The Sani 2 C 2008
By Richard Beswick
So far I have entered for this race 3 times however this is the first time I have actually made it to the start line! I must say this has been probably my most anticipated race start of my riding career, after having heard from just about everyone that has done the event that it is best stage event in the country.
We arrived at registration yesterday and the insurmountable logistics of the event became immediately apparent. The conditions were looking good and the excitement levels were running high.
Damian Booth and I riding as Team Fox Africa were teamed up with European ex pros Marcellino Garcia and Alex Sans Vega. Marcellino has won events such as Criterium International and finished the Tour de France twice and Alex has been the Soigneur for Team CSC for the past eight years, so we were looking forward to gaining some valuable tricks of the trade from him.
We only arrived at our accommodation at about 21h00 after a late supper, and the early 6am start meant we would be leaving again before we knew it! As we pulled into Underberg at about 5h15 the town was already teeming with mountain bikers all anxious for our 3 day adventure through some of the best scenery in South Africa.
The start was fast and furious and being my first race of the year it took about 10km for me to get back into the swing of things. At about the 20km mark the group was still together as we headed into the first of many unbelievable single-tracks for the day. This is where the real racing started and the group quickly split up into the true pecking order.
Damian and I had to work to maintain position but settled into a nice group just off the lead pack.
The first of the climbing really got the heart rate up, but the interspersion of fast flowing single track that had been ridden in perfectly by the Sani 2C Adventure (who had ridden the course the day before), broke the suffering up to a manageable endeavor.
Every time I went into one of the astounding single-tracks I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear.
Every single time I thought to myself “this has to be the best single-track I have ridden in my 12yr racing career” and every time the next section was better still.
The little touches at this event are really what make it special; the quirky names depicting special sections of the route, the wooden bridges that allow you to cross tiny rivers and mud section without getting your bike (or shiny Diadora shoes) dirty and probably the best was the floating bridge that crossed a small lake about half way into the route.
After a tough 83km we reached the finish in 10th position in a time of 2h58 min about 10 min off the leaders.
They don’t call this the Sani 2 C for nothing; and Day 2 is unquestionably the crux of this event. With 2200 metres of climbing this 99km stage is not to be taken lightly.
Due to the heat in the valley (can be up to 47 degrees) the start was at 5h30 and the fast district road start led us into the single-track descent in the Umkomaas valley. Nick’s pass, a series of switchbacks specially designed, built and used for the Sani 2 C, provided some immensely fun riding that kept the concentration levels high as the river valley loomed below.
Unfortunately in Mountain biking what goes down must go up and although the descent into the valley was worth it the climb almost immediately erased the fond memories.
Luckily in the Sani 2C, there is always another singe-track section waiting round the next corner!
About halfway through the stage a unique compulsory 10minute stop allows riders a chance to eat and get refreshed before heading into the rest of the stage.
The last part of the stage was basically downhill, however a few short sharp nasty climbs with names like Haaibo 1 and 2 were enough to put the finishing touches on our already tired legs.
The finish was a welcome sight with a nice tar road descent into Jolivet.
Damien Booth and I maintained our 10th position for Team Fox Africa although losing more time on the leaders with the lengthened stage.
After 2 days of early starts, Day 3’s 7am start afforded us a little bit of a lie in. I had heard from the Sani 2 C Adventure guys, who were a day ahead of us, that Day 3 was fast and furious. However an “easier” day terrain wise often means a much harder day of racing as the pace is always high.
A downhill start lead us into the sugar cane plantations and the group up front was pushing hard. Damien and I managed to hang on to the lead group for awhile however after the pace was lifted even further we decided it was better to hang back and ride a more conservative race.
Due to the nature of the course through the sugar cane fields, there was a lot of accelerating and hard breaking for the sharp corners, then a quick gear change to get over the short steep inclines. This sort of riding can take its toll on tired legs, so we had to try to keep the pace steady in order to maintain Team Fox Africa’s position to the finish.
The course did not disappoint and fast flowing single-track was again the order of the day. In the final 20km to the finish we had formed a small group of six riders. Damien and I knew that this was going to be the group that we were going to take to the finish.
The run up to the finish included a short section on Scottsburgh beach which was agony for our tired legs. We managed to shake off one team on the beach section, however there was still one short steep climb up to the finish at Scottsburgh Highschool, that would determine our finishing position. As we neared the top we could see another team just ahead of us. I managed to scrounge up a final bit of energy to out sprint our counterparts, however Damian did not have the legs for the sprint after having done most of the work up front for the final few kilometers. We finished a very close 11th in the stage but managed to extend our lead in the overall classification, finishing 10th.
When Damien and I decided to take part in the Sani 2 C, we had set Team Fox Africa a goal of a top ten finish, and we were very happy with the overall result especially considering the class of the field.
All in all a fantastic event with probably the best course imaginable. The fact that you can only ride this route on the Sani 2 C event means that competing in the Sani 2 C is definitely an event that every mountain biker worldwide needs to add to their MUST DO list on their ride books.