So it begins….
A manic weekend, consisting for many of equal parts booze, bikes and blurry memories, took place last weekend at Winterton, in the KZN Midlands. This was the 2012 edition of the Single Speed World Cup. About 400 maniacally clothed (usually) cyclists descended on the little town of Winterton. Included in their number were 10 unicyclists.
Julian, who had heard about the event from someone else, approached the SSCrew (Single Speed Crew) in order to find out whether unicycles (which are typically fixed-geared) would be allowed and got an enthusiastic “Yes!”.
I had work until late on Friday, so I missed the practice ride on Friday, that reportedly became a practice swim, due to a storm. As such, my arrival at the Winterton Country Club (WCC) coincided with part of the bidding attempt for the rights to host the 2013 version of the race. This consisted of a series of silly tasks. Amongst others: Zulu dancing, attempting to place a helmet on a team-mate with a fishing rod while blindfolded, spinning around a stick before hitting a beer-mug off a team-mate’s head, attempting to get the highest reading on a pedometer attached to your head while head-banging, a race to put on a frozen t-shirt…. All of this was done while in a state of… “minor insobriety”, of course.
However, the madness eventually calmed down and we listened to the race brief. In Zulu, with no translation, natch. Basically, the route went up and down, you “Jika right” until you got to the drink station. At which: “Ama-cold drink? No. Ama-juice? No. Ama-water? No. Ama-beer? YES.” Thusly armed with the knowledge required for success the next day, I hauled out a unicycle (yes, showing off is fun) and some people gave it a try. There was also a 36″ penny-farthing and a very nice custom-built bike with massive tyres being tested. After that, it was time to rest up for the main event.
We woke early, got breakfest, and headed to Emseni Camp where all the madness was to happen. The start was only at 11, so we milled around for a while, admiring the costumes, of which there were many and of generally high-quality (and daring in some cases; the bloke in the South African-flagged speedo and the other in a mankini drawing a fair amount of attention). The start was done in two phases: 1) A le Mans start where all the bikes were left on the other side of the field (and which were generally moved around and so people needed to find their bike again), and 2) a holding circuit around a very bumpy field, when they would open a gate and release the horde of crazily-dressed cyclists onto the unsuspecting singletrack.
Another memorable part of this was when it was asked if anyone was willing to streak in exchange for being given a 30 second head start. The two (?) brave (?) souls who accepted the offer were then left baring all for a good few minutes while more stuff was explained. A fine, rousing speech from “William Wallace” (bloke in a kilt and with blue warpaint) was also preformed, psyching up the waiting cyclists.
The field in which the holding pattern was to happen was far too bumpy for unicycling on, so we congregated on one end and chatted. A surprise was the two water-bombers/crop-sprayers who gave us a damp send-off. Their aim was off, and no one was too soaked. After walking across the field and getting onto the start of many kilometers of delightful singletrack, we (the unicyclists) set off.
Alan and Donna (in camouflage Morphsuits) soon powered ahead, although I was able to keep roughly in touch with Donna, thanks to the greater roll-out on my 29″ wheel more than anything else. Lisema was lurking just to my rear, with boxers and briefs worn on the outside, and angel wings on his back. The rest of the unicyclists were a little further back. The route was fairly flat and I felt comfortable as we got to the split.
The route for the two-wheelers (including a single-speed tandem [!]) went back to Emseni before heading up the big hill. Since we are slower, we headed straight up onto the climbing. The first of the racers started coming past me around this point and the long, brutal ascent started. Reaching the first beer station, I caught up with Alan and Donna. Shortly after I arrived, so did Lisema. A few sips of the vile stuff and I continued on. The next part of the route was along a contour path for a ways but culminated in a very long ascent up the Spioenkop.
This ascent involved a lot of pushing, by the bikers as well as myself. The (worthwhile) reward was our medals though. In a sensible move, designed to get us slackers to properly try the climb, these were handed over at the highest part of the course. Failing to return with one of these would lead to being “stoned to death by locals” at the finish line (which naturally prompted one wag to enquire just how much weed that would require). The view from here was magnificent as well, with the horizon being impressively far away.
Alan and Donna were here, having taken a nice long break, but they headed off pretty much as I arrived. I proceeded to have a nice rest as well, chirping the passing riders. I was also wanting to let them through before slowing them down on the singletrack descent that was awaiting, like a doomy, waiting thing of long-downhill-ness. Lisema had caught up to me, and we set off together. He immediately powered away on the downhill and I had the track to myself. Well, myself and the fairly constant stream of bikers coming up from behind. These were usually heralded by the clanging of their enamel plate race numbers on one part or another of their rides.
On behalf of the unicyclists (not that I am an official spokeperson or anything), I would like to extend a sincere thank you to all those riders who were willing to wait behind us for a chance to overtake on the way down. We obviously took this long, beautifully flowing descent a lot slower than you could have (and possibly wanted to), but I did not hear, and did not hear of, any of you being pushy and trying to get past us in less than our own time. Thanks again for letting us ride this amazing course in our own way.
This is where I realised that short cranks really would benefit from having a brake. As we left the steeper slopes and got onto the flatter ground, we rejoined the trail we had taken earlier, to the split. I had caught up to Lisema once we got onto the less steep terrain (thanks to the 29″ vs 26″ roll-out again) and started to pull ahead again. I got to the split, and ducked right. The route went under a very low culvert under the main road. As I got onto the straight, and started accelerating, I felt the uni give way underneath me. I came off, no worse than on numerous other occasions during the race and picked up my unicycle. Alas, my faithful ride was no more; the frame was broken into three pieces. I returned to the split, and the kindly SSCrew offered to hold onto the uni and return it either at the camp or at the WCC. He did offer to give me a lift back later, but a unicyclist does not do things the easy way (or we would have gears and more wheels). I therefore resolved to walk back to Emseni, which was approximately 7km away. Lisema had passed me as I returned to the split, utterly amazed at the comprehensive way I had destroyed a unicycle.
The walk was lovely, along the river, in the shade. The occasional clanging of enamel on handlebars was an easily-heard signal to move out of the way and a number of cyclists came past me. I eventually staggered into Emseni and went in search of food and drink. The remainder of the afternoon was spent in idle chatter while we waited for our one-wheeled compatriots to complete the route.
Alan, Donna and Lisema had all finished ahead of me. Shaun E and Brent had had bad luck and both had had to pull out, Sean E at the Beer Stop with a sprained ankle (sustained the previous day) and Brent with a punctured sidewall after moving off the track to let a cyclist past shortly after the split. Sean D finished on his own, still looking strong. Ronald and Julian had ridden together for the whole way and had greatly enjoyed the singletrack, which was largely uncongested. The last unicyclist (and indeed the last cyclist) home was Tyler, who had ridden the whole way on a 24″ (everyone else was on a 26″ or 29″ wheel). He had a suitably dramatic dismount as he arrived, falling off his unicycle and lying unmoving for a while.
With everyone having arrived and been applauded back into Emseni, we left for the WCC (except Ronald who went straight home). Showers, thank you speeches, a delicious supper, and a party until well into the night were had. The next morning, unicycles were packed into vehicles and we parted. It was an amazingly fun weekend.
The riding was amazing, the organisation excellent, the catering top-notch, the manicness and characters as off the wall as promised. Next year’s edition of the race is in Italy (decided after an epic tug-of-war where the audience was invited to choose sides and help). Any unicyclists keen? Do it. I would love to be there.