Before Covid turned the world on its head the weather did the same to the most recent edition of the CCPP Group Lions Karoo to Coast. It turned what is usually a challenging but enjoyable race into an odyssey of epic proportions. The next two years saw pandemic enforced postponements, which means that the 2022 edition is eagerly anticipated. 3 600 of a possible 4 000 entries have already been sold, so riders wishing to take part on the 25th of September should enter soon to avoid disappointment.
Absence, as the saying goes, makes the heart grow fonder. Which is certainly true for one of South Africa’s largest point to point mountain bike races. Now in its 22nd year the race from Uniondale to Knysna, along the iconic Prince Alfred’s Pass, is not only one of the country’s oldest mountain bike races but also one of the most well supported.
The last edition, in 2019, was perhaps the most memorable yet. Perfect years blend into one with the course of time; but nobody is forgetting high wind, torrential rain and hail anytime soon. Nor are the riders who were evacuated from the route forgetting the massive effort the communities, of Knysna and Uniondale, went to in order to save the day.
“I for one will never forget 2019,” Zandile Meneses, the CCPP Group Lions Karoo to Coast race director for the past 20 years, noted. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in an event before. We had to call the manager of PEP in Uniondale, to open the shop so we could buy every blanket in the store, as well as the majority of Knysna’s stock too. We then enlisted just about every taxi service in Knysna to help evacuate riders from the course. The sports fields, at the finish, turned into a quagmire and it even hailed briefly at Simola. It was a wild day!”
The successful evacuation of riders off the 96 kilometre course was down to the involvement of the community. Residents and business owners of Uniondale and Knysna have been pivotal from the inaugural edition, but it is in times of difficulty that their input is most keenly felt. The event’s absence from the calendar, for two years, was just as acutely experienced; especially by the Lions Club beneficiaries. Charities like Sightfirst, the South African Guide Dog Association and other urgent needs in the Garden Route and Klein Karoo community rely on the funds raised by the race to help finance their operations.
Although the route is largely the same as it was 22 years ago, for the inaugural edition, the ever-changing surface quality of Prince Alfred’s Pass provides diversity to the challenge. One section which has become significantly easier over the years though is the Ou Wapad. Climbing out of Uniondale used to be a tricky affair, where line choice was key. That changed 5 years ago however, when the wagon trail was graded. Still, it has not helped anyone better the course record which has stood for many years.
Perhaps 2022 is the year that the record falls… though the weather conditions on race day will have a significant say in how quickly the course is completed. Tail winds through the climbs and kloofs of the Outeniqua Mountains would blow the fastest riders home to Knysna at a better pace. While also helping the less competitive members of the field; but as anyone who took part in 2019 knows, it does not pay to bet on the riding conditions too far in advance. The only safe assumption is that it will not be as wild as the last time the race was held.
Another unique aspect of the event is the dinner which the women of Uniondale cook for the 1 600 odd participants who stay in the Klein Karoo town the night before the race. The usually sleepy village comes alive for the CCPP Group Lions Karoo to Coast and nearly half of the riders come together the night before for a locally made supper. It is a brilliant way to reconnect with old friends and riding acquaintances, as well as to get into the spirit of things before race day.
This September that reconnection will be particularly poignant. After three long years and with a memorable last time out to reflect upon the mood in Uniondale is sure to be electric. To join the celebration and the ride by visiting www.karootocoast.com.