I was really looking forward to this racing weekend, partly because it is a nice event but also because my new South African sponsor was also the main sponsor of the race and many from the company would be there and their branding was everywhere around us. It made me proud to represent them.
It is two quite different days, the first day is a lot of vineyard roads with lots of corners and sand all the time, and a lot of climbing. Day two is mostly about all the amazing trails! It turned out to be two completely different days when it comes to weather conditions as well. It was forecasted rain both days but the first day turned out sunny and hot and it was dry and dusty. The second day it rained so much that the race was shortened and we could not do the highest point as it was too slippery and the fog was too dense and the risk of people crashing was too high (it would be difficult to get an ambulance up there), the organisers took this decision to take the highest section out of the race as we were out riding, so no one knew this before the start.
I was very nervous before the first stage, dont really know why, the competition was tough with both Ariane and Esther on the start line, I knew that would give a good benchmark on where my form was because they are both really strong riders. We started with the guys, which always makes it tough for us, the start was fast and I managed to keep up with Ariane and saw that Esther was just behind us. A small bunch of guys came with us, about 5-6, and we rode with them for a bit, it felt like 100 corners and it was hard with all the stop start the whole time. I saw how Ariane dropped wheels now and then but eventually it was me who lost her wheel and after a very technical section she was back in the bunch and they had gotten a big gap, I then saw that I had Esther on wheel. I tried to work as hard as I could and tried to get help from Esther but she was not at all interested and said she could not go any faster. When she went to the front we slowed down and lost more ground so I took the responsibility and just fought as hard as I could. After a while we got help from a guy who caught us and we saw that Ariane had lost her bunch and we slowly caught up on her. I think we were only 50 meters behind for a moment. After 1 hour and 40 minutes I was completely exhausted after sitting near max heart rate from the start and on the longest climb of the day Esther passed and left me. I slowed down a bit to regain some energy and I was a little disappointed that I could no longer keep up, and of course that I had worked so hard while she could sit behind. The last hour I was on my own and lost as much as 3.5 minutes to Esther who passed Ariane and won the stage.
On Sunday morning it rained when we drove to the race, I got a bit nervous about how slippery it would be on the hard-packed mud on some places. I had learned from yesterday not to do too much work but let Ariane and Esther work, it was only 45 seconds between them so there would be a fight for the overall win. I had two minutes down to Katie who was 4th so I just had to keep an eye on her. I couldn't go as hard from the start as the day before and all 4 of us girls ended up in the same bunch. After 6.5 km a guy went to the front at the bottom of a climb and I felt good and took his wheel. It was hard but I got some motivation when I turned around and saw that no one came with us. I could not hold his wheel very long, he was just going too fast, I was on my own and thought I might have burnt a few matches too many again. I saw the bunch with the other girls behind me and I just thought to myself just to carry on as long as possible, it would be great to have a bit of a head start on the single tracks! I was sure they would catch me and I was a bit surprised when I turned around after a long single track section and did not see anyone! I carried on alone with my thoughts for the rest of the race and I still had energy after 34 km when I came to a marshal who diverted me on to the short route and shouted that we were not doing the last climb and downhill and we only had 8km to go. I was not sure if I was disappointed or happy, but I just carried on to push as hard as I could. I was very happy to take the stage win but most happy about how I rode and managed to have the right thoughts today. I was not fast enough to challenge Esther for the overall win but I moved up to second place. Katie had a really good ride and moved up to 3rd overall only beating Ariane for that spot by 1 second. It was great to see some close racing amongst us girls.
It felt good to get this good feeling with me to Tankwa Trek which starts already on Thursday. You can follow the race on www.tankwatrek.co.za where they will have live streaming!
The start on day 1
Dusty day 1
Wet day 2
With Craig and Katie after the finish of a wet day 2
Podium for stage 2: Esther 2nd, I and Katie 3rd.
Nice to see Fairtree everywhere :-)