As organiser of two of the country’s most popular mountain bike events, one of which she co-owns with a cycling industry legend, Zandile Meneses is the proverbial dynamite in a small package.

WORDS Grethe Mattheus PHOTOGRAPHS Vanessa van Vreden

Super-efficient busy body Zandile Meneses, 44, has been impressing cyclists with her event organising skills since taking up the reins at the Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour in 1999. Nearly two decades on she co-owns the increasingly popular Dr Evil stage event and manages the iconic Lions Karoo to Coast (K2C), which both take place in September each year.

Her love of sport, nature and healthy living originates from her childhood growing up on a farm near Lauries Bay outside Port Elizabeth with a sporty father and creative mother. “I remember getting up with my dad at 3am to watch boxing and then going to milk cows with him afterwards.”

Sport was a constant in her formative years and she earned provincial colours in surfing and show jumping. While her journey led her across the globe, the Garden Route has been her base since she was 16 and she now lives in Harkerville. After matriculating at Union High in Graaff Reinet, Zandile traveled and worked her way through Europe, Africa and Israel for five years. One of her most interesting experiences was living on a kibbutz teaching English to Russian Jews. “I spoke no Russian and they spoke no English. It was amusing, but not the most productive job,” she laughs.

Back home, Zandile was waitressing and working on a psychology degree through the University of South Africa (Unisa) when she successfully interviewed at Rotary Club of Knysna to help organise the annual cycle tour during the Knysna Oyster Festival in 1999.

Under her guidance, the event grew from 1300 riders in one road race to 6500 riders in six different events by the time she left in 2012. Recognising the success of a dedicated event organiser, the Lions of Knysna and Uniondale approached Zandile to develop the Karoo to Coast (K2C) in 2002. This event also grew from 1000 riders and now closes entries at 4500 to maximise race enjoyment. “This year we sold out in four weeks, which is fantastic considering the present economic climate and number of events on the racing calendar.

“I think the K2C’s secret to success is the beauty of the ride, which starts with majestic Karoo pass landscape and transforms into spectacular forest areas and a lagoon-side finish in Knysna. The hospitality in Uniondale, where local farmers and Lions cook a great meal for every rider, is something special. It is an unpretentious, quality event.”

In 2012, Zandile and longtime friend and colleague Leon Evans, a legendary cycling route cutter, decided to combine their skills and efforts into a three-day mountain bike stage event. They dubbed it Dr Evil after the nickname Leon earned for cutting challenging routes such as the now internationally famous Cape Epic stage race.

“When we started thinking about dates for Dr Evil, we realised the cycling calendar was extremely full and many riders come from far to experience K2C and would possibly want to make a long weekend of it by doing another race. The Lions Clubs of Knysna and Uniondale graciously let me manage their event and launch Dr Evil on the three days before K2C.”

So, why are these two races so special that thousands of people from all over beg for a ticket every year? “I believe we saw a gap in the market at a time when there were not yet any similar events. The safety of cyclists is top priority and we work to improve this every year. Leon is also an expert route cutter, the scenery is incredible and we aim to understand our customers, so we are always working at developing the events to better address their needs,” she explains.

Another unique element, which also reflects Zandile’s personal approach to living a life engaged with the world around her, is the participation of beneficiary charities. Volunteers from organisations such as the Cancer Association of SA (Cansa), Plettenberg Bay Rotary, Lions Clubs, Wittedrift School and Kwano Cycling Academy help at water points and ultimately create a community invested in the same vision.

“I believe in working hard and doing what you love, while maintaining a balanced lifestyle.” This strong work ethic and pursuit of quality living show in Zandile’s professional and personal lives. Having entered her first triathlon at age 34, Zandile has finished the Half-Ironman twice. These days a balanced lifestyle includes a regular run on the beach and taking a slower pace during the early summer months.

Future dreams include new adventures. “I would love to do something completely different. An event that helps facilitate women to lead holistic, healthy lives. I want to work with smaller groups and incorporate different lifestyle elements, like gardening for example. Ultimately, I enjoy looking after people and helping them to be connected. The dream is still taking shape, but I am excited about the possibilities.”