Following an absence of two years, the Akkedis race again took place this year. It is regarded as one of the toughest and also most challenging mountain bike events in the country. The 70 kilometre route takes competitors through indigenous forest into the bluegum and pine plantations of Hanglip, before they tackle a treacherous narrow passage back to the start at the Schoemansdal veld school. The total ascent is well over 1 600 metres, mostly along single track routes where riders are confronted by challenges such as slippery rocks and sand. This year the cold weather and mist set in,
making the progress for the riders even more difficult.
When husband and wife team, Anton and Adri van Zyl, heard that the event would again take place
this year, they decided to enter for the 70 kilometre route. “We decided to show other riders that
we can also handle the tough races,” says Anton. The two of them cycle fairly regularly, although
they don’t consider themselves as fitness fanatics. Adri was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis some
two years ago, but luckily it doesn’t affect her mobility so much that she has to stop cycling.
Two years ago they imported a tandem mountain bike from the US and started taking part in local
events. “Cycling helps us relax and keeps us fit,” says Adri. Those who know the dynamics of a
tandem bicycle will realise that this type of bicycle does not take kindly to steep hills. “It’s a
nightmare when climbing, but you get used to it and if it gets too difficult you climb off and walk,”
When their regular cycling partners heard that they intended doing the 70 kilometre route, they
volunteered to ride along. “The Akkedis is tough, but so is handling MS,” was the reply. It was then
decided to try and get five cyclists to ride alongside the tandem on the route. “The response was so
overwhelming that we quickly realised we have something special here and the ‘MS Ride’ was born,”
Anton is also the owner of a local newspaper in Louis Trichardt and he asked his team at work to
design a cycling shirt. “They came up with such wonderful ideas that we knew we had to include the
non-riders in one way or the other,” explains Anton. The solution was to get them involved in
manning water points along the route, also wearing orange t-shirts. The group of riders by then grew
to well over twenty.
The enthusiasm spilled over to the pharmaceutical company that provides medicine to the MS
patients in town. They offered to sponsor the riders’ shirts and assist where they could.
On the day of the event the starting line-up of the race was filled with chirpy cyclists proudly wearing
their orange shirts with the distinctive message “Riding for those who can’t”. Among the “MS riders”
was the 18-year-old CP van Wyk, one of the country’s most promising cyclists. He wasted no time
and broke away from his opponents after about twenty kilometres. At the halfway mark he was
already several minutes ahead of his closest competitors. CP completed the race in 03:14:47 and
proudly pointed to his orange shirt when crossing the finish line.
Anton and Adri were obviously not so fast on the tandem and battled up the mountain for most of
the day. They finished the 70 kilometres in just below seven hours, surrounded by the five friends
who faithfully accompanied them along the route.
Shortly after the 70 kilometre race started, the competitors for the shorter, 35 kilometre event, got
on their way. This race drew well over 100 entries and also boasted a dozen or so “MS riders”. “A lot
of our friends and people who wanted to support the campaign asked to ride along. They weren’t fit
or strong enough to tackle the long route, so they opted for the shorter challenge,” says Adri.
The success of the campaign was such that the organisers were flooded with requests to present it
again next year. “We already have so many ideas to expand on the project and the enthusiasm is
simply overwhelming,” says Anton. One of the ideas is to set a challenge to the riders. “We want to
try and ride 5 000 kilometres for MS awareness. This means that 50 cyclists will have to ride the 70
kilometres in orange colours and 100 ‘MS riders’ need to finish the 35 kilometres,” explains Anton.
The chances are good that next year the little dabs of orange along the route will change to an
orange chain of cyclists. This will fit in well with the slogan on the front of the cycling shirts: “MS kills
connection. Connection kills MS.”