Nedbank Desert Dash in Namibia – get there
20 July 2016
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Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, I’m Gerald de Kock and thanks for joining me. We talk all matters mountain biking, both locally and internationally which is what today’s programme is about. Because Namibia is one of our international neighbours.
We’re talking to a man who is synonymous with mountain biking in Namibia and has been for well over a decade, if not longer. Mannie Heymans joins me. Mannie is currently the Race Director of the Nedbank Desert Dash in Namibia. Mannie, that’s coming up in December, you’ve won it a few times, it’s got a real reputation as one of the hard races isn’t it?
Mannie Heymans: For sure, to all the listeners out there, for sure, this is a Bucket List event. I actually don’t know why people want to do it, I once drove with my beach buggy down to Swartkopmund, it took me four hours. I thought, gee, this is crazy and then the next year I did it in a two-man team, the Desert Dash. I thought, okay man, this is crazy and then a year later I did the Desert Dash solo.
There’s something that just pulls you back to it and you want to go back there. The camaraderie, everything, with the backup vehicles and Namibia is known for their hospitality. We just throw it to all the riders out there in the middle of the night and they just can’t stop talking about it.
369km on the cards
GDK: Let’s talk about the numbers involved because it’s been going for a number of years now and it’s got that reputation, it’s got almost a cult following. It’s like a Comrades if you like. If you do mountain biking and endurance events, you have to have done the Desert Dash. The distance firstly?
MH: The distance, it used to be 340km. But with riders coming in at 3:00 in the morning, like myself, the then organiser, Mr de Lange, he then made it 369, so the distance now is 369km.
GDK: So just you could finish in the morning.
MH: That you can finish, you can give the crew on the other side time to build up the finish line, because you do it with the same crew. But again, we’re all chasing times and I think the finishing time is now 14 and a half or 15 hours. So the guys come in at 5:00 in the morning, it’s still dark and there’s still no spectators, but that’s just part of this whole experience. So 369km, that’s the distance.
GDK: And you have various checkpoints along the way. Firstly, let’s talk about the solo, so they would have to check in at each of those?
MH: Yes, the solo guys, they do the whole distance, but they go through six checkpoints if I’m not mistaken. You check in after 40km, and then alternatively you’ve got 75-80km, there’s a checkpoint, in between that 80km, there’s another water point. So we won’t leave you for the wolves and we won’t leave you in the desert.
Then you have to check in/check out so that we know exactly what riders are where on the course, so that’s just for safety. The solo riders, they’ll go through all those points, you’ll see your backup vehicle only at 180km. So you’ve got to go 180km unassisted and rely on what we provide as race organisers and believe me, that’s good.
GDK: You obviously has to, it’s a serious thing, keeping those riders fuelled, because they’re putting their bodies under serious stress.
MH: We’ve got very good partners on board, Super Spar. Namibian Super Spar, the Grove Super Spar, they’re on board for feeding our solo riders last year. But they also have to feed the two person riders this year at the 100km mark. The feedback we had from the solo riders last year, it was just immense, it was just awesome, so great job by them. This year they’ve got to cater for probably 250 more riders, but you know, there’s nothing like a challenge for people to pick up their socks.
The different racing options
GDK: You’ve got the solo riders, you’ve got two person teams and you’ve got four person teams, let’s talk about those, are those relays?
MH: So the four-person team, let’s talk about that because maybe that’s going to be easier. All four people have to do the first 35km together, and being in Namibia, being in December, starting at 3:00 in the afternoon, how crazy can you be.
Then you still have to climb up 2000m. So for your weekend warriors, that’s really Achilles Heel stage because you normally have three good riders and maybe one slow guy. But you know, you can only continue when all four riders are on top. Then after that, all four riders sign in, one rider signs out and then one rider will continue doing the next leg of the four legs.
The other three guys will jump in the backup vehicle, go past him and then the next rider will wait for the rider to check in, they’ll check out. You’ll continue all the way to the very last point where all four riders will check out again and do the last 40km together. Then the guy with the sore legs that’s been riding maybe 20 hours earlier, he’ll have to get on the bike again and do another 2.5 hours. Again, just something different, but it’s something that makes the people come back for more.
GDK: Obviously what it does, it gives riders all different levels, a chance to be part of the event.
MH: The first leg, you ride against the wind, the second one is more hilly, the third one is the easy one and the fourth one is just a bad one, at a bad time of day. Then you can choose the riders accordingly. If you’ve got a good climber, you’ll let him do the second stage. If you’ve got a guy that’s just a little bit overweight, you’ll let him do the third stage.
But he still has to do the first 35km, and then he still has to do the last 40km. So he’ll then have to do three rides where the guy that does the first one, he’ll do 35km and 70km, so he’ll do about 105km. Then another 40km at the end.
It’s all these, how are we going to do it, I think like in cross country World Champs in the relay. If you send the first fastest one out first, is it going to benefit or if you send another one out? So there’s all these and like I said, that all makes part of this whole camaraderie –
GDK: And team thing.
Get ready to gravel
GDK: What’s the terrain, what are you riding?
MH: It’s all, except for the first probably 6km tar road, so you’ll do 6km tar road. Then we go onto gravel roads, so depending on whether it’s been graded recently, it can be smooth, normally it’s not, so it can be very corrugated –
GDK: Oh, that’s fun.
MH: What we call thin pad, but nowadays, with 29 inch wheels and bigger tyres, that makes up for that. One thinks it all goes down to the coast so that it’s not climbs. But people that’s done Sani2c where you actually climb 3500m by descending 1600m. So the descent is probably 4500m but you climb 3500m, so it’s not just downhill.
GDK: What’s the record, do you know, for the solo?
MH: Solo this year –
GDK: I suppose it changes.
MH: If I’m not mistaken, the year I did it, the fastest I’ve done the shorter route was 12:13. Now with the longer route and the last 40km is also different. So we go through the Swartkopmund River and a bit a moon landscape. So where it’s longer and a little bit more difficult. I think the winning time was just under 15 hours, or just over 15 hours. So the challenge is out there, the challenge is out there to go out and beat the new fastest time on the new course.
GDK: What does it take to ride for that long, you’ve got assistance, but on your own?
What it takes to go solo
MH: Like I say to a lot of people who come to me for advice, the body is an awesome thing. If you keep fuelling it and you don’t overcook it or you don’t overdo it, it’s like your car. So you’ve got sports cars, but they run on fuel and they want more of it. They can go faster.
Then you’ve got your average car and they also run on fuel and they’ll also take you to Cape Town, for instance, or to Durban. But if you don’t stop at the fuel station and if you over-rev the car or if you ride it that it needs to go to the mechanics. There’s no mechanics in the middle of the desert, so don’t overcook it. The race is 369km long, so prepare for 369km.
Then another thing, I believe you don’t have to be too fit, but you have to be mentally fit. It’s a big mind game, again, you don’t have to train 200km to do the solo. I’ve seen guys training 100-140km and still did a good solo because they were mentally very strong.
GDK: How many riders will you have?
MH: Solo we capped at 185, solo riders, so with a couple of extras that I think can come in, we’ll be on 200 solo riders. Two-man team we will have capped it at 150 teams, so that’s another 300 riders, that’ll make it 500 riders. Four-man team we’ll cap it at 100 teams, so that’s another 400 riders. So in total we’ll have 900 riders.
GDK: Sold out in seconds isn’t it?
MH: Sold out in seconds.
GDK: Mannie, you’ve done a great job there and fantastic, the Nedbank Desert Dash takes place in December –
MH: 9th and 10th of December, so Friday the 9th we start at 3:00 in Windhoek. The cut off time is 24 hours later, 3:00 on Tiger Reef Beach, so we finish on the beach. It’s just an awesome setting, so hope to see, if you’re not riding it and you’re in the vicinity, come and spectate and support the riders.
GDK: You’re not going to get an entry for 2016, you can only get one for next year at this stage, so good luck with that and good luck with the preparations. Mannie Heymans, thanks for chatting to us. Mannie, a legend in mountain biking in Namibia and in Africa. This has been another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, thanks for downloading, until next time, cheers.