Imana Wild Ride number twenty. A milestone to celebrate. In twenty years, a lot can change. Children become adults, parents become grandparents, it’s a generation shift. The Imana Wild Ride has grown from infancy to adulthood, it has seen over three thousand wheels track the coastline between Kei Mouth and Umngazi Mouth, it has built over forty classrooms and impacted on thousands of lives. And yet it is considered a small event. With one title sponsor, Imana Foods.
We reflect back on a proud legacy. The inaugural event at the turn of the millennium attracted seventy intrepid adventurers, teamed up in pairs. It was long before stage racing was even developed in South Africa. Twenty-six inch hard tails were considered top end bicycles. Duel suspension was rare. Only two farmers knew the route and pulled every trick in the book to ride away from the rest of the field, leaving them to ‘pay their school fees’ and figure out their own routes eastwards along the coastline. The general rule of thumb was simply ‘keep the sea to your right’ ! Of course ‘the farmers’, Steve and Glen and their band of brothers, had spent many a days and weeks in the years preceding the conception of the race, traversing the rugged coastline between Port Edward and East London. It was their just reward for sharing their secret, to have fun watching the novice teams in that first year, as they discovered that riding a bicycle along the wild coast was not as simple as it may have seemed.
By year two, a few more arrived to check out what all the talk was about. The farmers faced competition and conceded their title to the Cape Town pair of Frank Soll and Shan Wilson, who knocked over forty minutes off the time set by the farmers in the first year. By the third year, a capacity field of fifty teams lined up to race the tide. Soll and Wilson had the ‘whipper-snappers’ at the heels and gave up the cup to ‘the Lighties’ Roan Exelby and Brandon Stewart, who went on to defend their title in 2003. With sixty teams lined up for the fifth edition, the competition at the front of the field was strong and the aim for many was to bag an ‘ITT’ (Imana Top Ten) ! JP van der Linde and Markus Kaumpek rode a consistent race and without winning any of the stages their accumulated time at Umngazi gave them the victory – some two hours faster than the inaugural race. By 2005, the race had grown to seventy teams with many more on the waiting list. Shan Wilson teamed up with Max Knox and the pair posed a formidable combination as ‘pro’ riders of that era, they smashed the course record, set the previous year, by forty-five minutes !
James Smith and James Dawson, an unknown pair from Cape Town who had never ridden the route, surprised the field by taking the seventh title, and were never seen again. Two thousand and six also saw the biggest ever field of ninety teams, which was reduced to a capacity field of eighty teams in 2007 and stayed that way until twenty-fourteen, when the race was split into two start waves of fifty teams each.
The Nick Floros era began in 2007 and saw Floros take four successive titles – three with Peter Smith and then one with Iain Don-Wauchope in 2010. Floros and Smith broke the elusive ten-hour barrier at the tenth edition of the race, clocking an impressive nine hours and forty-eight minutes.
Tyronne White and Sean Merredew, a strong pair from KZN, broke the Floros run in 2011. And in 2012, Warren Price and Craig Stone moved onto the top step of the podium whilst setting a new course record of nine hours, thirteen minutes. If the saying ‘if you can’t beat em, join em’ could ever ring true, it was in 2013 when Floros and Price teamed up, leaving little chance for anyone else to claim the honours. Price went on to match Floros’s record of four successive wins in 2014, paired up with Craig Stone and then set a new record of five straight wins in 2015, with partner Trevor Rowe. In 2016 Price introduced former road professional, Darren Lill, to the delights of the wild coast and in 2017, Andrew Hill – a seasoned marathon racer, had his turn to savour the spoils.
Price, a former marathon paddler from the Midlands, had transformed himself into a pedigreed cyclist and has stamped his name on the record books of the Imana Wild Ride. Seven straight wins through to 2018, which proved the most challenging for Price and Hill as they faced strong opposition from Damon Stamp and Darren Lill. In the closest race in the event’s history, the two leading teams started the last day with a mere twenty-four seconds between them ! It was then not surprising that the course record was broken. What was unbelievable was that the record was broken by fifty-four minutes with Price and Hill clocking an incredible eight hours and seven minutes. In fact, the top three teams home were all well within the previous course record of 9h01. 00
Whilst the minority have been ripping up the beaches and hillsides, the majority have been savouring the full flavours of the wild coast ‘soul food’ over the years. For many, the Imana Wild Ride offers four days of a complete contrast to everyday life. The physical effort, combined with the fantastic hospitality of the Pondo people, the scrumptious delights of ‘food like granny cooks’, the simplicity of life in a remote location and the chance to reconnect as human beings. In 2006, the Wild Ride Education Company was established, under the care of Mike (aka Spider) Clark. As part of the events’ mission statement, the event organisers aimed to develop a fund ‘to promote education, conservation and tourism of this ecologically-sensitive coastline’.
Imana Foods challenged the event to make a difference to the communities through which the race passes and initially pledged a Rand for Rand on fund raising. The first two classrooms were built in 2005 at Tongani and Mgcawezulu Junior Secondary Schools. In 2006, between WREC and Imana Foods, the event was able to present four classrooms to communities in the Coffee Bay and Elliottdale areas. In the early years, a classroom cost in the region of forty thousand Rand to build. Fund-raising efforts continued to gain momentum each year whilst at the same time, the cost of building escalated. The race organisers intent was only to encourage participants to give from the heart. And clearly, there was big heart out there. In the last thirteen years, over forty classrooms have been donated to the communities, ranging from pre-schools through primary schools and more recently, a high school. The spend is no longer thousands of Rands but over a Million Rand. Every Rand raised is channelled into construction (WREC draws no administrative costs) and therefore used to maximum effect in order to invest in children’s futures who may never have had the chance at an education. Those little toddlers, who in 2005 may have entered pre-school, will be matriculating this year.
Whilst the well-oiled cogs busily churn away in preparation for this special event, we pause to pay tribute to the many chainrings in the cassette that allow the wheels to spin smoothly. The Imana Wild Ride ‘family’ has remained much the same over the years, with some of our event crew having been with us almost since the beginning. A special mention to our overnight hotels, who really pull out all the stops to accommodate us and feed us along the way in true ‘wild coast’ fashion. As the full moon rises during race week from the 14th to the 18th July, participants can look forward to four days out of the ordinary, as they soak up the wonders of the wild coast.