Pioneer cyclists conquer the mountains to inspire women …

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Sani2c (Image: Supplied)

Cape-based cyclists Tegan Phillips and Renata Bossi recently took part in the challenging three-day KAP sani2c mountain bike race. The pair are part of the Wintergreen Barrier Breakers cycling team, which aims to inspire and connect women, empowering them as cyclists at all levels.

The Wintergreen Barrier Breakers Cycling Team runs group rides, events and workshops, and tells the stories of women in cycling. Recently they shared their experience of sani2c shatter the perception that these events might be too “unconditional” for an “ordinary person” who enjoys cycling.

In fact, there has certainly been an increase in the number of women entering the sport of mountain biking, with women-only riding groups and skills clinics popping up across the country. But in mountain biking events, and in particular stage races, the percentage of women participating is still quite low – 14% in the case of sani2c.

A member of the Wintergreen Barrier Breakers, 28-year-old comic book illustrator Tegan Phillips is primarily an endurance road cyclist. “I’ve always been bad at sports, but in 2014 I discovered cycling and I wasn’t that good at it,” she says. Phillips competed in a race using his mom’s bike and loved it so much that she went out and bought the helmet and all the gear, and got serious about riding.

In 2015, she spent a year cycling 11,000 km across Africa with her family. In February 2021, she cycled for five days from Cape Town to the Namibian border and back, covering 1,400 km. And it was just training for the colossal task she set for herself in early 2022: to set the women’s cycling world record from Cairo to Cape Town.

Although she is an expert cyclist and an adventurous and accomplished road cyclist, her mountain biking experience is quite limited, especially single track riding – a trail that is roughly the width of the bike and may involve obstacles such as rocks and ruts. Sani2c is known for its high proportion of fluid singletracks, where very high levels of technical skills are not required.

So she started to train more seriously and had a coach. Soon she was invited to join Renata Bossi in the Wintergreen Barrier Breakers and got a mountain bike for a training camp in the Tankwa Karoo in October 2020.

“I was surprised to see how many women ride mountain biking compared to road biking. I think a lot of women prefer the trails because they feel safer than on the road.

“My advice, and this is the advice I was given, is to participate in a race. There will never be anything so technical that you can’t just get off your bike and walk a bit, and on a run you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, so you learn really fast. It’s a way of forcing yourself to practice.

Tegan Phillips (Image: Supplied)

Bossi and Phillips launched the “SHEveresting” platform as a way for women to take on the challenge of Everesting as a group. Everesting is a recent trend in cycling – you find a hill and go up and down it as fast as you can, climbing a total of 8,848m (the elevation of Mount Everest), as an activity. The duo organized SHEveresting events in Cape Town and Joburg.

Speaking of mountain biking, Phillips explains, “Going over obstacles… can be quite intimidating, you have to learn to trust what your bike can do. When the [Wintergreen Barrier Breaker] the team joined PE2Plett in February, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was committing to, but during the race I broke through that barrier of confidence in my bike. Having a partner like Renata who is a competent mountain biker makes a huge difference because you have to focus on following up, and I was constantly surprising myself with what I could do.

“For Renata and I doing the sani2c in May was a way for us to communicate and encourage other women to try things like this. We have received so many messages from women who have now bought a mountain bike or participated in a race after seeing our journey in the stage races. [on Instagram]. “

The KAP sani2c is one of the oldest stage races in the country, founded by dairy farmer Glen Haw as a school fundraiser in 2005. It has become the largest stage race in the world and covers 266 km in three days since Himeville at the base. from the Sani Pass in the southern Drakensberg, to the sea at Scottburgh on the southern coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

The event is known to involve the communities along the route, where volunteers from farmer organizations, schools and charities provide event services, from catering to construction and maintenance. trail maintenance; and shuttle service for vehicles from start to finish.

“The highlight of sani2c’s practice has been 100% singletrack,” says Phillips. “As a relatively beginner mountain biker I was just at that level where I could ride a singletrack but I’m not technically advanced so having that smooth singletrack was the perfect confidence building trick. Sani2c is a perfect three-day crash course that you won’t get anywhere else. It stays at the same level, but every day you can push yourself a little harder.

“I can see why so many women find cycling addicting, because the confidence aspect is huge. The more I did the technical parts of the singletrack, the more confident I felt to try something a little harder. so proud of myself and I found myself saying, “Wow Tegan, you are so badass!”

“On the last day, I was just flying compared to the first day. The joy of singletrack, I just can’t express it.

Bossi (25) works as a digital marketer and focuses on mountain biking, riding his backyard trails in Durbanville after work and on weekends. She was an avid trail runner until a long-term knee injury prompted her to cycle in October 2018. “I bought a road bike to save my sanity while my injury healed, and I just loved it, ”she says.

Three weeks after starting to cycle, Bossi had planned and executed a 400 km round trip from Durbanville to Citrusdal and back. In September 2019, thirsty for trails and failing to run in nature, buying a mountain bike was the natural next step, as she had moved to Durbanville where the trail networks are extensive. A month later, she won an entry to Wines2Whales, the three-day mountain bike stage race from Somerset West to Hermanus. The ATV bug had bitten.

Tegan Phillips and Renata Bossi (Image: provided)

For Bossi, the lockdown meant she had started training on an indoor trainer (sent from Joburg the day before the hard lockdown), and she stayed in shape, and when the opportunity to do the sani2c came up. is presented, she jumped on it.

“We went there without wanting to run, rather to tell the story and see how we are doing as a team. The trails are the most exquisite I have ever hiked. From afar, this forest singletrack was breathtaking. It’s so rewarding when a race gives you a pristine singletrack descent after a tough climb, and sani2c has done it every time.

“We talked a lot along the way about why there are so few women at these events. I think if it was 50% female it would be so much easier. “

MTB stage races are usually team events with two riders, and Renata thinks that makes the races a lot less intimidating.

“Just knowing that someone is watching over you and helping you through a big climb is very reassuring. Sani2c is quite maneuverable, you just go slower if you’re not sure about anything. I think it would be ideal to bring together a group of women to do this; there’s also a lot of time off the bike, and it’s so great to have people to share it with.

Through her comics that she posts on Instagram, Phillips shares her adventures, hoping to inspire other women to get involved: “Adventure is… a state of mind and the more we can post funny stories to her. subject, the more others can see that it is something could do. The limited perception we have of ourselves and the world and what is possible makes our world small. When you are in an adventure setting and you are forced to sleep under a bridge or talk to someone who does not know your language, it expands your world and your depth of experience of the world. DM / ML

There are a number of initiatives and group rides across the country that make cycling more accessible to women. The Wintergreen Barrier Breakers team worked with East City Cycles to launch the Woman Friday hikes in Cape Town. Trail Angels is also based in Cape Town and is a women’s training academy that offers vocational training, runs hikes and tours and aims to build a community of female mountain bikers. In Gauteng, Cycle Lab Active Women (CLAW) runs weekly women-only hikes, with the goal of building self-confidence. Dirt School KZN runs internships and skills camps for women and they are based in Giba Gorge.

You can follow Tégan Phillips and Renata Bossi on Instagram, as well as Wintergreen barrier breakers and sani2c.

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