We spent the night before the start of the trail at the new Glencairn facilities which, are fantastic, we had the best tents, mattresses and showers of all three days. The only negative was the poor quality of oversized kit especially for the noobs who quite rightly were expecting the usual high quality of Sani2c kit. Ah well, I guess that high standard couldn’t have lasted forever. Bikes were prepared for the next day’s battle, my rear tyre needed new sealant and after a problem I had on Gravel & Grape with the tyre not seating properly I decided to pump it to 3,5 bar and leave it overnight to seat properly and reduce the pressure in the morning before the ride. The beers flowed as Shrek and Waffle gave each other gears about the next day’s battle, we were a group of 8 riders with 3 noobs and advice was being dispensed freely from the veterans. All of which came to an abrupt end as the first bout of rain brought a sense of foreboding to bear on noobs and veterans alike so we finished our beers and retired to our tents with a new battle cry “Sleepy, sleepy hand off pee pee” We awoke to a misty morning and the morning battle cry of” Wakey, wakey hand off snaky”; this team is obsessed with their nether regions. Waffle and I set off a batch ahead of Shrek and Red which was not ideal as we had no idea if we were leading or not, they could be just a minute behind out of sight but nine minutes in the lead. So we decided to set off at my pace with Waffle sitting slip whenever he could which we thought should be quicker than Shrek could get his 120 kg frame to go. The weakness in the plan was that the rest of our party were in Shrek’s batch and the other five riders were determined to help him make a race of it and one of the riders, Jimbo, had dropped down from A batch and had some serious skills and speed. Our little plan did not last for long as Waffle called time out on View Point climb and suggested that we hold the horses back somewhat. I realised from that moment that the race was effectively over and we settled into a pace and rhythm that would ensure a finish. I would attack the single track sections for fun and wait for Waffle to catch up to slipstream on the flats. Waffle was more than holding his own and more than once I saw his cramp induced grimace change into a smile as the Sani single tracks found a new fan. Waffle took time out at the Pevency water table to greet a family friend who was serving us, the way her face lit up when she saw him made our day, unfortunately we had a race to ride and we had to move on. But what stayed with us is how the Sani impacts positively on the lives of communities that surround it.
Other than my back problems I have another medical problem which I had developed from eating too many Contador steaks namely Mad Cow. It manifests itself on fast descents, gnarly or not makes no difference the Mad Cow takes over and I attack the descent with only one goal in mind Speed. My overall time for the day is less important than my max speed on my Garmin and there is a particular descent on a gravel road before the Xumeni forest that was my target. In the days of 3 x 10 chain rings I managed 78 km/h on what was a very rough district road riddled by erosion trenches. In today’s world of 2x10, 78 km/h was highly unlikely as a 38/11 combination has you spinning out at 55km/h so my target was 60. Imagine my surprise when we exited the forest single track onto a freshly graded gravel road. 70 said the Mad Cow and we were off the numbers on the Garmin my focus, 30 k - passing other riders on the far right, 45k - more riders watch the drifting rider, nice butt, use the drainage channel to pass, duck under the branches. 55k- spinning out, 60k -passing Nick on the right, sharp turn back wheel sliding, ….3,5 huh? That’s not on my Garmin. 65k - get aerodynamic use the dropper post. Another turn, back wheel into a serious slide, need to correct the slide 3,5, what is it with this 3,5? The Racing Ralph on the rear has no grip 3,5, there it is again. 68k - three arrows for a sharp turn, don’t touch the brakes, almost there. 3,5, damn! I forgot to deflate the tyre no wonder we’re in a serious slide, let it drift and overtake on the right. Downhill done, what’s the score …Garmin scrolls …….69,9km/h aaargh! And this is what it looks like in pictures oh, if you want to feel the Mad Cow play the music loud! The babe with the nice butt showed us up on the next climb (okay she was holding onto to her partners back pocket). The descent through Xumeni was quick and we had great dice with another team that was equally adept at descending. We were held up a little through Wappos by other riders and this Farmer Glen chappie walking on the path but a hard ride on the next descent gave us a clear run on the next single track.
The time difference between the teams was sufficient to bring the racing aspect to an end, Shrek found the climbing and distance tough but although slower than us he finished in a more than respectable time. I pestered all that paid me any mind with tales of my descending exploits including seeking out Nixm and retelling my story to her and her partner to the point of boredom. My other companions dealt with this by buying me beer in an attempt to shut me up. However, the story of the day belonged to Jimbo, who was simply having a blast playfully wheeling, bunny hopping and doing endos at every opportunity. He showed his riding mates some serious skill by bunny hopping the entire railway line with an endo front wheel landing. This raised a comment from a pretty lady rider “Now you’re just showing off” she said, with a glint in his eye and a sparkling smile he responded “Not really my angel”. Her riposte? “You’re not dead and I’m not an Angel”! We have a clear winner. Umko Descent and Passing Slower RidersAlthough throughout day 1 Waffle and I were relatively untroubled by slower riders on the singletrack, we had enough indications that the majority of the riders in our batch were slower than us when things got a bit technical. What made the problem worse was that we had slipped down a batch and knowing what the Umkomaas descent held in store for us we knew we had to have a plan. We could see from the time sheets that we had just missed staying in our batch by seconds so in theory we should be able to get to the front of our batch and hopefully pass some of the F batch riders where possible. But we had to start off at the front of the start line and set off as fast as possible to get to the single track first. What we didn't know was that the organisers in their wisdom decided to start our batch 10 minutes earlier than the time indicated by the SMS we received the night before. So our plan was out the window from the moment our batch started. I was stranded at the start line waiting for Waffle to complete some admin and we started 3 minutes after our batch had left and I said to Waffle "Now is the time to show what we're made of, here boys become men, this is where legends are made and heroes born". We were nailing the first descent and we could see our batch cresting the rise. "One day, you'll tell your grandchildren of this day, the day you and I caught up 3 minutes and passed an entire batch before the the Umkomaas descent even started, the day we became legends in our own lunchtime" I said. It was my best speech ever and Waffle didn't hear a word of it as the wind had drowned out every word. We caught the stragglers of our batch as they entered the first singletrack, fortunately for us it was a dual single track and the forest had been harvested giving us a clear view as to which side was faster. We hit the right hand line and although we had some advantage we soon got caught behind some slower riders. We were able to cut back onto the left track to pass and this became the trend, swopping tracks left and right to pass those slower than us and we were bouyed by our progress until the dual single tracks ended and we had to settle for the pace set by the riders in front. I just knew this was going to be a day of frustration and was becoming quite miserable but the vista of the Umkomaas valley opening up in front of us changed all of that. There are very few negative moods suffered by humanity that can't be erased by that view (okay, perhaps if someone stole my bike it might be a struggle) . In fact the day before I advised Nixm "Stop and take photos you won't regret it". So amongst the helter skelter of our start Waffle and I stopped to take a couple of happy snaps as did many of those around us. If ever you get the privilege of riding the Sani this is one of the moments in Mountain Biking to be savored, to be celebrated as you get to see a view that very few sporting endeavors can compete with. It takes your breath away or wait, could that be due to our efforts trying to get to the front. As we started the Umko descent our worst fears were realised, this was going to be a long long frustrating day as we were caught behind strings of riders going at about 60% of our pace. More often than not it was one rider who either had no skills or were so intimidated by the steep drop on the left that their progress impeded scores of riders behind. We needed a new plan and I came up with three distinctive techniques to get passed these slow riders. The first is to shout "Let the chick through, she's faster than you!" Whether there is a lady rider near or not does not matter as the offending rider is in no position to look behind him as his eyes are firmly fixed on the trail ahead, every twist, turn, rock or root is his focus and he hits everyone of them. Now this technique leads to one of two outcomes, either the rider's ego gets the better of him and rides faster or he succumbs to the pressure and let's us through often left bemused looking for the non existent female rider in the passing group. This works very well when there is a long string of riders and many of those that benefitted from this were so grateful that they let me through to wreak havoc on the next bunch to clear the way for them. The second technique is the "That back wheel looks flat, Boet" . Now this works because the targeted rider has no confidence and is desperately looking for a reason for his slow progress and every slight twitch of the rear end of the bike seems to confirm this commentary. Not everyone is fooled by this at first so you may have to give constant commentary so 'Yoh! that was close, well held" or " I'm amazed what low pressures tubeless tyres can handle and still stay on the rim" followed by " What rims / tyres are those?" Eventually, the rider pulls over to inspect the wheel for himself and that's your moment to get passed along with your growing fan club. The third technique is my favorite as it goes to the heart of the problem, it's the constant coaching technique and it works like this. First you have to create a rapport with the rider so you need to start with something like " What a view!" his response to this is very important. If he is all cheerful and comes across as if he is simply enjoying the ride then he is not a candidate for this technique and you might want to simply ask for track and the way to do it is to complain about your partner who has just left you for dust and you need to catch him. This only works if your real partner is attuned to this and ready to take advantage when you're given the opportunity. Waffle was a master at this and instinctively knew when full gas was needed. The other potential response from the rider is a rather gruff "Ja" out of the corner of his mouth with no eye contact. The body language also sends a signal usually the shoulders are hunched over the bars with head tucked in between the shoulder blades, a noobs best turtle necking impression. You need to start with some easy stuff and usually a comment like "Boet, you seem far too tense. You need to relax those shoulders a bit". Now his next response is quite telling if you see the guy trying to relax your candidate is a nice guy just trying his best and he will eventually let you through, if the arms extend out and the elbows get all pointy you're in for the long haul, either way you need to be patient. The trick is not to give all the advice at once as you need to be constant, you need to wear him down and you need to keep the rapport going so a little encouragement will help "That's much better" Even pointy elbow guy usually drops the shoulders at this point. " Right, now put the weight on the outside pedal as you turn into the switchback" "No, the outside pedal should be in the half past position". Now wait for one more switchback and say "Great, you're handling that much better, now keep your eyes focussed on where you want to go not what you want to avoid" You can add all sorts of other advice about weight position, inside shoulders etc but usually the nice guy thanks you and gives track while pointy elbow guy says "Piss off!" To which you respond "Will do, just give some track and I'll be on my way" It never fails. I was getting such good results and that I was starting to get a little following and there was constant chatter amongst us. I was also starting to feel more and more confident at my new found track clearing abilities to the extent that I almost felt like a bit of bully. I tried to hide the latter part by chirping all and sundry around me, which made me feel like even more of a bully but I did it anyway. At one of the hold ups I met up with Nick who recognized me from my Mad Cow exploits on day one. This was what I needed someone that wanted to discuss fast descending with me, now my ego was going into overdrive. I had just finished bragging to Nick when I saw two riders off the track in a 2 meter deep donga so I chirped them " Hey, what are you guys doing down theeeerrrrrree...." and within an instant my little egotistical bubble was burst and I joined them OTB head first into their donga. Justice was restored, the Gods of Mountain Biking ensured that equilibrium was maintained and with Waffles help I meekly climbed out of the hole I was in and we continued on our way to Jolivet.