Wagon & Spear – how an MTB event is formed
07 November 2016
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Hello and thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking, I’m Gerald de Kock. We are talking, as ever, about this wonderful sport of mountain biking that takes us to some incredible places around South Africa and indeed around the African continent. If you’ve downloaded some of these before, you’ll know we’ve been to various different countries in the African continent.
But today we’re going to be talking about an event that takes place in South Africa. It’s a KwaZulu-Natal based event. It’s the first time it’s happening, which I suppose is a great opportunity for riders to get to know the trails. The event that is called the Wagon & Spear. I’m joined by Cameron Service, Scott Pearmain and these are the two mean behind it. Cameron, first off, what made you get into mountain bike eventing and putting on an event?
Cameron Service: Well, Gerald, it’s been probably about three, I’ve been cycling for about 17 years, or mountain biking for 17 years. Over the last three and a half years I’ve been working at Holla Trails in the North Coast.
Between myself and Scott, my partner, we just decided that there was a massive scope for getting involved in events. There was opportunity to do this mountain bike stage race which we’d been conceptualising for many years now.
We thought, if no one else is going to do it, we’re going to need to do it ourselves. We got into it like that and it’s really just snowballed from that. It’s a very exciting place to be. Obviously it’s a passion to me because I’ve been riding for so long.
GDK: Just from a layman’s perspective, what comes first when you say right, we’re going to start a stage race here, what do you do? Do you need a trail, do you need a website, do you need a venue, what do you need?
The starting point in organising an event
CS: Well, with this being our flagship event, we needed to obviously first and foremost be able to find a venue. A good venue that we believe we could create something special. There are approximately 300 stage races on the calendar at the moment. So to give a different and a unique experience we decided to start with the race village.
Then look at the riding in the area that we live in. There’s just such spectacular trails there, the area sells itself. It’s like selling a good product, you don’t really need to market it as well because people will see just by seeing the videos and by going through to our website. By experiencing it, by doing it, they get to see what we’ve got there. The trails really speak for themselves.
GDK: Right I’m going to come over to Scott here and there as, as Cameron just said, so many options, so many choices. There’s obviously marketing and getting the word out there is key for you. But what’s going to make the riders come and ride it?
Scott Pearmain: Gerald, one of our USP’s for this race is the fact that we’ve gone in very affordable. Our packages range from R5 500 to R7 500 per team and that’s fully accommodated, fully catered for.
GDK: For three days?
SP: That is for the three days, the prologue day and then the two days of full riding.
GDK: In terms of accommodation and we’ve heard a bit about the trails, we’ll get back to Cameron about that, but what’s on offer?
SP: The executive accommodation, that’s the way to stage race in my eyes. You’re in a chalet, you’ve got an en suite, you’ve got your own shower. You’ve got your access to the kitchen, swimming pool right on the doorstep and that sort of thing.
The criteria just below that, or the group just below that is a camping option. Where again, just rock up with your bike and your kit, everything, the bedding and your bed and the tent and everything will be there. Then the R5 500 option is the traditional stage race which a lot of people are breaking into stage racing still want to experience, the guys that have done a few of them. They’ll probably drift more towards the ‘glamping’ and the chalet option.
Important to keep it intimate when starting out
GDK: A lot of the stage races, well, actually not a lot, there are two or three that have massive numbers, over a thousand riders over multiple events. But one gets the feeling that they’re the exception and that more and more we’re looking at more intimate events, is that what you’re aiming at?
SP: Definitely, those events that you refer to have done a lot of the legwork and have set up and have earned the right to have those numbers at their races. We’re keeping it intimate because we feel that that’s part of the experience with the riders. So they get to know the event organisers and it’s a personal thing.
That will prompt them to come back year after year and there’s things that we’ve put in place. Like the first year medal will only have, if you have a look at our logo, it’s the spear is behind the wagon and there’s 11 spears. The first year you will only have the two spears on your medal, the next year you would have done another two of the legs. Because we’ll exclude the prologue that time.
So you’ll four and the guys doing their first year will only have the two spears. There’s a bit of an elitism that we’ve built in. Again, that’s part of the relationship that we’re be building up with the riders. You’ll ride on a different board every year. So the guys will know who has done, from the very first one. Again, it’s also just building up the relationship with the riders year on year.
GDK: What are those numbers you’re looking at?
SP: It’s 300 riders, 150 teams and the accommodation where the race village, it will only allow us to accommodate that amount comfortably. We could squeeze more guys in, but comfortably to do that. So when it grows generically, it’ll be putting on more events rather than making the field bigger.
GDK: Let’s get back to Cameron and the trails, you obviously have a history with Holla Trails which is nearby, will you be making use of some of those?
The trails that will be used for the race
CS: We will be making use of a small section of the Holla Trails network. Obviously Holla Trails, for me, is a very special place. They’ve done some incredible stuff there, but on top of that, I have spent the last three months preparing new track, which I’m very excited about.
Myself and Scott are very excited about showcasing the new track in new landscaping as well. There’s areas that have never been tapped in before, like natural cattle tracks. There’s timber plantations which is not standard to Holla. Because Holla is more the sugar cane area.
We’ve got a bit of the Holla stuff, we’ve got a whole bunch of new single track and some incredible scenery, which is just breath-taking. The closest to it is if you think Valley of a Thousand Hills. That’s the sort of landscape and the scenery that you can expect at the Wagon & Spear.
GDK: Just tell us exactly where it is, obviously we can’t show our listeners a map, but plot it for us.
CS: You’d be looking at about 20-30km inland of Ballito. There’s a little crocodile farm out there and in fact it’s on the periphery of where the Holla Trails network goes. There’s a very nice little estate there called Verbara Lodge, which is up on the top of the hill. With a great vantage point of the whole North Coast area, stretching from the ocean. With the ocean sea view, all the way inland to the Glendale Valley, a real contrast of terrain.
Making use of expertise
GDK: We talked about so many events around, have you leant on other events and other people to gain some advice and assistance along putting this together?
CS: Absolutely. It’s been a case of, I’ve been involved in a number of events myself. As well as having some very close acquaintances and friends that have events companies and run big profile events. It’s definitely been a collaborative effort. I’ve been blown away at how helpful people have been. There doesn’t seem to be competition.
I think there’s been a lot of positive energy coming from people who just want to grow the sport and they realise that these different areas showcase different things. They don’t see it as stepping on toes, they see it as growing the sport. Which I think is fantastic.
GDK: What have you learnt in terms of putting on an event like this? There are obviously pitfalls and you haven’t had your event yet, so obviously that’s still to come.
CS: Well, you know what, I think Scottie and I have learnt lots through this whole process. But I would say also just translating what we believe for the event, to try to translate that through to the person that we want to come and ride. There has probably been one of our greatest challenges.
Because we believe whole heartedly in our event and we believe that it’ll be something special and something really unique that will grow in the next couple of years. Obviously trying to visually and with people knowing what the trails are like. We’ve been trying to express to people how that all works. To the locals they think, oh, are we just going to ride the local trails. It’s just making sure that they see our vision for the event and they see the effort we’re putting in.
The prospective Wagon & Spear rider
GDK: Describe your ideal Wagon & Spear rider.
SP: Somebody that has maybe done one or two stage races, bit of a weekend warrior, it would be fine for the weekend warriors. We’ve had some guys that have entered and gone, I’m entering, but I’m really worried about the Wagon Day. Which is the long 80km day, with a lot of climbing on the first day. But we’ve been assuring the guys that it’s doable.
If they can ride certain of the routes at Holla Trails, they can ride it. I think guys have the misconception that you have to be an absolute racing snake to do stage races. It goes back to the whole ethos of us having a more intimate relationship with these riders. If it’s us breaking them into stage racing, in other words their first or their second stage race, that’s our target market at the moment.
GDK: Good luck with it Cameron and Scott from Camelot events. The Wagon & Spear, the first year in 2016, may it grow from strength to strength in years to come.
CS: Fantastic, thanks Gerald, thanks for having us.
GDK: Enjoy it all I suppose, that’s the other thing, the riders will enjoy it. But you guys have got to have some fun as well.
SP: Absolutely and it’s the way we’re trying to set it up, where Cam and I on the day or on the weekend, we can step back and just interact with everybody. Thanks for having us Gerald.
GDK: That’s the Wagon & Spear, it takes place in September, go and check out their website, it’s Camelot –
GDK: Thank you Cam, right, there it is, check it out and it’s yet another wonderful sounding event to get your bike onto those trails. Thanks for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, do so again, until then, cheers.