A dusty discovery leads to a litany of memories for Oli as he looks back at his 11 most memorable race number-boards over the past 18 years.
A few weeks ago I was rummaging through a dusty box in our garage and came across a string bag stuffed full of old race numbers, medals, event wristbands and lanyards with access cards. There was even a meal tag from my first Epic 10 years ago!
You see, I’m a hoarder, and I’ve literally kept every race number since my earliest racing days. Whether it is the frame number – with rusted rivets – from the 2001/2002 Pickfords Scholar League or an old-school sew-on badge from the 2000 Cycle Tour (detour route), it’s in the bag!
This discovery sparked a litany of memories and I spent that afternoon reminiscing about the past 18 years of biking adventures, events and races ridden … including of course the people I’ve met along the way, not to mention all the places where riding my bike has taken me.
Cycling has played such a pivotal role in my life, giving me goals to strive for and dreams to chase. I simply couldn’t think of life without it. With that in mind, I have come to realise that the greatest aspect of it, is in fact, the idea that I still love riding my bike as much as I did in the early days, ripping it up with Serious_Si, Rat, Oli, Red, Bongo and mmmmmmm Gavin in Tokai (when it was still a forest) and at the legendary jumps we built at the top of Southern Cross drive.
Looking back, I thought I’d run through the 11 most memorable number-boards from the past 18 years, most of which were hiding in the dusty old box.
Event: National DH Series, Tokai.
Originally organised by Mark Hopkins and Karl Ebel way back when, this is the oldest number-board in the archive. It represents Si and my first love, Downhill. Everything stemmed from the adrenaline of pinning it against the clock.
Event: UCI Downhill World Championships
Having won the 2003 SA National and African Junior Downhill Titles I was selected to represent South Africa at the World Champs in Lugano, Switzerland. It was one of the gnarliest courses in history and Serious_Si and I got a massive wake-up call as to the level of competition overseas. This was in our matric year and we got to miss mock matric, which was an added bonus – thanks Mr Richter for allowing us to go without a fight!
Event: Giro del Capo
In training for Downhill, Serious_Si and I had always ridden and raced road. In my first year at UCT, I snuck onto an amateur squad, Team Token, and raced my first Giro del Capo, as the youngest in the race. During the Argus – traditionally the Giro’s last stage – I got an elbow in the chest from a Barloworld rider, letting me know that I should move away from the race leader Tiaan Kannemeyer – I got the message, loud and clear!
Event: Cape Epic
Max Knox and I lined up together in Knysna – for both of us, our first Epic – we were 19 and 21 respectively, and it was only our second ever MTB stage race! Our team – #607 – was the very last one entered into that year’s event, the week before the start, if my memory serves me correctly. We had a superb eight days, finishing 11th overall, even riding ourselves into a few top 10 stage finishes.
Event: Trans Alp
After our successful Epic campaign, Axel Burkhardt from adidas HQ in Germany (who sponsored the William Simpson team) invited Max and me to the 2007 TransAlp … where we climbed for days on end. I remember crying on one stage because my legs were so sore. I’m glad we stuck it out as we rolled into Riva del Garda in 10th overall.
Event: Mega Avalanche
Fast forward to 2009, Serious_Si and I were on a gap year in Europe after completing degrees from UCT, when we got a call from Andrew Neethling (then racing for Trek) saying we should come to Alp D’Heuz and ride the Mega Avalanche … from our bikes to helmets, we rocked up totally unprepared but made up for it with bucket loads of stoke.
The Mega is undoubtedly one of the craziest things either of us has ever done … hurtling down a black ski slope on a bike with hundreds of other riders is phenomenally scary, and rad! Google it.
Event: UCI World Cup Val di Sole
At one point, I had my heart set on representing SA at the XCO World Champs. In the process my ballies and I set out to race two European World Cups, Nové Město na Moravě in the Czech Republic and Val di Sole in Italy, to gain experience.
While I never made the team and was bitterly disappointed, the journey was invaluable in helping me learn to deal with failure … your result is not your self-worth!
Event: BC Bike Race
This was a magical week spent in Canada with Serious_Si and, as luck would have it, a group of eight other awesome South Africans. The energy surrounding the BC bike Race was truly inspiring, and comes highly recommended for anyone looking overseas for a true mountain bike event.
Event: Trans Provence
With a background in Downhill and with hours of XC/Marathon racing in my legs, Enduro is something that certainly sparks a fire in me. The Trans Provence is a 6 day Enduro stage race in France that is simply indescribably challenging … and beautiful at the same time. After being taken to hospital via helicopter in the 2013 event, it was satisfying to say the least, to return in 2014, finishing in the top 10 overall and 3rd in the amateur class.
Event: World Enduro Series: LaThuile
The World Enduro Series is an eight race series held on three continents. La Thuile, a small village perched high in the Italian Alps, hosted a round in 2014. The stages were breathtakingly technical and light-years longer than anything we have in SA. Weather conditions were also mental, with two stages having snow and frigid conditions at the top while the lower sections were warm, sunny and dusty. It is an event I’ll never forget.
Event: Cycle Tour
The Argus may be the ‘Fun Riders World Champs’ but at the end of the day it is still a monument of South African cycling. Si and I have been riding it since we were 14 … and when we were at school we used to chat to our friends about how hectic it was in D or F batch. So, in 2016 it was flippen incredible to be sprinting the country’s best in contention for the win. I ended up 10th in the sprint, which was certainly a memorable moment.
It’s been an incredible 18 years of adventure, and I am looking forward to the next 18 … which will take me to 50 years old!