailseeker Series (Banhoek) was our biggest Cape based event to date and entries for our other events, such as Race to the Sun and Warrior Series, were higher than the same period in the previous years. We were in numerous sponsorship talks and everything looked positive, until the president announced the ban on mass gatherings on 15 March. Our business income stopped abruptly in March – even worse, we took a step backwards as we used up much of our cashflow by offering full refunds to entrants of all our cancelled events. Sponsors stopped paying and decided to wait and see if events would take place; and talks with potential new sponsors also ceased, which is understandable. All of these factors created a really tough business environment for us.
The Covid-19 lockdown and the subsequent level changes have generated a fair amount of uncertainty, especially when it comes to the hosting of stage races in 2020. A well-known quote comes to mind, though: “The only certainty in life, is uncertainty.” As a team we are continuing to work remotely, to ensure our safety, and doing constant scenario planning to guarantee we’re on top of any amendments made by government. We’re also doing some future “crystal ball” planning based on the latest info and best practices we’re seeing from stakeholders such as the WHO, CSA, the UCI and others. Right now, we are on track to deliver another memorable event, should government regulations permit.
Berg and Bush
Hugely! First of all, the whole family has started farming with Farmer Gary… On a serious note though and on a personal level, events are in our blood and at the core of what we do is passion for hosting you riders. It has been challenging personally to reflect on our role in society without our events and we’re seeing first-hand how families, schools, churches and communities rely heavily on us for fundraising. Most importantly, our staff and temporary staff are the most vulnerable to the pandemic, with no other income. We have continued to support them with farm and route – building work however we need to get our events going soon again to sustain this and support them.
What structural or date changes (if any) have you had to make to your event/s?
Nissan Trailseeker Series start 2019 | Photo: Henk Neuhoff
We initially did not expect the ban on mass gatherings to be in place for so long and made various date changes to move all our events between April to July into later months (August to November). We later realised that we will have to make even more changes as we will not be allowed to host events in August, so we again moved events into later months and we were forced to cancel various events, because we simply cannot fit all our events into the last portion of the year. We also cancelled events that could not be done within social distancing regulations such as the Warrior Race (an obstacle course race series).
We are not making any date changes to the 2020 FNB Wines2Whales Switchback. With government regulations continuously changing, any changes are a moving target at this stage; we are, however, expecting to limit the size of the field in each race this year, as well as adapting race village layouts to accommodate physical distancing and hygiene regulations. The riding experience that we pride ourselves on delivering at the FNB W2W will remain unchanged, focusing on the amazing trails that the FNB W2W is renowned for. Further details will be announced by August.
Berg and Bush
We are aiming for October and going for it! We have kept the same three event dates for early October (2–11th) as planned. We will be using our much-loved trails along with the new sections of trail we have built this year. We have no reason to cancel prematurely as the race village and many of the trails are on our farm – and we are so keen to host the event as planned. We have been building trails and keeping our staff going in anticipation of this.
Well, for a company that hosts 10 events annually, date changes were a reality. We were slightly naive when the initial news broke about the lockdown believing that this would be a temporary inconvenience lasting no more than 3-4 months. Little did we know that the impact would be far greater. Certainly one-day events are far easier to just move on to a later date, but the longer stage races are very difficult to just move on. We also have a few UCI accredited events which have to comply to an international calendar, which is also in disarray, hence the postponement of our higher profile properties to 2021.
Due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic and the fact that our planned December and May 2021 event are only 6 months apart, and allowing riders the option to move their entry to December 2020 or May 2021, we took the decision to merge the Trail and Race into one event. The dates for December are 2-4 December 2020 for the Adventure and 3-5 December 2020 for the Race. The May 2021 event dates are Adventure 13–15 May 2021, Race 14-16 May 2021.
What can riders expect that will be different from before Covid-19 at your event/s?
Grindrod Bank Berg and Bush start 2019. | Photo: Em Gatland
Berg and Bush
We hope to bring the same positive gees and trail passion. We have always had a rather obsessive take on hygiene especially at mealtimes. I think this will now be seen throughout the race village in our bathrooms and social areas – we are partnering with a hygiene company to help with daily fogging & sanitising and bathroom cleaning. We will most likely run with more eco–friendly, takeaway disposable options for catering at meals, social distancing measures and less crowding in marquees without losing the same gees, and we promise the best riding weekend away with mates.
Physical distancing has become something we’ve all incorporated into our daily lives and this will be in play at the FNB W2W. Riders can expect a race village layout and possible location change, with fewer participants, further spread out start batches, touchpoint minimisation, greater personal responsibility and hygiene practices, amongst others. We also can’t forget that 2020 will be the first year that we’ll host the FNB W2W Switchback! Exciting new trail sections such as Gaf-se-Switchback, Karwyders Contour, The Secret, Rietvlei Magic, Idiom Contour, The Secret’s Sister and the Lourensford Ultimate have all been purpose-built for the inaugural FNB W2W Switchback.
Who really knows what Covid regulations will be in place by December? Whatever they are the one thing we do know is that sani2c communities will make a plan to run the event in whatever form it needs to. For now, we are planning to run as normal but should it be needed the farmers will all ‘Make a Plan’ and allow our valued supporters the opportunity to experience the gees created at sani2c.
There may need to be the obvious changes such as screening, virtual race briefings and social distancing etc. We will make the necessary changes. We are in the fortunate position to have permanent race villages and have already begun working on improving them to be best prepared. Should it be required, our farmers have some novel ideas around adapting cattle spray equipment to sanitise riders and their bikes!
We will host cycling events from September onwards, if everything goes according to plan. We were recently informed that events with a limit of less than 300 participants may proceed from September, and we jumped on the opportunity to host events again. We are however very cautious and have made various changes to comply with the Covid regulations. I actually think that the riders will really love our new event structure and that there will be many benefits such as less congestion on the trails, no need to pre-register on specific days or venues.
Here are some of the structural changes made:
- We are breaking the event up into five smaller events over a weekend, with each allowing 280 participants. This will give us time to scan and process every participant and to capture temperature and ensure that everyone is wearing a mask, is sanitised etc…
- Our water points will be totally no-touch and will be sanitised regularly. All the food will be packed in smaller sealed bags and we will fill your bottles for you without touching you or the bottle (rider holds the bottle and assistant pours drinks from a jug).
- We will have no need for registration as we will distribute SA Seeding boards (with timing chips) to various cycle shops, where they can be purchased and linked to the rider’s profile by the rider online.
Fortunately, mountain biking has always been a sport were social distancing is a given when on your bike, except for the pre- and post-race formalities that require the gathering of bigger groups. We have been part of a discussion group with Cycling South Africa on how to best take the events industry forward in these times; and I must commend Ciska Austin and her team for their pro-active approach in establishing certain cycling event guidelines for a safe opening of the industry that was presented to government already.
Have you got an entry carry-over option for those that have entered but won’t be able attend this year’s edition of your 2020 event/s?
The 36ONE MTB Challenge start 2019 | Photo: ZC Marketing Consulting
Our primary focus is the well-being of our clients and loyal supporters, not just their health, but also limiting the financial impact of an event’s postponement or moving it to another date. Financial hardship is a reality in these times and we want to support our clients as far as we are able to by offering a variety of options.
Our offers include a cost-free transfer to the 2021 or 2022 event, a generous partial refund or assisting in selling the entry at no additional cost to another. This will severely impact our bottom line, but as a company we are in it for the long haul and we are certain that this model will ensure that loyalty towards our brand and properties will remain at its current high level. I must also commend our partners and sponsors, all of them are more than accommodating and are taking the hit with us and are supporting us all the way. We are very fortunate and also appreciative of this gesture.
Berg and Bush
Yes absolutely. We have the rider’s interests at heart – as we are riders ourselves and ride and run many other events! We know the pain of not getting a refund. We have relaxed our refund policy to encourage people to enter and keep training. Those who don’t want to commit to this October can carry their entry to 2021 or to our next available race date at no extra charge.
We believe that many event organisers handled the lockdown situation poorly, by cancelling events with no refund options and in some cases not even a roll-over or credit for the following year. We want to give participants peace of mind that they are entering a Faces/Advendurance event risk-free and we think it was the right thing to do, even though it puts additional strain on our cash-flow. We have always offered free carry-over to the later date, or a full carry-over or refund if we have to cancel the event.
Our standard cancellation policy applies, however, should the event not take place due to government regulations and the Covid-19 pandemic, all registered and fully paid teams (at the time of cancellation) will be transferred to 2021 if they choose not to cancel by the applicable cancellation dates.
Riders have the choice to move their entry to December 2020 or May 2021. No additional fee.
Have you got a worst-case-scenario plan (i.e. event cannot take place as scheduled) – if so, what will you do?
The 2019 FNB Wines2Whale Shiraz Stage 2 start. | Photo Xavier Briel
For us, the absolute worst-case scenario is that the 2020 FNB W2W Switchback cannot take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Should the event be cancelled due to the pandemic, and we truly hope it does not happen, all registered and fully paid teams (at the time of cancellation) will be transferred to the 2021 FNB W2W.
We have from plan A through to plan G. Plan A would be best case scenario and be as close to a normal sani2c as possible. Plan G would be a worst case scenario where sani2c would be held over a period of time where each rider can select a start day and slot and would need to be completely self-sufficient i.e. no support stations or race villages. Riders would need to have their own support vehicle etc. Several variations of the best and worst case scenarios may be necessary so that we abide by the Covid-19 regulations of that time.
Look, our worst case scenario would be probably be when forced into a cancellation the night before. Exactly what happened to the Absa Cape Epic and I can only imagine what they had to go through making that decision. I applaud them for it, it was undoubtedly the right one and we feel for them having had to take some very unfair criticism.
We now have the liberty of planning and projecting a better outcome, but an equally frustrating scenario would be hosting an event during these times were the numbers are down and the event vibe is hampered by crippling restrictions – this would not be fair to the participants or the sponsors; so in such an instance, we would rather postpone an event by 12 months. Perhaps the worst situation would be postponing an event to next year and the 2021 race is also impacted by Covid-19, this I see as potentially having the worst impact.
Our worst-case scenario is a ban on all events for the 2020 calendar year. It is not a good scenario but we are finding ways to finance our company and we are optimistic that we will survive even if this becomes our reality.
Our team has been back in the office since May and we have worked hard on new events, streamlined systems and improved structures. We have also been looking for opportunities in the crisis and tried to stay positive and optimistic. We believe that people will return to events with great enthusiasm. The lockdown showed people the value of great experiences, freedom and health (over material things), and that is exactly what we try to offer in our events.
Berg and Bush
We are very positive people! Our thoughts are that should we not be able to host it in October, we will host it at the next available opportunity early next year and not cancel the event. As the race village is on our farm, and many of the trails, we feel we can host it at short notice. Either way, we will be hosting another Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush before our 15th year celebration in October 2021!
Do you see major MTB events ever returning to the format we are accustomed to (so no limitations at all)?
I am not a fan of the cliché ‘the new normal’, but do think that the changes which we need to implement will be around for a while. I sure hope that we will return to the normal way of doing things and that a handshake is here to stay.
That’s a huge question that we wish we knew the answer to! We still believe there is a strong demand for events like the FNB Wines2Whales – we see it with the events that are starting to open up in Europe, such as Swiss Epic for example. Riders are hungry to get out on their bikes, socialise with other like-minded people and ‘escape’. While Covid-19 can be expected to be with us for a while still, we firmly believe that, with some carefully planned adaptions (par for the course in any dynamic environment), there is for sure a future for mass participation events in South Africa.
Yes, we do. We will look back on this pandemic at some point and realise how it changed our lives for the better. We believe many have had the time during this period to take stock of their lives and they have realised how important little things in life are. Events like KAP sani2c help people to live a more fulfilled balanced and healthy lifestyle.
So yes, stage events are special and South Africans can be very proud to know that our mountain bike stage races are among the best in the world.
Berg and Bush
No. We think it’ll be more about the ride, and getting out and experiencing nature on your bike. We feel the landscape of events may change to a few smaller events spread out over a longer period which focus more on the lifestyle aspect of riding. With this in mind, we’re focusing all our energy on making our trails the absolute best, and a huge focus on a great night’s rest with our affordable upgraded tent options.
I think a positive is that we will all really appreciate what we have in the mountain bike events space – open trails, safe environment, beautiful communities, great weekend with mates and remember not to sweat the small stuff. At our events – it’s all about the trails. We want the Grindrod Bank Berg & Bush to be the one you can’t WAIT to get back to riding!
I do, without a doubt. The restrictions are currently in place to curb the transmission of this pandemic, but as soon as a more permanent solution the form of a vaccine has surfaced, we should return to our old normal. Personal hygiene like hand sanitation should be something that stays with us forever, it can only be a good thing.
I however feel that certain elements brought onto by Covid-19 are rather positive in nature and these include race organizers perhaps having a look at their business model to be more inclined to excellence in customer service, look more after the needs of their customers and also provide real value for money within high quality events.
Anything else you want to add?
The cycling events in South Africa are some of the best in the world, and for obvious reasons – we live in a beautiful country with amazing weather and many fit and health-conscious people. Our industry boosts tourism, assists people with living healthier lives and creates many jobs. We are unfortunately in a dire situation because mass gatherings were stopped before lockdown, and we will be last to return to business. We hope that sponsors and participants realise the value of events and keep supporting this industry and all the good it brings.
At sani2c we have always prided ourselves in being innovative and now is the time for us to be properly innovative. There will be a plan from our side to keep our mission alive. Healthy people, riding bikes and impacting positively on those around them.
Our purpose remains that we are driven to create an extraordinary event for riders, the people along the route and our partners, the KAP sani2c purpose is twofold.
Firstly, we aim to responsibly organise a multi-day, paired mountain bike event for both local and international competitors, which, while challenging many of the disciplines of mountain biking, is within reasonable reach of athletes at all levels.
Secondly, we aspire to create employment and other commercial opportunities and develop skills by collaborating with local organisations and previously unemployed residents on the route. By providing services to the event, they generate income for themselves and their causes. In addition, our partnerships and the media coverage the race attracts not only highlight the natural beauty of the area, thereby building tourism and related entrepreneurial opportunities, but they also draw attention to important sustainability issues in the area.
If government allows limited participant events by October, then we’ll be ready to deliver another unique and memorable event in 2020. Hopefully from 2021 onwards, things will return to ‘normal’. Whilst we’re in the Covid-19 pandemic, let’s all do our bit and stick to the recommended guidelines, and if events are allowed, please be patient as things may take a little longer than what you are ordinarily used to, for us all to adhere to the protocols, and get back to doing what we all love to do… safely. Why not take that time to embrace all that the FNB Wines2Whales is and enjoy the SeriousGEES!
On 1 and 2 August, we are hosting the FNB Wines2Whales Challenge in support of the Botrivier Crèche Initiative. We’re encouraging riders to turn SeriousGEES into #Gees4Good by donating R1 for every kilometre they ride virtually or on the trails over the course of the weekend and every Rand raised will be used to support the Botrivier Crèche Initiative. Those who donate R40 or more the Creche Initiative will be in the running to win an entry to the FNB Wines2Whales as well as some amazing prizes from our sponsors! Details on the FNB Wines2Whales Challenge can be found here.
THESE MTB EVENTS ARE STILL GOING AHEAD IN 2020
Government restrictions in reaction to Covid-19 have seen a number of 2020 mountain bike events being cancelled or postponed. But hey, it’s only July! International cycle racing starts in Europe on 1 August. The South African Covid-19 peak is no doubt close. Cycling SA has announced that some racing can begin. Here are 29 significant races that are scheduled from September to December that are worth getting excited about!