Urban Cycling News

South Africa’s Michael Mol Takes on the ‘Toughest Race on Earth’

Michael Mol in the Karoo during the Munga

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South African doctor and beloved TV personality Michael Mol is gearing up to take on an extraordinary challenge, all in the spirit of giving back.

The 51-year-old is diving headfirst into a five-day endurance test known as the Munga with a mission to raise R55,000 ($3000) for education in collaboration with Nika Capital.

Mol will take on the grueling single-stage, non-stop mountain bike race, which cuts through the rugged terrain of the Karoo, a semi-desert natural region of South Africa. Spanning a jaw-dropping 620 miles (1000km), the Munga occurs annually during summer in the Southern Hemisphere, when temperatures soar well beyond 115°F (46°C).

It’s not by chance that this race has been dubbed the “toughest race on Earth.”

Michael Mol with his Santa Cruz bicycle taking part in the Munga
Michael Mol during the 2022 Munga race. Image credit: Supplied/Michael Mol

Riding the Munga for a Second Time

The race is a true test of grit. In a semi-supported format, participants like Mol receive aid from race officials and at designated villages but must navigate the challenging route without additional support.

Speaking to Discerning Cyclist, Mol shared his anticipation for the upcoming race, set to kick off on 29 November and wrap up on 4 December. Describing the event as “very special” to him, he reflected on his memorable experience in last year’s race.

“I took on the Munga with an incredible 18-year-old rider who is a type one diabetic. She was determined to prove that those with type-one diabetes can conquer anything. Her parents agreed, with one condition: she needed a doctor by her side. When asked to be that doctor, I didn’t hesitate,” Mol recounts. “It was my first Munga, and we crossed that finish line. It was such a rewarding experience.”

Michael Mol and Jacqui Mol
Michael Mol and his wife Jacqui mol. Image credit: Supplied/Michael Mol

Cycling for a Good Cause

This time around, the former Top Billing TV presenter is on a mission beyond the race – he’s raising funds to enhance access to quality education where it’s needed most.

Nika Capital is doing phenomenal work in education, primarily in Pretoria and Soshanguve. The idea is that proper quality education means proper qualifications, work opportunities, and, ultimately, a proper job. The bigger picture here is to break the cycle of poverty,” Mol elaborates.

He emphasizes, “The aim is to guide kids out of that cycle, helping them enter the job market with meaningful qualifications. A school matric education that holds value, enabling them to surpass limitations. It’s not just about education; it’s an end-to-end solution.”

Munga Mountain Bike Race South Africa
On the left: Wool seat covers. On the right: Riders rest during the Munga race in 2022. Image credit: Supplied/Michael Mol

Michael Mol Puts Himself to the Test

It’s also the opportune moment for this father-of-three to demonstrate he’s still got the stamina.

“Maybe at our age, you still want to ask, ‘Have I got what it takes? Is there still adventure in me? Is it still challenging me?’ I don’t want to get lazy and comfortable and safe. There’s a lovely Paulo Coelho quote, ‘If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine.’ That’s something that sits close to my heart.”

Mol paints a vivid picture of the Munga’s demanding nature, where 180 to 200 riders embark on the journey, but roughly half don’t cross the finish line.

“There’s a huge attrition rate, and many riders fall by the wayside. Ironically, it’s not the time limit eliminating riders. It’s mainly because riders blow themselves up. It happens if you go too fast, eat too much, or don’t sleep enough. You have to pace yourself. It’s an interesting race with interesting dynamics.

“You spend a lot of time by yourself. Even if you are riding with other riders. There are times when you can’t see anybody around you. Times when you cycle, and the sun is setting, and it’s getting dark, and you’re in this big, open, lonely space, and you can feel the silence.”

But even the silence can become deafening. “I can only be quiet for so long. So, last year, I had an audiobook I was listening to during the race. I listened to Endurance, the Shackleton story. Let me tell you, when you’re suffering on a bike, in 50 or 48-degree heat, and you’re like, ‘This is so hard’, and you’re listening to Ernest Shackleton, who never gives up and keeps going, that puts things in perspective. It was a very good book to listen to while taking on the Munga.”

Michael Mol's Santa Cruz Bicycle
Michael Mol’s trusty Santa Cruz. Image credit: Supplied/Michael Mol

Riding a Santa Cruz Blur Through the Karoo

Mol is riding a 29” Santa Cruz Blur cross-country bike with dual suspension in a sea foam green. He adds, “I’m using AXS, which is so nice on the Munga. After that many days of gear shifts up and down all the time, it actually gets difficult to change gears.

“I’ve got pannier bags on the bike. I’m taking less than the average Joe, I think. A bag of emergencies below my frame. A top tube bag for my electronics and a drawstring bag that hangs off my handlebar, which I use most to keep essentials like my lip balm and food. All the stuff you need on hand.”

If you want to support Mol in his goal to raise funds for education in South Africa, you can contribute to his campaign here.

Close up of Michael Mol's sea foam green Santa Cruz bicycle
A close-up of Michael Mol’s Santa Cruz. Image credit: Supplied/Michael Mol

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