Advice for those considering taking on KAP sani2c MTB stage race

The KAP sani2c is one of South Africa’s best-loved iconic stage races, known for its flowing trails and epic hospitality along the 286km route from Glencairn Farm near Underberg in Kwa-Zulu Natal, through the spectacular scenery of southern Drakensberg farmlands down into the Umkomaas Valley, through game reserve and sugar cane fields to Scottburgh beach on the South Coast.

It doesn't get much better than the legendary trails dropping into the Umkomaas Valley on day two of KAP sani2c.


With three separate events, each following the same route, the Trail and Adventure cater for more relaxed riders out to have fun on a bike, with the Race attracting top elites and racing snakes looking to perform. The separate events mean that sani2c is suited to newer riders while remaining a goal event for the hard-core, because at sani2c, the faster you go, the more technical it becomes.


We asked a few seasoned pros to give us some advice for those riding sani2c for the first time. We chatted to Matt Beers from Team NAD, who with Nico Bell won the 2018 KAP Sani2c men’s Race, and Amy McDougall of Team Dormakaba, winner of the women’s Race with Sam Sanders. We also sourced a few tips from Oli Munnik, a previous podium finisher at sani2c, who is now retired from pro riding and involved in the marketing side of the sport.


All three reckon that sani2c is doable for a first-time stage race rider: “It’s got a great diversity of terrain but its not too gnarly to put you off. The hospitality and pure vibe put it in a class of its own. I think it caters for every rider - the only problem is you might be disappointed doing any other stage race in the future,” says Matt.


Matt Beers from Team NAD loves the vibe and hospitality of sani2c but reckons riders will gain a lot from getting a proper bike fit leading up to the event.


Amy agrees but says that you really do need to put in the training: “sani2c is definitely a race suited for all types of riders, the perfect ratio of tough but doable. Each stage leaves you with the elation of spectacular riding and having pushed and conquered your physical boundaries. That being said, it is a hard three days in the saddle, and day two will really test your stamina and vasbyt no matter who you are.”


Apart from putting in the miles and doing the time on your bike, Matt recommends getting a good bike fit, and Amy says that if you can, using a coach for the three months before the event, will really be worth it.


Matt says: “We have some very smart people that have really figured out how to make a very bio-mechanically unnatural sport super comfortable. You will enjoy your experience so much more and I can guarantee you'll be able to push more power and be a lot more efficient.”


Amy McDougall of Team Dormakaba recommends some professional coaching to ensure that you are fit to enjoy the three days at KAP sani2c.


Says Amy: “My best piece of advice would probably be to get a coach for at least the 3 months leading up to the event; it’s probably the most beneficial thing you can do for your race. A coach will help you get the most benefit out of your training with the hours you have available, without over or under doing it, and it also takes some of the thinking out of it which is great.”


When it comes to the route itself, Amy gave us these tips for tackling the floating bridges: “Keep a reasonable pace, the faster you go the less your back wheel will dip in, especially for the heavier guys. Leave a gap between riders so the bridge doesn’t sink in. Look ahead, and keep a good cadence (80 – 100 rpm).


“The PG Bison floating bridges on day one are super cool, the right hand one is tighter with some bumps but it is much faster time-wise if you want to get ahead of your mate,” she says.


The trick to staying dry over the floating bridges is to keep a good speed while leaving space for the bridge to recover from the rider ahead, says Amy McDougall.


She also had this to say about the drop into the Umkomaas Valley and Iconic Climb of day 2: “The Umko drop is the obvious highlight, it is one of my favourite trails in the country and many would agree! It is high, with some sneaky rocks and corners, but look ahead, respect the trail and you’ll be smiling all the way down. Maybe leave a bit of a gap to the person in front of you too so you can see your line properly. The Iconic climb is extremely tough so make sure you are properly fuelled and haven’t cooked yourself before then. You have 2 options, a steeper but shorter or one or not as steep but longer. If you think you may get off and walk up the steep climb rather take the milder option (no shame in that!).”


Matt reckons that choosing your partner well and pacing yourself are really important: “Race or ride with someone you are good mates with, it will make the whole process so much fun, which is what it’s all about. Do some single day individual races first and ride together just to see how he or she responds to race conditions….because some people change quite dramatically!


“Pacing yourself is very important - a lot of riders go out way too fast for the first hour because the adrenaline is going and there is excitement, but what happens in the first hour will be the deciding factor in your 3rd hour. So start comfortably and end strong - your recovery for the next day will be a lot better,” he says.


Nutrition and hydration are other elements that can make a big difference. Matt says: “Keep hydrated but don't over hydrate, drink about 1.5 litres of good electrolytes throughout the day like DripDrop or Nuun. Your recovery will be so much better and cramping will be less of a threat.”


Amy adds: “You can be as fit as humanly possible with the best equipment but if you don’t fuel your body correctly, it’s all useless. Nutrition is a very personal thing that you need to experiment with during training. My general rule of thumb is +- 70g of carbs per hour - it seems a lot and it’s something I struggle with, but you need to force yourself to eat. The source of your carbs is up to you, it can range from bananas to dates, to chocolate bars, to gels. A few bars in the pockets and chow down at the water points, that’s what I’d do!”


Oli Munnik suggests getting your bike serviced a few weeks before taking on the KAP sani2c as well as asking your mechanic to demonstrate the basic trailside repair techniques.


Oli Munnik offered some practical tips to make your experience more enjoyable: “When it comes to fixing mechanicals - from broken chains to inflating tyres with CO2 canisters - it is worth practising how to efficiently fix them before getting to the sani2c. I'd recommend sitting down with your local bike shop's mechanic and getting to grips with trail-side solutions that will simplify your life.


“Get your bike serviced at least ten days before the event and ride it a few times to allow any new parts to bed in ... you don't want cables, chains and cassettes to only find their groove on day three!” he said.


Oli also suggests that it’s worth packing a single fitted sheet (ideally not white!) to place over your mattress in the tented race village: “It may seem superfluous, but believe me, it will make all the difference when lying in bed.”


After putting in the training, finding a compatible ride partner and getting all your ducks in a row by May 2019, one thing is for sure - once you set off from Glencairn Farm, you are in for more than just a ride.


Pieterlab1, Aug 21 2018 11:48

I did my first Sani2C this year and it was the most fun I had in a long time. 

If you want to enjoy every moment, you have to be fit and you have to be properly prepared. Plan every stage and make sure you stick to it.

Day 2 riding the Umko Valley was the best mountain biking I have ever done. Scared myself breathless a few times!

I cannot wait for Sani2C 2019!