- By Oli Munnik
If memory serves me correctly, I have been competing in various cycling events at the Pick n Pay Weekend Argus Knysna Oyster Festival for the past 10 years. This kind of statistic (involving decades) is surely reserved for ballies?! Shucks, I must be getting old!
Back in the day, the highlight of the Oyster Festival, for my twin brother Serious Si and me, was the Downhill Mountain bike race. The old track ran parallel to the Simola climb which, unbeknown to us at that time, is now the first acid test in the 80km mountain bike marathon. The track was rad; flowing and fast without scaring anyone to death, and, with it being a one-off race, we used to let loose and give it our all. Tragically, but not surprisingly, our DH track was destroyed in the early 2000’s to make way for a residential development and sadly, this has meant that the event is no longer on the festival’s calendar.
In an unusual twist, for downhillers anyway, Serious and I would also compete in the 60km road race – wearing badass black socks of course! One year, I remember racing a very young Jaco Venter to Sedgefield and back in the junior race. In those grasshopper days, the climbs on the lumpy route were flipping massive! I’ll never forget rolling to the start line all those years ago in nothing but bib shorts and a shirt, thinking my hands were gonna fall off from the cold penetrating to the bone! Luckily, Erica Green, Jaco’s then coach, saw Serious and me shivering with chattering teeth and gave us some newspaper to put down our shirts just before the start. Although skeptical at first, we did as she suggested and were oh so happy on the high speed downhills! Fast forward 10 years and I’m on my GT Zaskar lining up this past weekend for the 100km road race. As with the teeth chattering experience, temperatures this year were properly fresh. However, now with some experience, I am donning a gillet rather than a chest full of newspaper!
Without Serious Si by my side (he’s keeping it pinned in northern Haiti), this year I was rolling with Karl Leinberger, the ringleader of the Ageing Amateurs. These guys are a group of active friends in their late 30’s and early 40’s with families and ’9-to-5′ jobs meaning that away matches are few and far between. So when occasion beckons these okes know how to make the most of a rare opportunity! The Cape Town posse included Karl, Roli, Gav, Ian and me (NB: I made a guest appearance as a future ageing amateur, an honour!). We were hosted by Knysna local, Tev, at his pozzie on Thesen Island. Arriving at his place, it was pristine and neat, 3 days later it appeared as though a hurricane had swept through his jol. It was as though these guys were back at varsity, living the dream!
Driving up with Karl, the 6 hours flew by, shooting the breeze about anything and everything. With his sweet tooth being even more persuasive than his wife, things could have gone horribly wrong for me en route. I am a sucker for treats, especially when on the road. So while Karl, the ultimate ageing amateur, devoured a custard cake for breakfast followed later by a slice of cheese cake for afternoon tea, I was forced to watch. Those types of treats are reserved for post race fatigue, not pre-race nutrition! I wasn’t letting his privilege as the Ageing Amateur’s boss corrupt me! This is certainly not to say Karl is an unhealthy pie-eater, quite the opposite actually. What it does say, however, is that ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’!
After some scary weather predictions, the ageing amateurs and I were greeted by fresh, but manageable conditions on Saturday morning. Gav and I lined up for the 80km mountain bike marathon while the others were rolling in the 50km event. The Simola climb brought with it the usual early split in the field. Darren Lill (Bonitas) drove hard, forcing a number of gaps to open up. As I focused on breathing, my legs responded well until the final push over the top where Darren, James Reid (360 Life) and a few others got clear. As we hit the second climb I was left chasing a group of 5 which included Kev Cat (360 Life), Renay Groustra (RSA Web), Louis-Bressler Knipe (Contego 28E) and the Blend Property duo of Ruan du Toit and Dave Morrison.
One of the truths in cycling is that when it is 5 against 1, 5 will always win. And in this case the truth was just that. I waited for the following chase group which soon arrived in the form of Chris Wolhuter (Black Spade), Rob Dormehl, Craig Boyes (Daiken) and roadie, John Wakefield. We worked well together, racing through some of the most magical trails and forested roads in the country. With the rain staying away, the route was the best I’d ever experienced.
At the 20km to go mark, the second chasing group was down to Chris, Craig, Rob and me. The four of us arrived at the finish together and a sprint ensued. As we approached though, we began weaving through riders finishing the shorter distances. This is usually when things go pear shaped! I decided the risk was not worth 8th place and cruised over in 11th. Overall, Darren Lill took a well deserved win with James Reid 2nd and Waylon Woolcock (RE:CM) in 3rd.
Unquestionably the most interesting part of the race was coming face to face with the grill of a sparklingly white R800k Mercedes Benz which for some reason was driving on the indigenous forest road, with low profiles nogal! This wasn’t a district road but a narrow, wet and super slippery forest dual track. It was honestly the most extraordinary thing I have ever witnessed while riding my bike. Details are sketchy and so is the driver’s common sense!
With the marathon done and dusted, the road race awaited. After 2 brilliant steaks, one for lunch and the other for supper, as well as a magical T de F stage that saw Kenyan Chris Froome feeding it to the okes, I was ready to rock ‘n roll with the roadies on Sunday.
With a 3-man breakaway getting away early, the peloton ambled towards the Hoekwil climb with absolutely no urgency. As we reached the 2km Hoekwil climb the pace increased along with the gradient. While the breakaway retained its lead, five Bonitas riders broke clear from our group, thus creating 3 distinct groups on the road. As we arrived back on the N2 my chasing group consisted of about 12 riders, including at least 7 mountain bikers who had ridden the day before (solid!)! We chased hard but it was to be in vain. The race stayed the same to the finish. Tyler Day won in a time of 2h28min while Johann Rabie took 2nd and Hendrik Kruger 3rd. All 3 riders are from Team Bonitas Medscheme. I rolled over the finish line with Kev Cat, in about 16th or 17th.
With my focus having shifted in 2006 from Downhill to XCO and marathon racing, I now know all about racing up the Simola climb as opposed to pinning it down. So in what seems like the blink of an eye, another jam-packed Knysna weekend has come and gone, next year will be year 11! Thanks to the Ageing Amateurs, or should I say Ageless Amateurs, for a rrrad away-match – you guys are legends! I certainly have many more races in the elite category in my legs, but one day I will be a fully fledged part of your posse, age and all!
Oli is currently living the dream as a professional mountain biker, racing for the GT squad based out of Cape Town. Keep up with Oli on his blog http://olivermunnik.wordpress.com