Training for the Nedbank Tour de Tuli, a 155-mile Mountain Bike Tour Through Africa

Every year, men and women with a ravenous sense of adventure and some seriously strong legs embark on a multi-stage event called the Nedbank Tour de Tuli.

It’s the main fundraising event for Wilderness Safaris, Africa’s leading sustainable ecotourism operator based in Johannesburg that’s wholly dedicated not just to conservation, but to restoring Africa’s wilderness and wildlife. A big part of that includes educating the local population, so proceeds for this particular event go toward Children in the Wilderness—an educational program for rural boys and girls throughout Africa. 

While Wilderness Safaris gives travelers access to more than six million acres of pristine wilderness areas through some 50 luxury camps and safaris (pro tip: use Karell Travel agency to help plan the logistics and book your stay), the Nedbank Tour de Tuli is not what you would call a dainty experience.

It’s a four-day, 155-mile tour through Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. The first leg of the tour sees riders navigating the Tuli block, a fringe of land that connects the three aforementioned countries; mopane thickets pepper plains and koppies (hills) drop cyclists into sandy drainage lines that require a great deal of muscle (and attention) to navigate. Easy portions of the route come in the form of ancient, hard-packed elephant trails and flat-top mesa. Though you know the end has to grind some gears, so route planners guide cyclists through dinosaur fossil sites and red Kalahari sand.

Of course, this is a tour with a great deal of emphasis on spotting wildlife and enjoying the landscape. So that means stopping to gawk at a dazzle of zebras, veering to let a herd of impalas lope across the route, or standing before an ambling herd of elephants. There are plenty of stops to refuel (breakfast, tea, brunch, dinner), and opportunities to crack open a cold IPA at the end of the day, but you can’t underestimate the amount of training involved to participate.

I’d dabbled in triathlons, but I’d never traveled alone, been to Africa, or hopped on a mountain bike before—let alone all three. So, yeah, I was out of my element when I said, ‘Yes,’ to the opportunity to participate. I’d train hard and figure it out as I went, which I did.

Word to the wise: It’s not easy to train for an outdoor endurance bike event when it’s winter and you live in a metropolis like New York City. Here’s how I pulled it off.

6 Months Out

Of course there’s no substitute for the real thing, but to ramp up my endurance and time in the saddle in the dead of winter, I went to Swerve Fitness in the Flatiron District. Their 45- and 60-minute interval classes built the foundation of my fitness in the colder months. Note to guys trying to build more muscular legs: Cycling’s the silver bullet. I built a surprising amount of muscle definition and mass in my months cycling—so much so my brother nicknamed me Centaur. Some may take a comparison to a mythical man-horse as an insult, but I’ll take it as flattery—and maybe a little jealousy on his end.

Anyway, to keep my hip flexibility, mitigate overuse injury and imbalances, and keep my body feeling strong I utilized the hot yoga classes at CorePower Yoga. I wanted to lay off the intense strength training I was doing before in favor of honing strength without the size, so their Yoga Sculpt class was a mainstay.

3 Months Out

Once Brooklyn thawed enough to warrant outdoor rides, I took my training to Prospect Park and did laps like a good little hamster, settling into a groove of people watching and huffing up one particularly quad- and lung-busting hill. I followed Ryan Hodierne’s thorough Nedbank Tour de Tuli training plan—loosely, admittedly.

The program factored in cross-training days, so I penciled in a strength training, run, or restorative yoga session with one of Nike’s expert trainers (Joe Holder, Tracy Copeland), as well as Krissy Jones, co-founder of Sky Ting Yoga.

When I got my hands on a mountain bike—Diamondback’s Release 3—I took to the trails on Long Island to get my legs used to undulating, sandy terrain.

1 Week Out

Leading up to my flight out to Johannesburg, I pivoted my efforts toward recovery and rejuvenation. I booked an infared sauna treatment at ReCOVER in NYC, followed by tissue work with co-founder Rick Richey. I also booked a 90-minute sport massage using the on-demand app, Soothe, to help release knots and help flush out my muscles.

Time will tell if my training sufficed. Either way, it’s already been one hell of a ride—and I haven’t even left New York yet.