Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Lesotho National - Afriski - Alan Hatherly

Packing and heading up to Lesotho, I was filled with excitement purely because I had never ridden in Lesotho on a bicycle before and I had no idea of what we were getting in to. The drive didn't feel like long, but the altitude slowly got more and more with every km that went by. Through Clarens and to the Lesotho border. At around 2000m there, it rose very quickly as we headed up a massive pass to get to Afriski, the venue of the 2nd National of the year as well as a UCI Junior World Cup. Just over 3000m, the air felt thin but okay, which was an illusion to me until I got on the bike and realized it was more than thin.

We had arrived on the Thursday and I was super excited to see what the course was about so I kitted up and put in 3 laps on the course. It seemed simple with little climbing, and few technical sections which in KZN would be a super fast race but in the conditions up there it was a totally different story.

Keeping the heart rate down was mission impossible even on the easiest gear, but riding at a tempo pace, the air didn't feel terrible so I saved what energy and oxygen I had left for Saturday, race day.
The downhill track was awesome with a massive bonus factor of there being a ski lift to get to the top. I HAD to try it out. You hook the T bar behind your seat and off you go, it was awesome!

Race day approached fast and luckily on the day the weather decided to treat us to at least around 16 degrees. Jackets were on as we all warmed up on the roads of Afriski, and after an easier warm up than normal for me due to the air, we lined up after the Elites had pulled away. The start was at the bottom of one of the 2 climbs of the route, so it was going to be a tough start.

We were off and I bolted for the front like I normally do in my starts and gave it full gas up the first climb and then onto the road that wound up to the first single track of the route. I had pulled a decent size gap but my arms felt very weak and once we hit the bottom of the single track I had realized that I over did it. I was in oxygen debt and it was a fight against oxygen for the rest of the race for me. As the race went by lap by lap I slowly picked up my lap times, but the gap I had lost was too much to close and I had to settle for 6th at the end. It was such a hard race, and I definitely learnt a hard lesson with altitude.

Well done to Marc and Julian on 1st and 2nd separated by a mere few cm's.

Next up for me is KZN Champs followed by Tour Durban, hope to see you there!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Lowveld Quest - Marcel Marais

Lowveld Quest, one of my main focuses this season and also my favourite stage stage on the calender. The Lowveld Quest consisted of 4 beautiful days of riding in the lowveld, although you had to get to the top to appreciate the view. With a lot of big names such as Nico Bell, Gawie Combrinck, Ben-Melt Swanepoel, Hennie Kriek etc. I knew it wasn't going to be  walk in the park just to get a decent result.

Stage 1 Lydenburg-Mankele

Day 1 consisted of 80km with 1800m of climbing which is in no ones book an easy day out. With the pro's in the front the start was fast and furious until 10km in where things started splitting up. 20km into day 1 is where the real climbing started with a very loose, wet and steep climb. From there on I kept on pushing hard at my own pace just to ensure I save a little in the tank for the days to come. The climbing also didn't stop shortly after 20km, the couple of rollers after the big climb definitely tested your endurance and also with the extremely cold weather, it didn't make it any easier.  None the less, there was nothing better than ending off a long day of racing with the last 5km of the race being awesome singletrack into Mankele. After day 1 I had a reasonable gap of 4min over the 2nd solo rider.

Stage 2 Mankele - Sabie

Day 2 was only 70km long but with 1700m of climbing, it was said to be one of the toughest days of the race. With the race starting up the old Sabie road, the start was yet again very fast with no time at all to get diesel warmed up. A High5 gel after the so called "Sting", the next 10km of climbing flew by but the climbing still was over. Halfway up the climb the engine was properly warmed up and I then slowly but surely surged a couple of times and soon realised that I was on the wheel of Hennie Kriek and Brand du Plessis. With some company the last 30km flew by and I was also very fortunate not to hit the wall on such an extremely tough day, thanks to High5 2:1. Just to spice up my day, I had to go and lose my front wheel twice in the last 5km of a snotty singletrack. Needless to say, it was a beautiful day of riding in the lowveld!

On day 2 I opened up another reasonable gap of 5min on the rider in 2nd on GC, which meant I was in the lead by 9min with another 2 days of riding ahead.

Stage 3 Sabie - Graskop

Day 3, the day I underestimated the most. Being only 60km long with 1500m of climbing, the "rollers" closer to the end were no rollers... With the winning time being just under 3hrs, it was no 'easy day' at all. The start yet again was fast, which had the whole group split into pieces up the first ling climb of the day. I had realised the previous 2 days that I could make up a little bit of time on the descents which meant I could save some strength for later in the stage. So my plan for the day was to ride conservatively on the climbs and catch up on the downs and it worked out perfectly. Day 3, also the rainiest day of the 4, it was wet, muddy and very slippery! Thank goodness for Ftech clothing which really kept me dry and warm at stages. With a couple of changes from last years route, I didn't know how hard the last 30km's was but all n all, all that climbing was worth the view! The last 20km's went by slower than I thought it would, but I was still determined to open up a gap that would put me in the hot seat with 1 day to go. I kept on pushing towards the end and i was rewarded with my gap opening up with 30min on GC with 1 day left.

 Stage 4 Graskop - Hazyview

The last day, and definitely the most fun day of them all. Day 4 was mostly downhill with a couple of rollers towards the end. With a slight misunderstanding in the start, to front half of the group missed a turn off which put me in the middle of the bunch. 5km later I was back into the front group and thereafter I just maintained my own pace and rode very conservatively by not taking any chances. It was fast and very flowing to the finish line and only after I had finished I realised that I had won the solo category by just under half an hour.

It was truly an experience with a couple of beautiful views and some really tough riding, but it was great fun! Hats off to the organizers; Mark, Geoff, Brett and Jaco for putting on a great event! Last but not least, big thanks to the parents for the opportunity and the support throughout the whole race!

Till next time!

UCI MTB XCO World Cup #1 – Pietermaritzburg - Arno du Toit

As always with these big XCO races the build up to this event was enormous. With all the hard training efforts and physical prep done we headed down to Pietermaritzburg for the first round of the 2014 XCO World Cup Series.
Mentally I was in a good place after a couple of nice results the past few weekends here in Gauteng. Winning the 3rd GP Provincial and also the 3rd USN Cup was really good for my confidence before heading down to KZN.

After arriving at Cascades and checking out the course on Thursday with team mate Gert and coach Paul, I was slightly nervous to say the least. The course designers had once again out done themselves and created a tough and pretty scary loop.  Luckily we had lots of time to over think and over analyse every single corner and all tricky sections before the big showdown on Sunday.


I felt more and more comfortable with each day of practice. The Dogma handled this modern day XCO course very well. All the rocks and jumps, no issues. Pure pleasure!

Lining up in the start chute between most of the best u/23 bike riders in the world was quite intimidating as always. I was nervous, but also excited to get out there and do the job. I had a good start and felt comfortable sitting just outside the top 10 during most of the first lap.
The pace however was really hot and I battled through a rough patch on lap 2 and 3 losing ground on most of the climbing. Towards the end of the race I noticed that I was sitting on the edge of a top 20 with team mate Gert right behind me fighting back after an unfortunate flat tyre.
I gave it my all and with the help of some High5 fluids, I managed to finish in 19th after 5 gruelling laps.

After all it was a very lekker weekend with the gang. Always nice to have someone like Paul as manager / chef / mechanic etc. Big thank you to him for making it easier for Gert and myself and also the other a[s]g PYCycling friends for all the support.

This weekend we are racing the 2nd leg of the SA XCO Cup series at Afriski Resort in Lesotho. Looking forward to burning some lungs!


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Fluo rock'n USN Cup 3, XCOSA 1 and Sugar Rush Classic

Last weekend at another jammed packed USN event which was held at Heia Safari Lodge out in the cradle saw our team line up against Gautengs best mtb'ers. This had to probably be the best event location as well as series of trails that mountainbikers could experience in this part of the world.

The A batch set off scattering herds or zebra, wildebeest, spingbok and the odd giraffe all over the country side. The odd moment of panic as those with Go-Pro cameras tried to line up unobservant cyclists for a "buck norris" moment and a bit of fame.

At the front end of the race Arno continued his pursuit for overall series victory with his 3rd straight win of the series. The twisty but flowing course scattered with obstacles suited Paul who has seem to have found his legs finishing in a strong 5th place overall and 2nd in cat less than a minute off overall podium. Kyle added to the U23 podium taking 3rd spot and his first ever podium in the series. Another great effort came from Yolande who normally seems to have bad luck at these events but this time showed her class winning the womens cat overall. Junior women Christine and Danielle went 1-2 in their event while Neville  finished 2nd in masters. Our sub juniors boys had a good day with James and new academy youngster Kieran going 3rd and 2nd.

Then at a new xco series which was held at Hakahana close to Hartebeestpoort Azulda won the ladies cat which is perfect preparation as she gets more use to xco type racing before the national champs in a few months time adding to her normal outstanding marathon portfolio. Another youngster from Ficksberg, Simone was on the box again as well.

In kzn Alan lined up against the strong team Kargo pro team only to finish 30sec off the win (Rourke Croeser) and 2nd overall. Alan has been fighting with a cold a couple weeks ago but recovering well and again showing the amazing skills this junior has.

From youth to masters, men and women, KZN to Gauteng it was another good weekend for the ASG mtb gang. Next up this weekend Arno and Gert will be up against the best in the world at the UCI World Cup 1 at Cascades bike park. Marcel will be racing at the Lowveld Quest stage race and Allan, Nev and some of the youngsters at the Emperors Classic in Gauteng.

Until next time, happy trails!