Ladies are you ready for Tour de Femme?
18 July 2016
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Hello and thanks for downloading our latest edition of the Old Mutual Mountain Bike podcast, I’m Gerald de Kock. It’s good to have you listening to the world of mountain biking, which is what we discuss for ten minutes or so on this podcast. There’s so much to talk about. As you know, we’ve spoken to anyone and anything involved with this great sport. Events and riders and people who are passionate about the sport.
Everyone I think I’ve spoken to over the last 6-8 months is passionate about this sport and so is Jenni Green who is sitting across from me now, talking about the very first Evox Tour de Femme which is a women’s only mountain bike stage event. Jenni, that is unusual and that’s perhaps, I think, a first, do you think it is?
Jenni Green: I think it is a first in its current format, which is no racing. I think that’s an unusual thing in South Africa. We put a number on and everyone goes head down and off you go. I think we’ve just taken that whole element out of it.
It really is a social ride with all your mates and riding is really only one part of the whole weekend. There’s great food, there’s amazing accommodation, big five game drives, wine tasting. All sorts of different things that actually contribute to the event and the experience as opposed to just the riding and the racing.
GDK: You obviously identified a need for this, how did you come about that?
Spotting the need for such an event
JG: I think as a personal experience really and how I enjoy riding my bike with my mates. So much of it is a social thing. I think for a lot of women it is. A lot of them get into it for that reason and as I say, you get into an event and you put your number on. Everyone just puts their head down and there’s no fun.
Generally me and my mates are the ones who are having a stupid time, singing and laughing and carrying on on the course. I just thought, this is crazy, we could be doing this with all of our closest friends. It’s a very small field, it’s only 50 riders, and the idea is to contain that experience. To have those women walk away as a bunch of new best friends.
GDK: It is interesting in that you talk about the size of the field being quite small and there is a trend towards that now, in terms of events. We’ve got a lot of the thousand plus events or 800 plus events. But more and more newer events are saying, we want to focus on a more intimate experience.
JG: I think that personal touch really. I think because it’s so big in this country, you just become a number really. Obviously I’m involved in the other side of it, with the mass participation with the Cycle Challenge. So it’s interesting to play on both sides of the field.
The difficult thing is, from a logistical point of view, even though it’s only 50 riders, you still land up doing the same amount of work. It’s a very difficult balance to find and finding that economy of scale. Because ultimately those costs are still there. I think the personal touch is really what we’re after here.
There’s no number, there’s no anything. Your name will be on your bike, your name will be on your helmet. You’ll have an ICE ID as your emergency contact info as opposed to a race number. You’re not going to be a number. You’re going to be part of a real close family of women.
GDK: You put a lot of work into this clearly and I know that initial plans were for somewhere else. But your final destination, if you like to call it that, where is it going to take place?
JG: We’ve looked at a lot of things. Jackie Lange and myself are partners in the event. We’ve looked at a lot of different options and a lot of different venues and places. I think ultimately the experience, the personal and top level accommodation that Gondwana Game Reserve offers. In terms of a race village, in terms of walking distance between your villa or your bed and your breakfast in the morning.
You’re not having to transfer, pack bags and take your bike and all the admin. We can get up at 7:30 in the morning and get on your bike by 9:00, you’re not chasing the sun up and queuing for food. I think that, especially for the ladies, is a very big part of being put off of stage races. This is very relaxed. We’ll obviously have structures, there’s obviously safety concerns and all of those things and obviously that’s my passion and my forte. So that’ll be there, but it’s just taking a bit of the pressure off.
GDK: I do know some women, one in particular who doesn’t fancy the portaloo option, so this should be ….
JG: Absolutely, any woman who has ridden for any amount of K’s on a mountain bike wants to sleep in a very nice bed and have a big, soaking, hot bath. Have a massage and somebody else is sorting out your bike and it’ll be there in the morning when you get there and just every level, pampering and personal touches.
GDK: That’s off the bike levels, what about on the bike, in terms of the riding? What will the riders be expecting?
What riders can expect
JG: Being where it is, Gondwana is sort of on the other side of George, between George and Mossel Bay, near Herbertsdale. So it is a varied terrain, it’s quite a lot of up and down. We’ve tried to minimise the climbing because obviously it’s not great to just spend your day climbing.
But in terms of the actual under tyre conditions, it varies from very nice flowing jeep track, or as we’ve now coined the phrase, social single track. So there’s a lot of jeep track, so a lot of opportunity to chat to your mates around you. Quite a bit of, I don’t want to say rocky riding, because I think that scares a lot of people, but certainly busy riding, so to speak. Where you’re having to concentrate and be aware of what you’re doing.
Then we’ve tried to mix that with some district road to have a breather, to have a chat, to have a drink of your bottle. So that you’re concentrating for little bits and then you’re relaxing on the other bits. Obviously finding water spots, the panoramas there are just unbelievable.
You get to the top of a climb and there’s a water stop and coffee is there and whatever. You can just see forever. You can see the sea, you can see all the gorges and the bits and pieces around, all while you’re looking for ellies. So it really is a special place.
GDK: Again, this is also a trend where perhaps the size of the event is playing into the hands of people like the Gondwana Conservancy or nature reserve. Previously conservation areas were not that keen to host mountain bikers, but as they’ve gotten to know the riders and the value of it, so they’re welcoming them.
JG: Absolutely. Mountain biking, by its very nature, is in its surroundings and it contributes to that. I mean the bird life we’ve seen on our trial rides and our rekking of the whole area, it’s just been unreal. Yes, the Big Five and all of that is amazing, but just the other parts of nature. We found tortoises and all sorts of little things, it’s unbelievable.
Again, it just adds to that being in your environment thing and Gondwana see the value in these women coming down. The fact that women actually are the decision makers in the family because as much as men might think they know where they’re going on holiday, until the wife decides where we’re going with the kids…
I think that’s where the value is for them. Obviously to have a race village kind of atmosphere where we’re literally pulling in and taking over the whole place. For them it’s wonderful. They’re wonderful owners of the place, Wendy and Mark.
They’ve been so embracing and it’s just so refreshing, along with Evox and the other partners that we’ve got, to actually see people putting money where their mouth is, where women are concerned. For so long sponsors have spoken about the value of sponsoring women and getting behind women. Now they actually are putting their buck where their mouth is, so it’s quite nice to see.
Helping to grow women’s cycling
GDK: It’s wonderful to see and just slightly off tack, there is often the case where the women’s field is quite considerably smaller, most often smaller than the men’s field. So is this, in a small way, just growing that element of the sport, getting more and more women into it?
JG: Absolutely, I mean world-wide, there’s just a humungous growth in women’s cycling, even at the Cycle Challenge. Our newly coined Telkom 947 Cycle Challenge, we’ve now got 26% of that field is women. We’re the highest in the country in that participation figure. It’s definitely growing.
I’m involved in women’s movements around the world, with a stronger movement. Getting involved in a few things in the UK with women’s development as well. There’s definitely a massive move to getting women on bikes. Giving them that confidence, giving them that freedom and that independence and saying it’s okay.
Even if you just want to ride and chat and be healthy, that’s fine. You don’t have to do it the way it’s been done for so long. You can do it the way you want to do it as well. I think that’s important because this is how we want to do it, Jackie and I. This is the way we would want to go and do an event. In fact, for the first time, I plan to ride one of my own events, which doesn’t happen often, so it’s interesting.
GDK: How far as the stages?
JG: We’ve tried to keep them fairly short, by the same token, we want the ladies to have a nice day out. So we’re sitting between 45-50km over the three days. We had originally wanted to go to 55, but it’s just a little stretch too far. Because of the terrain, because of the climbing element of it.
So it’s been 45-50km and within those there’s about between 650-800m of climbing across those three distances. It is a good, fair amount of climbing, but I think it’s rewarding climbing. It’s not like a huge climb here and there, it’s rolling. It really is very flowing riding, very varied terrain.
Don’t be afraid of the Big Five
GDK: You mentioned Big Five, so I assume there’s adequate security throughout?
JG: Correct. There’s lions, there’s ellies, there’s buffalo, so yes, obviously it’s a huge consideration. Nobody can really stop and change a puncture or change a wheel here or there, hence the entry as a team. It’s more of a buddy system than as a racing element.
We’ll have a game ranger vehicle at the front of the group and at the back of the group, along with a support vehicle as well. So there’s people around you all the time and we’re not going to go and look for trouble. Where there’s trouble, we’ll move around. There’s multiple routes that we have, and we’ll pick that route for that day and based on where the ellies are.
While we want to see things, we also don’t want to go and invade their environment and be aggressive about it. We’re very much cognisant of taking into account that we are in a game reserve and they are wild animals and we don’t want to go and look for trouble. We’ve got game drives in the afternoon to go and find those things and that’s what the fun part is.
GDK: Jenni, it sounds incredible. Evox Tour de Femme, the website is www.tourdefemme.co.za so get along there and have a look and see what you think. It sounds to me like something that, you talk about the logistics going into it now, but there’s movement here that we could see this springing up elsewhere?
JG: Yes, a few people have said, would you take it to other places and absolutely, we’re open. I think the thing is to see what the reaction is and what the uptake is. Obviously it’s a new event and some people who may not know us as organisers would sit back and see what happens sort of thing.
I’d like to think that after the first event we’ll have a lot of people going: Hey, that’s something that really looks different and interesting and I think that’s the thing. On the calendar and within the sport, to try and find something that’s unique and that isn’t being done week in and week out, cause there’s lots of that. Let’s see where it goes, it might land up being two or three in the country in different places.
GDK: Good luck to you, good luck to Jackie. I know you two will put together a fantastic show and remember, no men required. You’ll be camping out in the bush if you’re anywhere close, so you’d probably send the guards off after you as well.
The Evox Tour de Femme is something you should look at, it’s all part of mountain biking and that’s essentially what this is all about, on our Old Mutual Mountain Bike live podcast. Thanks for downloading, join us again for one more in the future. Until then, take care, cheers.