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10 Jun, 2015

Cow rides the beloved country

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Richard considers he might have contracted mad cow disease as he follows cyclists through a farmstead en route to Scottburgh. Photograph by Em Gatland.

Without thinking twice, Modern Cyclist’s own resident Cow, Richard Laskey grabbed his 26 inch hardtail, donned his full Cow suit and took on one of South Africa’s longest and most challenging mountain bike races, the Old Mutual Joberg2C. This is his story.

Wow, where do I start? I received a call from Karen Thomas, head of Old Mutual marketing: “Would you like a media entry into the Joburg2C?”

Well, my response was: “Is the Pope Catholic, Do Bears sh*% in the woods?”

“I’m there like a naked Polar Bear!”

As for my training program, suffice to say Tour De France participants wouldn’t have been too enamoured with my 8.6-kilometre trail ride in the company of my three daughters!

Be that as it may, come the morning of the first day at Karan Beef farm in Heidelberg with around 937 kilometres of pristine riding ahead, there I was adorned in my woollen cow suit together with another 800 or so eager participants.

The first day’s trail would be 116 kilometres of slippery, treacherous wet mud and it felt like my back wheel was continually being sucked into the abyss. We arrived in Frankfort, grateful for a hot shower and some insanely mouth-watering Karan Beef steaks!

Day two dawned, with a tender butt and spaghetti legs, the reality of 123 kilometres of undulating riding was as welcome as Eskom’s load shedding schedule in Winter, but armed with sheer determination (and a sense of humour) I happily set off on my journey.

The camaraderie along the route is second to none. Mechanical issues, punctures, broken chains etc are all part of the adventure, however none of these will be attempted in a solo capacity, as all the other competitors are always willing and able to lend a helping hand.

Each day, there are a minimum of two water points, these are definitely not your standard water points. With the local farming community coming out in their droves, this is more like a Smorgasbord of what the “Tannies” recipes are capable of: chocolate brownies, Crunchies, coconut ice, boerewors rolls, toasted sandwiches, boiled eggs with a variety of dips, chocolate, jelly babies, speckled eggs. In fact there was quite possibly a larger selection of sugar overdose than you find in the “Pick me” aisles of Pick ‘n Pay! Not to be outdone, the “Farmers” had an incredible selection of beers and the odd Spook ‘n Diesel was welcomed at the watering holes.

Day three was entertaining to say the least, after experiencing a mechanical, I needed to run whilst pushing my bike the 10 kilometre stretch to the third water point. Strange how my letter to Shimano about the poor quality of their running shoes has fallen on deaf ears.

Having sorted everything, I was able to finish the day and enjoy an ice cold Castle Lite as I crossed the line.

At each and every water point, the children from Little Haven are on hand to lube the rider’s chains. These kids all come from abused and broken homes, their enthusiasm is phenomenal and they are so excited to be a part of this. I had the fortunate pleasure of riding with one of the gentlemen who started this home, an amazing man by the name of Trevor Crowe.

There were indeed times that I questioned my sanity. A funny story that I can recite was after cycling on my own for about 40 kilometres, with no respite from an incline that went on and on like a boring Latin lesson, I made up my mind that the next turn would definitely lead to a much deserved downhill, when that turn arrived and I was greeted by yet another uphill, I completely lost my sense of humour.

Gently placing my bike on the ground, at the top of my voice I proceeded to let out a volley of obscenities that would make Pulp Fiction look like a Disney movie. Throwing a tantrum like the worst behaved child you have ever come across, I let it all out, if I had the energy I probably would have kicked my legs as well. With that out the way, I picked up my bike again and continued my journey refreshed and renewed.

The scenery and phenomenal single track that cyclists get to enjoy en route are simply breath-taking. Being able to ride through Solly’s Folly, an insane descent of switchbacks definitely gets the old ticker into the red zone! Sharing the adventure with other riders is so special and I’m fortunate to have ridden with and made so many new friends along the way: Anthony, Paul, Max, Trevor, Darryl, Ziggy, Jason, Ken, Colin, Gerald, Sibusiso, Chris, Bernie to name but a few. Thanks gents for the laughs and company.

Day eight is just mind blowing, climbing all the way to the top of the Umkomaas ridge, the riders are greeted by a massive expanse of the Umkomaas river hundreds of metres below. Like a giant African Rock Python, this river winds itself along the banks of the Umkomaas valley, as the riders descend like a runaway hamster on its wheel in a blur of dust.

Seeing the Indian Ocean for the first time with 13 kilometres to go can best be described as exhilarating. I felt like the Prodigal son returning to my family after what seemed like forever on that tiny piece of leather, an absolute excuse for a seat!

The 650 metre floating bridge was greeted with nervous apprehension, my mind continually screaming out at me “Just look forward and pedal, don’t fall in”. The thought of a soaking wet cow crossing the finish line resembling a drowned rat did not appeal to me. Having safely negotiated the aforementioned obstacle, it was onto the wood over the scaffolding and crossing the finish line to a rapturous applause (well not really, that was all in my head)!

Nine days, 900 plus kilometres, four provinces on a 26” Merida hardtail, was over: Mission Accomplished!

There are a number of folk who were involved in making this incredible adventure a reality:
Karen Thomas and her entire team from Old Mutual, Howard and his team from Subaru for keeping us safe, Mike and his team from Complete Cyclist for prepping my bike for the start, Harry and Dylan from Cycloworx for servicing my trusty steed each evening, Tracy Mallett and her team from AVIS, all of the farmers and their families en route, Kevin and his team from Stuf for the hot showers each evening, every single one of the volunteers en route, each and every participant that I had the pleasure of meeting and riding with, thank you!

To “Wappo”, Farmer Glen and Farmer Gary and your families and teams, thank you for all you do in creating such an iconic event, I’m indeed humbled and blessed to have been a part of this!

Richard Laskey

Richard Laskey

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Richard is one of the founding members of the Cows, and runs the Comrades Marathon every year in his fluffy cow suit. He loves hard core, choosing activities like cross fit and stage races over sleep.