26 February 2008
South Africa boasts a vibrant cycling community – both roadies and off-roaders – and when it comes to off-road action, one event has elevated itself to the top of the pile: the Subaru Sani2c, covering 260km from Underberg to Scottburgh in KwaZulu-Natal. It takes place from 27 February to 1 March.
It has been voted the best race in the country by a number of different publications, and it is a view commonly held by mountain bikers themselves.
Respected television cycling presenter Andrew McLean, a roadie, who has of late been learning the joys of off-road competition, wrote after he took part in the event: “I have been lucky enough over the past 25 years to experience some wonderful international and local events, but this was the icing on the cake.”
‘The event to do’
Kevin Evans of Team Raleigh/MTN/Energade, a dominant force in South African mountain biking and the winner of the 2007 race, reckons “without a doubt, the Subaru Sani2C is the event to do.”
The race draws a varied mix of athletes, from top South African mountain biking teams to those less competitive riders for whom finishing the event is the accomplishment that they seek.
What is clear, no matter how accomplished the competitors are, is the standard of the organisation impresses everybody, from professional athletes and on down the ranks. It is top notch.
The event is divided into two, the Sani2c Adventure and the Sani2c.
Each division caters for 500 teams and 100 supporters. Both sets of entrants follow the same route, but the Adventure race is for those cyclists who prefer not to race competitively. It also starts a day earlier than the Sani2c.
The division enables the organisers to accommodate all entrants, whilst also preventing congestion and frustration where the route follows a single track.
On the race’s comprehensive website, contestants laud the race route. For some, it appears, they have found mountain biking nirvana. It’s a challenging course that provides a superb mix of surfaces, climbs and descents, and scenery.
Day one starts at Underberg School and covers 82 kilometres to the MacKenzie Country Club in Eastwold, Ixopo.
The cyclists set off surrounded by the beautiful Drakensberg Mountains, with the first 30 kilometres featuring a fast, scenic and undulating district road before the competitors are tested by a shorter section requiring more technical riding skills.
Then, it’s back onto the district road and the first water table before heading into forests and exiting them to descend towards Bulwer.
At the Bulwer/Underberg road crossing is the second water table. Thereafter, a gentle forest road leads into a fast descent to the bottom of the valley. That is followed by a climb before another descent through the Nxumeni Forest.
The third water table point is reached at Donnybrook Station. A technical climb is followed by a pine forest road, during which the altitude drops as the riders head into the final valley for the day.
Quiet country back roads take the cyclists to an uphill finish at MacKenzie Country Club, which hosts the first overnight stop.
The second day is the longest of the three days, covering 96.7 kilometres, from MacKenzie Country Club to Jollivett, 10 kilometres south of Highflats.
It features an early start, with the competitors rising at 04:30 and setting off an hour later.
In the early going, a single track provides scintillating views of the Umkomaas Valley, while short sections of forest roads allow for overtaking.
After 20 kilometres there is a steep drop into the valley, but what goes down must come up and the descent is followed by three short sections of concrete roads, featuring challenging climbs.
Once over the lung-bursting climbing, the riders head onto a single track that winds its way through thorn trees for about five kilometres before opening onto a game farm. That’s where competitors will find the first seconding table.
The refreshment point is also an indicator that a tough climb awaits as the route heads up and out of the valley. It’s a tough ascent, but the steepest gradient occurs early on.
Before reaching the summit, a second refreshment table awaits the competitors. Then, two kilometres of game farm roads allow them to recover a little before facing a testing descent into the Ixopo River Valley.
The halfway mark for the day is reached once the river has been crossed. At a farm yard, there is a mandatory 10-minute stop, which offers the opportunity for contestants to catch a bite to eat and take in some liquids.
Moving on through the valley, the riders reach a district road before facing another tough climb out of the humid conditions in the valley.
After that, 20 kilometres of forest roads follow before the final 2.3 kilometres which features tarred road.
The final day is 71 kilometres long, from the Roseveres Farm at Jollivett to the main beach in Scottburgh on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.
It is the easiest of the three days, and faster and less technically demanding than the tough challenge presented by the second day.
Heading out through sugar cane farms, a long descent is followed by a hard climb. Then it’s onto a single track before more sugar cane roads wander through farmlands.
A number of climbs vary the challenge before a testing technical climb, known as “Work to be done”, ups the work rate. From there, the route heads onto jeep tracks into the Vernon Crooke’s Nature Reserve and then onto a single track through coastal bush.
With the finish at the coast drawing ever nearer, the route passes through canelands before dirt roads guide the cyclists through coastal valleys.
Finally, after ascending the dunes, the route heads onto the main beach at Scottburgh for the finish.
The organisers, in laying out their aim for the Sani2c, stress that the event is a non-profit making concern which endeavours to promote tourism and conservation along the race route for the benefit of its people.
Among the objectives of the race are to raise funds for community education and to create an awareness of the tourism potential of the region.
Apart from the title sponsor Subara, the event has drawn a huge number of other sponsors, eager to be part of a highly-regarded race. For the 2007 race, there were eight supply sponsors, 15 product sponsors, six media sponsors, and two communications sponsors.
Clearly, the Sani2c has won the respect of contestants and sponsors alike and, with its recognition as South Africa’s best off-road race, it is a must-do for any fan of MTB events.