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Donnet Dumas from Eroica South Africa had lunch with Sarah Scrimgeour who rode her first Eroica back in 2018 as a new cyclist. They talk about how Sarah’s experience of the event has evolved.  

DONNET: Hi Scrim! OK, let’s get to it. Why did you enter your first Eroica? 

SARAH: Actually, I didn’t mean to. I just happened to bring my bike along for a weekend away with my partner Craig and his friend Clayton. They had ridden Eroica the year before. But then on the day, I asked to enter at the last minute, to the horror of Stan, and ended up riding the 45km route. It was a completely spontaneous decision. 

DONNET: Oh, so what was your riding experience before that?

SARAH: I had just started riding really. I had no experience riding on gravel. It was pretty nerve-racking. So Eroica was a challenge as a new cyclist. But what made it easier was the social aspect of it. It doesn’t feel like a competitive race. You don’t feel like you’re falling behind. You’re not being looked at strangely if you can’t ride well. There’s something about riding at an organised event that gets your adrenaline up, and that coupled with the friendly atmosphere and good vibe really helps you conquer that new challenge. Well… it’s either that or the brandy shot and egg roll I had for breakfast!   

DONNET: Brandy for breakfast sounds wild. 

SARAH: It’s just your typical karoo start to the day.

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DONNET: So the breakfast got you hooked! You came back to ride the following year, right? Did you ride the same bike?

SARAH: Yes, the first two years I rode my vintage Hansom bike. You know, steel frame, skinny road tyres, drop handlebars. I got mine from Nils, at Woodstock Cycleworks. The second year I felt a lot more confident. I also swapped out the cassette for a few more lighter gears. Just to help me up some of the hills. That second year was SO hot! I think it reached over 40 degrees. The rest stop at the dam was such a relief.

DONNET: That was part of the reason why we moved the event to later in the year for 2022. March is just too hot in the karoo. But you came back anyway? 

SARAH: In 2021 I was keen to try out my new gravel bike, so I entered the NOVA. The feeling on the fatter tyres was so different. Not better or worse, it’s just a completely different challenge. I also wanted to push myself a little more on distance and speed and thought that I would best be able to do that on my gravel bike. Last year the NOVA format was also a little different because of Covid. The gravel bikes were riding the same routes as the vintage bikes, and the informal start in the morning meant you could set off whenever you wanted to.

DONNET: And how do you think that worked? 

SARAH: Of course there’s the hype and excitement that can build up around everyone setting off on a mass start in the morning. But I actually liked the freedom of being able to start when we wanted to last year. And it’s not like we missed out on anything at the rest stops. We started late, but still caught up with everyone at the main stop, the one that serves those amazing pomegranate and gin coolers. 

DONNET: Yes, the Groenland stop is incredible. John and Salma have made Eroica and all the riders always feel so welcomed on their farm. It’s the main hub for the Classic route. Everyone passes by there and has a good hangout. 

SARAH: Those gins, the trout sandwiches at TwoDam and the secret swim spot were the highlights for me last year. And considering all the challenges of Covid and putting on an event, I definitely think it was my favourite one so far.  

DONNET: So it’s pretty clear that the social aspect of the event is a big draw for you. 

SARAH: Well, yes. I get to be out on my bike all day in a beautiful area, riding incredible and sometimes difficult roads. But we’re eating amazing food and I’m in the company of my friends. It’s definitely some of the most fun I’ve had on my bike. Each year I do try to push for more of a challenging ride though. The first two years I rode 45km on different routes, and then last year I rode 65km. So, considering I’m now a seasoned professional I think I could go even further and faster!

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DONNET: What would you say is missing from the event? 

SARAH: Things have changed each year I’ve ridden, and it’s nice to keep it fresh. We really enjoyed the sit-down dinners from the first years, but as the event grows I guess you guys have to make changes to fit that. I saw that you’re doing a food festival this year, and I think that’s a great alternative to a formal dinner. I think it’s important to have at least one official group thing happening where people can get together, off their bikes, and celebrate the Eroica spirit. You know, the charm that comes with everyone dressing up in old kit and moving around on their vintage bikes. It’s what makes Eroica stand out from other events.  

DONNET: So do you make the effort to dress the part? 

SARAH: Yes! But it’s a little bit difficult to source the era specific kit. I’ve mostly had to borrow jerseys from someone. I know that at some of the first events there were Eroica branded wool jerseys available, and I would love to get one of those. I think people would make more of an effort if the availability was there. 

DONNET: Thanks for the lunch. Have you got anything else you want to add? 

SARAH: Nope. Just that I’m looking forward to riding with you again, friend! 

DONNET: Me too.

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