Interview with Owen
Tell us a bit about the story of the event and how it became a reality.
Riders in Zambia have been talking for a long time about the possibility of hosting a MTB stage race in Zambia.
We have all done many stage races in South Africa like Sani2c, cape epic and W2W. Often after another fun stage on the bike we would sit in a group over a few beers and talk of having our own stage race along some of our own favorite routes.
Eventually in 2013 we decided the time was right and 1ZAMBIA was born.
We always wanted the race to be a destination event but logistics in Zambia are very difficult so we thought let’s make use of existing facilities of the lodges and keep the start finish in Lusaka for the 1st 2 days and then have the finish of the 3rd stage on the bank of the Zambezi River. There is something special about riding so far on a bike over one of the steepest jeep tracks in Zambia to end up with a cold one on the river listening to the hippos and hopefully catching site of a few elephants crossing the river.
The 1Zambia MTB name comes from the fact that the race takes place in Zambia.
We are the 1st MTB stage race in Zambia and we are currently the premier MTB race in Zambia.
We also think of the no. 1 as a unifying number where we see great interaction between the MTB community and the communities along the route who are always there to cheer the riders on
Lastly the number 1 is associated with a winner and everyone loves to back a winner!!
• Is MTB big in Zambia? Tell us about the scene there.
The MTB scene in Zambia is growing every year. We have new races every year and they are all well supported. More and more I think riders are realizing we don’t have to travel to SA to take part in top class MTB races. We can host them right here in Zambia. We are nowhere close to as big as the scene in SA but there are many keen riders and it is just a matter of time until we have a full race calendar with a proper association and legitimate national champions in each category.
I think the 1Zambia event has helped propel that forward as we have shown current and would be race organisers what is achievable and that it’s possible for everyone to up their game. We will never attract the huge numbers of riders that the South African races attract but there is a certainly a lot more to come out of Zambia. Watch this space!
What does 1Zambia MTB offer riders that are new and exciting and a bit different to what they are used to?
For the Zambian riders the 1Zambia MTB race offers a chance to take part in an event of the same quality and stature as the South African races. It really is way ahead of any other MTB race currently taking place in Zambia with things like live tracking of certain teams and split timing of the entire field through enduro / sprint sections on the course which all add to rider and spectator excitement.
Another innovation we had this year was live streaming from the start finish area allowing spectators to view the event from YouTube. The content is still there and you can still login now and check your video finish from stage 1 & 2 at Lilayi Lodge.
For the foreign riders they will definitely remember the 1Zambia as a wild ride with many many kilometers of unmanicured single track taking them through areas that are really remote and the sense of isolation out there is real and does heighten your senses.
GPS navigation is becoming more and more popular and due to the remoteness of the route we decided from the onset that this was the only way for riders to navigate our routes. There are still only a handful of riders that have really mastered this kind of navigation and so it will be another challenge riders will need to overcome in order to make it to the finish line without too many wrong turns.
Tell us about Zambia as a country – its people, land & history.
Zambia as a country is lucky enough in comparison to other African countries never to have endured a civil war or major civil unrest. Local Zambians are peaceful, friendly and welcoming. Especially on the 1Zambia course we guarantee if you smile and wave at any of the locals they are sure to smile and wave back.
The landscape in Zambia is beautiful and vast. We have the typical big African skies and the feeling of space around you. There’s only 14 million people inhabiting a space almost twice the size of Zimbabwe so there is still plenty of room left for pristine nature. 30% of our country is reserved for wildlife and Zambia has some of the best game viewing in Africa with many tourists visiting every year. Zambia also has an abundance of water in our lakes and rivers and we are so blessed to have the Zambezi River as our finishing point of the event. The Zambezi really is a site to behold and it is very impressive when you see just how big it is and all the wildlife it supports.
• What kind of riders are you targeting, who will enjoy this race?
We feel there is a big market for the adventure mountain biker looking for something fresh and new on the scene without the commercial feeling of being in cattle class with the masses. Due to the relatively small field of only 100 riders the 1Zambia race definitely has a strong personal feel to it and as the event organisers we make a point of trying to catch up with every rider during the course of the event.
The other market we want to capture is on the corporate side. This year we had very good corporate support from BSI Steel and Hendred Freuhauff who each brought 5 teams to the event. It was a great opportunity for their groups to mingle and relax and with everyone starting at 08 00 in one batch there is no pressure and riders can enjoy a long breakfast in the morning.
What kind of terrain and landscapes are riders experiencing?
Lusaka itself is very flat but where the race starts at Lilayi Lodge we are actually on the edge of a series of hills, valleys and escarpments dropping down to the Kafue and Zambezi rivers. This is ideal MTB terrain with many single track village paths through the hills linking onto the jeep tracks and district road. There are no tar roads in sight and no fences or restricted access anywhere along the route. Riders will experience raw trails with no spray painted roots or rocks – we leave the trail as it is apart from cutting back the grass & bush and smoothening out some of the really rough sections.
Weather conditions at this time of the year?
We moved the dates back a bit this year and the cooler / dryer conditions in June certainly helped the field. We temperatures of about 20 – 24 degrees C in Lusaka in the day which is perfect for mountain biking. At night things are a bit chilly and temps can drop to 7 or 8 degrees C. In the Zambezi valley you can definitely notice a difference and it’s normally about 3 to 4 degrees hotter on the valley floor.
Give us a brief break down of each stage; describe the type of track and the amount of climbing/descending riders will encounter.
We have different names for each stage of the race and stage 1 is called the wake up call. This comes from the name of 1st steep single track climb riders experience not far from the start. It really sets the tone for the whole race with a typical steep and loose rock climb with amazing views from the top of the rolling hills in the distance. You would not believe once you take it all in that you are only 20km from Lusaka city centre.
Another landmark on stage 1 is Profanity Hill which is about a 2km climb back to the top of the ridge which will cause a few splits in the groups. Once on top there is a water point at the 39km mark and a fun downhill to follow called Mystery. Just watch the rock gardens. There’s another long climb called False Top ridge that can’t end soon enough which takes riders to WP 2 on top at the 54km mark.
The finish takes riders right past the Elephant Orphanage where Liz and her team are doing a great job raising baby ele that have lost their mothers and re introducing them into the wild in the Kafue National Park.
The final 100m of the stage takes the riders through Lilayi Lodge reception and down the grass banks over the Hendred Freuhauf ramp where there is an opportunity to catch some big air and have some fun. If there is any energy left!!
Total distance of stage 1 is 68km with approximately 1300m of climbing .
Stage 2 is called the Nankanga Tour because it is a gentler ride in comparison to stage 1 and takes the riders past the beautiful Nankanga Hill which is the pointy hill that is very noticeable in the horizon when looking across the hills. WP 1 will feel like it is early on at the 32km mark at the bottom of the valley because there is a lot of descending to get there. After that there is a steady climb out of the valley to the top of Endless Summer where riders will find WP 2 at the 53km mark. Endless Summer is a super fun descent down the nose of a hill all the way through Kamakaze rock garden down to the hidden forest river crossing which is always a great place to grab a photo by the little waterfall.
This year on stage 2 we introduced a switchback climb which was custom built by Mikey and his team and it definitely added something new to MTB in Zambia as normally all of our climbs just go straight up and over. We are planning in years to come to introduce more custom built trails which add a bit of fun and flavor to the race.
The finish into the lodge is flat over a single track called Flatjacks and Pancakers for a fun finish through the lodge reception, over the Hendred Freuhauf ramp and the finish arch.
Total distance of stage 2 is 73km with approximately 950m of climbing.
Stage 3 is called Dream Structures as some of the trails in there are what mountain bikers dream of. It is a tough stage because any ride of 108km will always be hard but also because it is fairly rough all the way to the 90km mark when eventually the track smoothens out for a big ring finish to the Zambezi River. My favourite part of stage 3 is Solo-mans Crossing which takes riders over a series of stream crossings in a very remote valley which leads them out onto the side of a hill at Kaanzas Village for the 1st water point at the 42km mark. WP 3 is on top of the biggest climb of the race – The Mother – or Mother in Law – depending on how you feel about it. It really is a daunting climb of 1.5km with about 200m of ascent. Once on top there is no more major climbing left but riders will still need something in the tank to pedal through the last 30km on the valley floor.
What is so special about finishing on the banks of the Zambezi River?
The finish on the Zambezi river is one of the most special moments as one is always in awe of size of the river and just how much life it supports. It is common to view elephants from the Kiambi campsite across the river on Kanyemba Island and the sound of hippos honking reminds you that you are in the middle of real Africa
Where do riders stay? Describe the lodges and the facilities available.
We have limited rooms at Lilayi Lodge and tented accommodation at Lilayi Lodge. We also have accommodation in very comfortable chalets at Sandys Lodge which is a 15 min drive from Lilayi. In the Lower Zambezi we have accommodation in chalets and tents at Kiambi Lodge and in chalets at Kanyemba Lodge
Logistics – how do riders & their bikes get to Zambia and to the start of the race?
We have a bus shuttle from the airport if necessary. Flights to and from Lusaka to JHB and Durban are regular
Safety – remote areas and limited infrastructure.
We have Speciality Emergency services covering the route in case of emergency
Is the route marked?
Apart from within the fences of Lilayi Lodge game park the route is completely unmarked. We decided early on that GPS navigation is the only way to navigate this route and it is certainly a big part of the race. We feel if we had to mark one part of the route then we would have to mark all of the route. We prefer to mention danger points in the briefing and on the route profile stickers but when it comes to actual marking on the route the riders will not see any spray painted rocks or danger tape. The trail is completely raw.
How challenging is it using a GPS for navigation?
We definitely saw a few riders struggling with the GPS navigation this year and there were many riders who you could see had little experience in operating their GPSs. Hopefully as the GPS navigation experience becomes more mainstream riders will become accustomed to it. In saying that all the riders would not want the course to be followed in any other way and enjoyed the challenge of winding their way through the valleys with only their Garmin to show them the way.
Will they see wild animals? Any dangerous wildlife?
Within the Lilayi Lodge game park riders will have a chance to see some wildlife like bushbuck, water buck, Sable, Zebra and giraffe. Outside of the lodge there is not much until in the Zambezi valley near the finish where riders could see some elephant along the last 30km of track. There are many villages living along this route amongst the elephants and we consider it safe to ride in these areas.
Brief rundown of the sponsors, how they are involved and what they contribute to the race.
We are happy to have FNB as our title sponsor for the second year running. FNB has seen that we can be innovative and adventurous in what we do and I think it is a good fit with their brand as well as FNB has a strong history of winning innovation in the banking sector and this is another positive step by them to engage with their community through a pioneering sporting event whilst also adhering to their motto of “How can We Help You?” In the words of one of their senior managers they see the FNB 1Zambia MTB race as part of “using adventure as the catalyst for innovation”
Bell Equipment were also a major sponsor this year and the amount of logistical support they provided for the water points was invaluable. We were very happy to host Mr Gary Bell and his son Mark who participated in the event and we hope more of our sponsor execs will take part in the race next year.
Loinette Leasing and ARMS are integral supporting sponsors and create a good synergy between the sponsors as Loinnette is an in house financing company for Bell Equipment.
In terms of corporate sponsor synergy at the event we were happy with how it turned out as we had FNB as the title sponsor who have recently signed a contract with Bell Zambia to grow the bell business here. We had a BSI corporate team made up of BSI and FQM mining execs who both do a lot of business with Bell. And we had many other FNB clients across all the sponsorship levels which I think is valuable for all sponsors as an opportunity to network and engage with their clients in a relaxed setting outside of the boardroom.
Sum up the 2015 race
The 2015 race was a resounding success due to support from the sponsors and the amazing dedication from the organizing staff and volunteers and communities along the route. We have a passion for mountain biking and we want to use this event not only to showcase our beautiful country but also to support communities along the route. We have done that this year with a slot on Supersport to show a little bit more about life in Zambia as well as all the paid man hours we contributed into villages along the route who were there to help with trail building and clearing.
What can people expect in years to come from this event?
People can expect the 1Zambia MTB event to definitely grow in years to come. When I saw grow I do not mean only in numbers. I think part of the allure of this event is that we have a small personalized field and we never want to lose that feeling. There are many races you can attend with over 1000 riders in each event. We will never be one of those races. We want to keep our identity firmly as a small but well run event where riders can expect the same if not better quality and organization of a South African race but with a much more authentic African feel which brings a uniqueness that others can’t match purely due to the location and resources we have at our disposal here.
Where do they enter.
Anyone interested in riding the 2016 event needs to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for updates on registration dates etc. Once registrations open we will have a link from our website to take riders through the registration process. Our website is www.1zambiamtb.com
Rider entries will definitely be oversubscribed for 2016 so anyone wanting to ride should keep a close eye on our Facebook posts in the coming months.