Em Gatland
Em Gatland

To take part in not only the largest but also one of the iconic MTB stage races in SA is an opportunity one can’t afford to miss!  This was my first Sani2C and besides the old hands particularly one forked tongue speaking black mamba (10 Sani’s) putting the fear of God into us, the excitement in the months leading up to the race was tangible.

Logistics for the Sani is a consideration, particularly from Cape Town and so we had to have a few “consultation meetings” which involved fires, meat and of course liquid refreshments to try and eek out some truth from the wise old men of the Sani.

We also took the task of training quite seriously – Sani2C is a long ride and also includes the infamous Umkomaas valley drop and climb (and let’s be honest, probably the main reason one does the Sani!). The Umko is not only a challenge but also the invisible badge of honour after having completed the ride. Day Two is undoubtedly the day that gets the most attention – it certainly comes up in conversation no matter who you talk to.

By now most of you would have had a good idea about this year’s Sani – it was messy! The one thing Farmer Glen and his experienced team can’t control is the weather but like true farmers however they can certainly have a go at managing it. When you have 3 000 (of a total of 4 500 riders over three events) still on the route and the rain comes bucketing down and doesn’t stop it’s no mean feat. Mountain biking isn’t for sissies, but it’s also not for fools – the Umkomaas drop is a single track that drops hard and fast to the river below and in a constant deluge the chances of someone going over the edge becomes a reality – this had to be taken out of the equation. As a result the difficult decision to re-route Day Two and make it a neutral zone was taken.  The route arranged while most of us were sleeping (although I suspect most with one eye open hoping the rain would stop – it never did) meant that we would miss the Umkomaas and go via the road from Mackenzie Club with a 25km piece of the original route taking you into the race village at Jolivet. We were told that as it was a neutral zone we could get to Jolivet any way you wished but should you not ride you would not qualify as an official finisher of the race – the exodus began …


One 82km 1185m
Two 96km 1550m
Three 82km 1050m
TOTAL 263km 3785m

The rain never stopped and while snow was falling on the Sani Pass the temperatures en-route dropped to six degrees, without wind chill factor. It was a test and at times felt more like a survival program. The pros fly along and hit the showers in a few hours, for the rest it was a four hour plus war of attrition. Preferred cycling outfit of the day was plastic bags (that for most were what was given out as additional thermal insulation for the night before – I kid you not!) and they were life-savers. At times visibility was close to zero and along a number of slippery and very muddy district roads I had my sunnies off as they were caked in mud and found the middle of the road, pointed in the general direction and kept my eyes closed.   Honestly there wasn’t much to speak up on this day – besides our hosts. They made every effort to try and see us home safely and warmly – the hot chocolate, coffee and heaters in the hastily prepared building of one of the kind farmers was an unbelievable oasis in an otherwise dismal state of affairs. Jolivet and the prospect of a hot shower was a welcome site with its excellent facilities and must be a treat in good weather. Did I mention it was still raining?

The Sani has been going for a long time now and the organisation is on point. All the race villages are superbly geared up and cater for the large number of riders easily and comfortably. However, the weather had created a situation not seen before (or certainly for a long time) and as a result I got the feeling that there was a lot of scrambling going on – we awoke to announcements being made along the lines of “travel safely to wherever you are going. It’s going to be tough out there. We completely understand if you bail” etc. After the day before it was quite an easy decision for most of the field – in fact close to 900 of (us) called it quits. Ironically the rain stopped as soon as we loaded our bikes into the back of a local taxi, and only resumed late afternoon.  The small, brave (or perhaps crazier than the rest of us) field that soldiered on definitely did well to make it to the end; they also were quick to let us know that we were complete “wooses” for not continuing. I guess …

Nature once again proved that, despite the best routes and the most well-prepared events, she is the boss.  The silver lining, well certainly for me, is that the Sani2C and I have unfinished business.  Not only to officially finish the race but more importantly to tackle the Umkomaas!  I will definitely be back!

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