I was really looking forward to this version of the Sani2c, the dates had changed to later in the year and predictions for a decent dry run were looking good. I previously rode in a mixed team and didn’t really get out what  I expected in terms of results. This year though I had a new training program and had mixed feelings about my form running up to the race. I was in the unknown about what kind of peak I would have, but I put my trust in the trainer who drew it up and hoped for the best. My partner for the race had also changed from my original entry, to a man best known for his technical prowess and based on his result in the 2010 Epic, this boy can ride. Simon Lamond is devastating downhill, I worried about two things, him drawing me into making a mistake chasing him or him devastating his bike – as luck would have it neither happened.

We headed up to Durban and shared a flight with a lot of riders, and the coach to Underberg was full of familiar faces, we talked about the race and started some little internal wagers…the pressure was on! The weather was clear and sunny and we arrived, unpacked and breezed through registration – they really do make this race easy on the riders. We tucked into some nando’s spicy rice followed by a highly nutritious sports boerie roll, tomato salsa and onion relish. Let the munching begin. I mean racing.

We over-nighted in Underberg and the accommodation was good, the food however was terrible and I worried about my insides being cut to shreds but the nacho sized lasagne sheets I was ingesting – I wondered if it was baked or tempered in a kiln. I survived the night (and Simon’s sleep talking) and got packed and ready for the warn up ride to the race start 7km away. It was still dark and very misty and only 5 degrees.

Soon enough we were in our start chute and raring to go. The start was rolling smooth jeep track and under neutral pace car for just over 15km, a perfect warm up before the singletracks began. I followed Simon and we worked our way through the field choosing lines and directions in the dual track was hit and miss but for the most part we advanced. Soon we were out in the open again and chasing my brother Rob and his partner Carel. We caught them at the 25km mark and settled into a nice tempo with them over the floating bridge and over the first few climbs. By halfway we were hitting some nice form and got going nicely together, I could out-climb Simon so I gave him a few nudges along the way just to keep our average speed up and up the momentum over the tops. On the flats my 29er was super quick and Si hung onto my wheel and got towed along in the slip.

We escaped Rob and Carel and hooked it chasing time and positions for day one. We didn’t really know where we were lying but we just kept on cranking it. We whooped and whistled through each singletrack remembering to take some time to enjoy the surrounding beauty and views and also the sheer amount of well prepared fast flowing singltrack available. The last few kilometers were more open gravel roads and I got to work on front again, remembering to keep something in the tank for the last climb. We had a few teams hot on our heels but managed to fend them off and stay ahead for 20th place overall on day one’s 83km stage.

Floating Bridge No1

The downtime on this race is great, we were done racing by 11am and set about getting bikes washed, clothing boxes, showered and recovery began. we hooked up some massages and by 12:30 all we needed to do was eat, sleep and talk rubbish to our fellow competitors. Day two was a monster stage and vital for our GC position. 98km long, with nearly double the climbing of day one and a lot of singletrack early on, that we didn’t want to get held up in.

The morning prep did not go well and my usual early-for-the-start-line self had problems getting a contact lens in and lost 10 minutes the knock on effect was almost a disaster. I picked up my bike from the bike park and had 4 minutes to get onto the line, Simon was running our boxes to the truck as we set off  and the gun had already gone and the race was on as we neared the start pen. We went in the front and back out to rejoin at the back of the pack down the district road, which was thankfully downhill. We gathered our breath and wiggled through the pack to get into the track in a decent spot. The ground was black clay and was still snotty and slimy from the overnight dew and mist, it made our job very tricky and I took a tumble early on but remounted in the same position. The track is on the cliff edge and mistakes would be costly, I took it down a notch and chased hard where I could. I was suffering with stomach cramps so it took me a while to get going properly. Nearly 40km of singletrack later we hit the bottom of the Umkomaas valley, I had been held up somewhat and Simon was ahead, he waited and we set off again together. Again we chased Rob and Carel. We caught them on the side of the river and rode together for a long while. We climbed out of the valley and rode through 7-8 streams after crossing the river for a second time. The day was hotting up, some faster guys caught us from behind and we took it up a notch in an attempt to hang in with them which we did for a long time but had to stop twice to re-lube chains as both of us got chain-suck. I bombed my rear tire which had lost a bit of pressure, probably due to the thorny territory. Rob started getting chain problems too and had to stop. Simon and I cleared off and chased down some more teams. After the water point there was a beast of a climb and I was thanking myself for fitting a 34t rear cassette. I couldn’t really help Simon so he took the hill at his own tempo, and I went up ahead to see what lay in store. Over the long false flat top it rose again until finally it relented. I waited for Si and we took off down the district road together again. One quick singletrack later and then back into the open, we spotted a team ahead and I gave it the full beans. With Simon on my tail I drove it up to 45kmph and reeled in the team ahead who jumped in behind. We made it to the next track first and hooked it down trying to shake them off.

Songo.info RSAWEB Neville Cragg
Pushing Hard on Day Two

We stayed together for some time and we were now around the 80km mark and starting to tire, Simon had hit the wall and I was helping him shovel food and drink in to recover, while nudgng him up the hills. The team dropped us but we kept up a steady pace. There were two big hills left and some nice flowing smooth forrested pathways. Simon recovered well enough and we pushed hard in the final 10km. The last climb was a 22% punisher, but short enough and the finish line was 100m down from the crest and a welcome relief. We had done well and moved up 2 places to 18th overall.

More R&R ensued, the food spread is fantastic and you never want for anything. The same routine for the end of the day as before and we were shining and massaged and ready to devour. We ate until the night entertainment and stage review ended and the awards ceremony was complete and headed to bed ready for day three.

Day three was a super fast roller coaster through the sugar canes, 75km long with only 3 steep climbs. We got up extra early and were in the start chute in the third row so as not to repeat the helter skelter of day 2. We set off at a blistering pace and Simon pressed forwards at every turn, I followed and we were soon in the mix with the 13-18th place riders. We just had to keep it up. On the hills Si was going well and I took turns on the boring bits again saving him for the climbs. Si attacked into the long singletrack and I chased squeezing by a few riders. As we popped out the bottom there was work to do with 2 back to back climbs. We slid backwards on the first one, but I chased down two teams, but we lost more ground on the next bigger climb. we past the last waterpoint. It was more district road that followed and I buried myself again in chase, we soon hooked back onto a group and we chased some more. Si just couldn’t hang on any more and lost the wheel, and tow. I didn’t hear him yelling and I motored along, when I looked back he was some distance behind, I waited and helped him to the beach and up and over the car park we were nearly there. We didnt get back to the bunch so just enjoyed the last few km together.

We came home in 17th place overall and had moved up again. We were elated at the finish and gave it our best shot. We have great luck and raced hard for three days straight. I had some unfinished business at Sani before, but felt I’d made my peace and settled some scores.