The Grindrod Bank Umngazi Pondo Pedal race, held annually in June, has in just three years become a popular fixture on the mountain biking calendar. Billed as the epitome of purist Mountain biking, what truly sets this event apart is that it is a race with heart.
In the 2015 edition, 110 cyclists completed a challenging cycle over three days along the Eastern Cape's stunning Wild Coast. Participants experienced some of Africa's most sought-after virgin mountain biking trails, whilst simultaneously raising much-needed funds to support the surrounding Umngazi community.
The race consists of a total 115 kilometres of tough terrain, with each race-day beginning and concluding at the award-winning Umngazi River Bungalows and Spa, where cyclists are based for the duration of the race. The hotel management team conceptualised the race in conjunction with top sports event company B-Active, bringing Grindrod Bank onboard as corporate partner.
"We partnered with Umngazi in this initiative as it was clear that we shared values such as service excellence, long-term relationships and investing back into the community," says David Polkinghorne, CEO of Grindrod Bank and a race finisher. "We're focusing our investment on this small tight-knit community and their buy-in has been a vital aspect. Many villagers are in fact employed by Umngazi, and the hotel invests in educating school leavers. Effective education is an absolute priority."
Following a needs analysis to ascertain the optimal allocation of funds, money raised is used for a series of building upgrades at local schools in order to help overcome daily challenges experienced within the learning environment, such as limited teaching space, cramped classrooms and poor kitchen facilities. In coming years, the bank will further engage with schools and local government to ensure that teaching aids and resources are supplied and maintained.
The race caters for a variety of intermediate and advanced biking appetites, from nature lovers, to adventure seekers and racing snakes. The route takes cyclists along a diverse route that includes district roads, swamp trails and cattle paths, where teams are often cheered on by the local Umngazi community.
On day two of Pondo Pedal, in a fitting tribute to last year's race, teams rode past Cwebeni School, one of four local schools that received support from the proceeds of the Umngazi Pondo Pedal last year. "While Grindrod Bank is still an early-stage investor in Social Investment projects of this nature, we're proud to be involved in a winning formula and excited about the results our focused investment is bringing," concludes Polkinghorne. "On behalf of the bank and the team at Umngazi, we thank all the riders who participate and make such a valuable contribution to this very special community."
The Swiss winning team consisted of Rowan Vorster and Gregor Studer yet, by all accounts, this race is not about winning. Rather, this is a life-enhancing event for both cyclists, who were able to test their mettle along one of South Africa’s most beautiful coastlines, and the local community and its learners, who will continue to benefit from the Grindrod Bank Umngazi Pondo Pedal long after the dust has settled.