I can't believe 7 days of racing are over and I'm already sitting writing my race report!
Normally I would not be racing at this time of year, taking a break before building for the next race season. However having missed a lot of racing this year recovering from my wrist injury, with the new opportunity of partnering with Yolande de Villiers and KleinKaroo.com offering to sponsor our entry I jumped at the chance to ride my first Cape Pioneer.
With Oudtshoorn being one of our favourite riding destinations Paul took the opportunity to come with, support for a few days, get some good riding in and visit our friend Geoff the Aussie in Uniondale :). We set off for Oudtshoorn the Friday before stopping in Colesberg overnight and arriving early Saturday afternoon.
After registration Paul and I went to recce the 15km prologue route. It started with around 8km of MTBDestination.com's super fun XC style trails and ended with a loop on Buffelsdrift Game Reserve. My legs felt a bit rusty at first after the long trip but soon loosened up and I was looking forward to a good week of racing.
With a 2:13 pm go time we were able to have a nice relaxed morning before pedaling out to the start which served as a good warm up for the time trial effort to come.
The route being technical with lots of slippery gravel corners our strategy was to play it safe not taking any risks and getting through rubber side down. We set off at full throttle the first steep climb giving our lungs and legs a good stretch and maintained a hard but controlled pace throughout the 15kms crossing the finish line with our goal achieved my Conti tires gripping up nicely on the loose surface.
Just under 2 minutes later Team Bridge-Bizhub; Ischen Stopforth and Catherine Wiliamson crossed the line with a 1 second advantage on us. 1 second... I still can't believe it was that close!
Having done a lot of stage racing I know how important recovery for the next day is and had my @USNSA Recovermax and some lunch whilst we sat watching the Elephants drink from the dam. I then headed for a massage and prepared for the next day.
Stage 1: Oudtshoorn-Calitzdorp, 103km, 1750m
After a good meal, talking tactics with Yolande and organizing all my kit and equipment I headed for bed excited to start the first stage.
The stage included some fast flowing jeep tracks and amazing single-track sections through the Karoo with stunning views of the Red Stone hills.
After a short neutral section the pace picked up and we dropped off the main bunch settling into a steady pace. Ischen slowed up to wait for Catherine who had some technical issues with her bike and we took an early lead. Around 45-50km into the stage we entered single-track where Team Bridge-Bizhub caught and passed us. Little did we know how lucky we were as further back in the field a group of riders coming through this section were met and attacked by a huge swarm of angry bees. Thanks to Drylands quick response in evacuating the riders that were severely stung to hospital and re-routing the remaining riders, all riders were treated safely and reinstated into the race as soon as they had recovered.
Hitting a bit of a low after the single-track we nursed ourselves to water point 2 but after replenishing our bottles and taking in a @USNSA Vooma Gel we recovered and had a stronger finish. Crossing the line in 2nd we were just under 8minutes behind the leaders but happy with a good day's riding and really enjoyed the route!
The rest of the day was spent focusing on recovery and preparing for the hill climbing that we would face in stage 2.
Stage 2: Calitzdorp-Swartberg Pass, 85km, 2800m
This was a tough day of racing the stage ending with the 9km, 1100m climb up the Swartberg pass where the winning team provided they stay competitive for the remainder of the race would walk away with a generous R100 000!
Team Bridge-Bizhub took an early lead and we kept a steady pace on the climbs trying to minimize the time gap. Yolande and I are both really competitive and would never give up hope of taking over the lead but I must admit Ischen and Catherine are a strong team with loads of experience racing together and at this stage I was starting to feel quite out-matched!
The first half of the race was quite slow going and it seemed like an eternity before we reached the base of Swartberg pass! Having ridden it often in training camps I knew it well and prepared myself mentally for the challenge.. It was great to see @PCordesracing supporting us at the spectator point 4kms from the top and spurred us on :). We finally crested the top again in 2nd place and now a total of 18minutes26sec behind Team Bridge-Bizhub.
From the top we cruised down to Prince Alfred, our home for the night and once again started with our post race recovery routine.
Stage 3, Prince Albert- De Rust, 109km, 1750m
The start along the 'flat' 30km district road section was pretty relaxed no one wanting to set the pace up front which made for a rather large and sketchy peloton and a few big crashes! I tried to stick closer to the front and when the bunch finally surged and split found myself together with Catherine our partners both further back in the 2nd group. I hung back waiting for Yolande and Ischen passed pushing hard to catch the front group. Yolande had been caught behind another crash but soon we were together and paced ourselves back taking the women's lead just as we turned onto the first rough, sandy jeep track section where the group quickly fragmented.
We found ourselves pretty much alone as we made our way across the flat Karoo heading towards water point 1 which was at a farm house and from where we would almost double back towards the first climb of the day. I set a hard but steady pace in front and we saw Team Bridge-Bizhub coming in as we headed out, a nice 2 or so minute lead. Reaching the top of the climb still in first place I knew we had a good chance of taking a stage win if we could maintain our pace.
Heading towards water point 2 the sky looked ominous and soon the heavens broke lose forcing us to negotiate through a torrential downpour with strong headwinds, rivers forming down the gravel roads and even hail. Ouch! We were glad when we finally reached the amazing, flowing single-track that would lead us into Meiringspoort and we sped towards the finish catching the 3rd mixed team of Jenny and Craig along the way. Turning onto the pass we hit a headwind that almost forced me backwards! Luckily it wasn't long before a few teams caught us and we formed a high speed train with Craig showing us his roadie skills and pacing like a machine in front.
Soon we were in De Rust and heading up the last tar climb to the finish banner, I was now super freezing and it couldn't have come soon enough!
The joy of winning the stage outweighed the extreme cold I now felt as we waited to see how much time we had made up... 6:01 minutes
A hot shower and cup of coffee was all I could think of and I was very grateful to find both plus a nice afternoon spent chatting to Paul before he headed off back to Uniondale and home the next morning
Stage 4: De Rust-Herold, 64km, 1650m
So it was now with a deficit of 12:25 minutes that we headed into stage 4 to face the infamous kamanassie mountains.
This was the shortest stage but by no means the easiest with really rough rocky terrain it would be a test of both riders and equipment. Ischen was unfortunately not feeling well; we were starting to get stronger each day and I feel it would have been a good battle for each stage! We took an early lead on the first climb, kept it steady up the Kamanassie and took no chances on the steep descent into the valley. The route then zigzagged across the valley floor with numerous river crossings till we reached the climb out the other side. The climb out was incredibly rocky and steep forcing us to walk sections when we lost traction. Reaching the top and looking across the amazingly beautiful and unspoiled valley I was reminded how lucky we were to have the opportunity to ride through it!
After the steep descent out of the reserve we had 15kms to go which we had been told in race briefing were a breeze. Maybe our legs were just tired but I tend to disagree... there was still a fair amount of climbing and it was tough going to the finish at Louvain guest farm! I must say though that the race organizers did a great job on the stage taking us over some of the toughest terrain but making the route shorter and manageable for all levels of riders to enjoy.
We again crossed the line in 1st place taking another good bite out of our time deficit :)
Stage 5: Herold-George, 73km, 1700m
Rain through the night meant that the organizers had to cut out the planned 15km loop around Louvain and delayed the start by an hour. We quickly joined the queue for coffee after hearing the news and it was sitting huddled together in the main tent drinking it that I heard the heart stopping news from a fellow rider that my rear rim was cracked! What were the chances that someone spotted it and we had enough time to change wheels, what a lucky break! Thanks @Petro_Lab for lending me your wheel and Solly for expertly and calmly getting my bike race ready! Another thanks to @Swenlauercom for the bearing I never got to test!
With the first loop cut out of the race we started straight up the first big climb, the pace high from the start. We again took an early lead and pushed hard throughout the stage to try make up the 5:03 mins we still needed. I must admit this was one of my toughest days, my legs feeling the previous days of hard racing. I was quite grateful when we crossed the line and realized I needed to get in as much recovery as possible for the remainder of the day.
Our efforts paid off though as we managed to make up our time deficit and get a whopping 57sec into the lead... the next stage would be the decider and we knew we'd have to make it count!
Stage 6: George- Oudtshoorn, 84km, 1580m
Waking up to pouring rain I was struggling to find motivation for the stage and even getting to wear the race leaders jersey was not helping!
Fortunately the rain stopped long enough for us to have a dry start and soon we were on our way.
The first 20km included the climb up Montagu pass and reaching the base of it after the first climb and single-track Ischen and Catherine were hot on our tail. We set a fast pace, Yolande having found her climbing legs! In fact so much so I had to ask her to take the pace down a notch so I could recover! It paid off though and by the top we had a 1:30 minute lead. We reached the top with a couple of teams including the 3rd mixed team and along the next rolling section caught the Tigers (leading mixed team). This worked out well as the pace was kept really high with no team wanting to give the other the lead. After passing through Chandelier I was still feeling strong and took the lead for the last 10km of rolling jeep track pulling as hard as my legs would allow. Reaching the last few kilometers of tar up through Oudtshoorn to the finish Yolande surged to the front and we crossed the finish line ecstatic that we had kept the leaders jerseys and having had a super fun 7 days of racing!!! Congrats to Team Bridge-Bizhub for their 2nd and Sarah van Heerden and Jackie Church taking 3rd!
We were welcomed by KleinKaroo.com and even popped some champagne to celebrate :)
A big thanks to KleinKaroo.com's MD's Johan Stumpf and Charl Du Plessis for making our participation in the event possible and a big congrats to them for a strong ride finishing 3rd in the Amateur Teams!
Thanks so much to Henties for all the support along the way, allowing us not to sweat the small stuff!!
And to Yolande de villiers for a great partnership, great race and all the memories I will take with me.
Another to all my sponsors for making it possible to race and to do it well; @EpicSportsCycleShop , GT, Giro, @USNSA, @Cycleops_JHB, Rudy project, F-Tech, Continental tires, squirt and @PYCycling.
And last but not least to all the event organizers and sponsors for an amazing 7 days of racing with fantastic routes show casing the most scenic countryside and best trails the Karoo has to offer, campsite venues that make sense and run like well oiled machines and a fantastic atmosphere from start to finish! I certainly hope to return next year and highly recommend the event to everyone that loves our sport of MTBiking!
Till next time, take careYolande
Photos by Karin Schermbrucker from http://www.facebook.com/BridgeCapePioneerTrek2012