After a couple of hard training weeks, Marcel Marais and I decided to team up for this 12-hour Enduro challenge as a two-man team for some quality time in the saddle and having fun while doing so. We didn't really discuss any team tactics, but after a chat with Coach Paul, we decided to take it on in two-hour shifts at a time. This is probably not the fastest way of doing things, but looking at the bigger picture with a few longer races lined up, it seemed like the way to go.
I haven't done any relay-type races in a while, so I was sort of excited about this idea. Well at least until we had to load the bikes in the rain Saturday morning before heading out to Avianto. It's hard enough to look forward to a normal race once it's wet, but 12 hours in mud... Not my idea of fun!
As we arrived there were some nervous-looking faces, one of which was also a PYcycling athlete, Edwill O'Neill. He teamed up with Ben Viljoen from Epic Sports and also two of the country's fastest juniors, Ferdi Botha and Werner van Heerden, racing in the four-man relay team: Die Frikkies.
Luckily as the start time came closer the rain moved away and the spirits lifted. I knew there were going to be some racing snakes hammering it from the gun, so I let Marcel start while I enjoyed some coffee. I was pleasantly suprised by the consistent lap times he was riding over the first two hours or five laps - not bad for a matriculant currently in the middel of prelims.
It was soon time for myself to get ready and after a proper route recce with Tiaan, better known as Mr Mountain Biking, I started my five-lap journey on the 8.5km course with 150m ascent per lap. I soon forgot that I had to do six hours in total and went out cross country style on the first lap, must have been the excitement of the fast and flowing single track. I tried a new tire - Continental Race King - and it was perfect for the course, and might just be a new favourite for myself. From the second lap on I settled into a comfortable rhythm and managed to keep a decent pace clocking my fastest and slowest lap only 30 seconds apart.
Meanwhile the game plan for Edwill and the other Frikkies was to go out really hard and then swap every lap. They soon realised that it takes about half a lap to get going or to lose the lactate build-up from the previous effort so they changed it to two laps per shift. ''Werner did a great job at the start of the race setting the bar really high on his first lap. Ferdi then didn't have any hassles matching that. Handing over to me the challenge was on to keep the pace high and remain on top of the leaderboard,'' Edwill said.
I must admit they were pretty quick!
As Marcel was busy ticking over the laps for us on his second two-hour shift, I had some time to refill. All the tannies did a great job with the food and kept us well hydrated at all times. Fatigue started to show all-round, but my partner kept fighting and completed another five gruelling laps. Once again as I started round two, I got excited and started racing guys like Bryce Munro and some other fast guys that were doing one or two laps at a time. Even though the legs were burning, I was happy with my consistent lap times.
Back at the base, Die Frikkies called a team meeting. ''The interesting part of the race came when the sun started to set. We got ourselves geared for the darkness with all the lights we had. We had a team caucus and changed our game plan again, from two laps per rider to one lap per rider,'' Edwill said.
After the first eight hours, Marcel and I started to lose the second spot overall as fatigue took over. This didn’t bother us too much; I mean four legs can’t really compete against eight or more.
Marcel managed three more laps in the darkness and I decided to take over with about two hours and 40 minutes remaining in the race. At this point I must admit I was over-cycling, but the adrenalin of riding in the dark kept me going. The first two laps were fun, but then half way through the third or 13th in total the wind started blowing with severe clouds covering the venue. The organisers decided to call it a day after 11 hours, just before the storm hit. Unfortunately for some, they were still out there on the course, including poor Edwill: ''I was caught half way through the course in this crazy storm! Everybody was soaking wet and cold but this did not ruin the riders' spirits. They all waited for the prize giving."
After all it was a fun day out with good results from PYcycling athletes. Edwill and Die Frikkies took the overall win and Macel and I finished 4th overall and won the two-man relay.
"It was an amazing experience. A great 8.5km course with a bit of everything. A few sharp but short climbs, some tight corners and fast straights - nothing overly technical but challenging. Our mountain biking skills were definitely tested. Fantastic track!" Marcel said.
Big thanks to all who made it possible.