Five by Chris Akrigg [video]

Funny, I’ve got five bikes too. Somehow, after watching this, I feel like I’m not doing them justice!

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Ready or not… the 2014 Absa Cape Epic

I’ve been incredibly slack. It’s been mooonths since I last posted. 1000 apologies and all that, but I’ve been busy riding, swimming, running, traveling, learning, crashing, winning… and proposing. And I believe that living in the moment beats pausing to make sure I’ve got the photo (or a blog post) to make it more meaningful. So there.

No, haven’t stopped writing. In fact I’m ramping it up! And I promise to post more on this platform. In 2014 I will again be writing for the Cape Times newspaper as I tackle the Absa Cape Epic for the eighth time. I’ve got a few other magazine feature stories up my sleeve too.

But the thing that has me most excited is the opportunity to ride with a real legend of the game, Hannes Hanekom. He’s one half of the formidable boer broers (‘farmer brothers’, for those, like me, whose Afrikaans is not up to scratch). Hannes and Sakkie are brothers who know how to dig deep, ride fast and suffer hard. Something I have experienced with my own brother, Simon. Over the past five or so years I have chased these incredible athletes across most of South Africa in countless races. They are tough and talented. But they are gentlemen. I’ll write a little more on what it means to pair up with Hannes in time, but for now, it’s enough to say I’m bloody excited!

To top it off, we are riding for a fantastic cause, in partnership with an incredible sponsor. Hannes and Sakkie have ridden the Absa Cape Epic five times together for fruit export company Tru-Cape. In 2014, Hannes and I will also ride in Tru-Cape colours, but with a special twist. We will be head-to-toe in pink kit, supporting the breast cancer charity Pink Lady.

I lost my mom to cancer a little over two years ago, so the cause is very close to my heart. She was lucky to have had access to regular world-class treatment here in Cape Town. This was an incredible comfort to my family during a very difficult time. I can only imagine how hard it must be for women (and men) from poorer communities, especially those outside of metropolitan areas, to access treatment. Although my mom didn’t have breast cancer, battling this disease in all its forms is the same terrifying challenge for all, and requires incredible resilience.

What Hannes and I will be doing over eight days at the Absa Cape Epic simply doesn’t bear comparison to the hardship and incredible courage those tackling cancer head-on experience. It is an honour to be associated with Tru-Cape and Pink Lady and the amazing work they do supporting the Tygerberg Hospital Breast Clinic. And we will do our very best to raise awareness and funds as we hit the trails. You really won’t miss us. Pink is the new black.

Pink Lady TruCape Cape Epic

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2013 Tour de France Road Gap

Is there a better way to celebrate the 100th Tour de France’s than boosting the peleton on Stage 20? I didn’t think so.

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Danny MacAskill is back – Imaginate [video]

This takes me back to the hours I spent playing with cars, trains, planes and bikes scattered about my bedroom. Nice to know all that time mucking about was put to good use by someone… A simply superb bike video. Again.

*Trying to get the pesky video to embed. But no luck yet. You’ll have to go via redbull. Sure their incorrect code is no accident…

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Lines of Lofoten [Video]

Just too much of fun.

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2013 Mountain Bike World Cup Season Preview [video]

This year is going to be a ripper!

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Day 7 & 8 & 9 – Suffering, silence and finally the sea

Phew. So the joBerg2C is finished, and for those who’ve been following this blog, it’s clear that I was too! Yet I never wrapped up the experience with my final posts of the last few days. My apologies. My body had taken such a pounding over the last half of the race that I was struggling to get on the bike each morning, let alone put my hands to the keyboard to describe the ordeal. This racing and writing gig is tough enough when you’re healthy…

Maybe it’s fitting that I’m finishing my reporting of this great stage race over two weeks later. Just as its older, shorter and wildly popular cousin, the Sani2C, wraps up on the beaches of Scottburgh. No, I didn’t sign up for the Sani ride, and for once I’m happy to be missing out. Because I sit here reminiscing on the joBerg2C with a dry cough I still haven’t managed to shake.

It’s amazing how small your world becomes when you’re sick. The race village at the Old Mutual joBerg2C is alive with chance encounters – long banter about bike tech and endless war stories from the day’s ride. Bikes to be fixed, beers to be drunk. Pranks to be played. Essential to the mountain biking experience, and a crucial part of the ethos of this race. Yet when you’re sick, these things are no longer the prize at the end of a hard day. They become noise. Interference. As you struggle with the basics: showering, eating, sleeping. Everything becomes more calculated as you try minimise movement.

I was hell bent on finishing this race – this spectacular journey across my homeland. I sucked it up for my partner Raoul, race organisers Wappo, Farmer Glen and Gary (they’d done such a great job it would be downright rude not to finish!) and the communities we were raising money for. But selfishly, I desperately wanted to have a crack at the world-famous last three stages – the soundly stunning Sani2C route. The final three days of joBerg2C are the dessert at the end of a sumptuous main course. Even if I’d overindulged I was going to at least sample what was on offer.

Day 7 – Hazeldean Farm to Mackenzie Club: 78km

Yes, I know. I’m aware of how idiotic I sound trying to “minimise movement” in the race village. Really. Making an extra trip to pick up my toothbrush shouldn’t be so critical to my well-being when I am still willing to put my body on the line for 80-odd kilometers. An outsider might take a look at my predicament and suggest staying off the bike for a day or two. To let my body recover. But I was clear that I was okay to continue riding, albeit at a more sedate pace. Besides, a few trips to the medical tent confirmed that I wasn’t dying, and I vowed to myself to pull out if I felt my condition develop into something more sinister.

My scratchy cough from the previous day’s riding had turned into a belter. Raoul thought I was starting a lawnmower in our tent at Hazeldean Farm. I was now hacking up large oysters. We had an emergency team huddle, and decided that we’d try keep our A batch seeding as long as my lungs would hold out but wear baggies. A signal to all around us that we had adjusted our racing-snake approach. After a night cooped up in the same tent, sharing my foul breaths, Raoul was also starting to sound a little raspy.

Despite our pact to take it easy we both got caught up in the blind singletrack fever that is known to grip riders on these final three days. Before we knew it we were leading the second bunch into the first singletrack section. It was stunning and I quickly forgot that I was barely able to breathe. I spanked it hard into the rows of trees chopping the morning light into a strobe. Raoul was hot on my heels and when we emerged we had gapped our bunch just about caught the lead group. So much for taking it easy…

With a solid lead out of the singletrack we hit a long gravel drag and exercised restraint, deciding not to push towards the leaders, but stay ahead of our chasers. Then, suddenly, the Red Bull Run was upon us. Nothing to do but wind it up again. Another dense forest of split singletrack, where we could choose one of two trails that twisted alongside each other through the trees. We went right. The perfect call, as we caught and passed a few slower riders who’d taken the left line. Unfortunately we caught a train of the leading mixed teams before the Red Bull Run was done, and had to back off over the serpentine floating bridge as we hit traffic. This was probably a good thing as the ferocious cornering we’d thrown down in the earlier sections of the Red Bull Run would definitely had as swimming at the floating bridge!

The most fortuitous event was the lockring coming loose on my rear wheel as we spotted the first waterpoint. It meant we had to stop and McGyver it as there was no mechanical support. But there was an abundance of doughnuts and koeksisters. Score. And even after we’d sorted out the problem with my bike we hung around to sample the vibe. It also put us firmly back in the field, and adjusted our tempo. We decided to cruise from then on. Mackenzie Club was a welcome sight after I crashed in fairly easy terrain en route – another sign we were struggling.

Day 8 – MacKenzie Club to Jolivet: 104km

By now we were reeling. Both Raoul and I were holed up in our tent by 7pm. Horizontal the moment we’d forced down a plate of dinner. I felt much the same I’d felt over the past few days. Which was pretty awful. Amazingly Raoul had managed to stay healthy and had towed me through my pain. Until now that is. He was grim in the morning.

But a new route to the start of the Umkomaas Valley beckoned. And somehow we still had an A-bunch seeding. So we were off with the racing snakes. We momentarily forgot what a fitful night’s sleep we’d both had, and were keen to have a clean-ish run into the 20-odd kilometers of absolutely mind-blowing singletrack descent to the raging river below. Our fading health meant we weren’t bashing bars with the frontrunners anymore, but as no-one was 100% sure where the entrance to the Umko drop started, the tempo remained high. Everyone was keen to get in first. Eventually we were rewarded with the familiar “Murray’s Meander” and then “Wow” trails.

There are few words that can do this stretch of trail justice. It goes on and on, and delivers corner after corner of wide-eyed joy. I snuck ahead a bunch of Masters riders who had caught us in the early racing. It meant I had a fairly unobstructed crack at the Red Bull Run about halfway down the trail. What a day.

But at the valley floor it was different story. With the adrenaline quickly dissolving back into my bloodstream I was confronted by how average I felt. And then remembered that there was no way to hide from the climb out of here. Raoul wasn’t doing any better. We stopped at waterpoint 1 and prepared ourselves for the hard slog home.

I remember the rest of the day as quiet. And when I ride in silence it’s because I’m hurting. I could see that Raoul was too. Mute acknowledgement of our shared plight. A few kilometers from the finish line Raoul slipped in an open muddy corner. I heard him go down. He groaned loudly. Like a wounded buffalo. There was little I could do. He’d slipped in a quagmire of muddy trail and picked out the only rock in the mud pool with his knee. We limped home. One night left…

Day 9: Jolivet to Scottburgh: ±85km

No-one was really sure how long the route from our overnight stop in Jolivet to the race finish on the beach of Scottburgh was. Not even the three organisers; Wappo, Framer Glen and Gary Green. But I’m not sure anyone cared. It was a new route home, a brilliant maze of cane field traverses, riverside singletrack and twisting trails alongside the highway. The part that caught everyone by surprise was the wading across the finish line on Scottburgh beach. Accustomed to the exciting and extravagant bridges as we were.

Raoul and I wore baggies to the beach and ended up 97th on the day. This was a pure cruise. At the end of nine days, we finished 37th Overall. And I was stoked with a brand new pair of Salomon trail running shoes for placing 5th overall in the Red Bull Runs. The result was respectable. Not what we aimed for, but finishing was a real triumph given the way we’d battled in the final days. We had stuck together and seen sides of each other I don’t think we’d expected. I was impressed. Raoul is a tough bastard and a pleasure to be around, even when the going gets ugly. But the best part was that we’d raised over R40,000 for community food gardens through Pure Planet Racing.

The 2013 joBerg2C was a jol. A test, for sure. But a jol nonetheless. Day 4 stands out as one of the most beautiful days of trail riding I have ever experienced. If I could clone that stage and ride it for the rest of my days I’d die a happy man.

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