I have done all Tankwa Trek since the race started in 2013 and it is one of my favourite races! I have won it 4 times and had high expectations for this year's race. My form was good and Nadine's training had gone very well so we went there with good confidence and looked forward to racing again, and also getting to know each other even better before Cape Epic.
We went to the Kaleo guest farm, where the race venue always is, on Thursday morning, for the short prologue which started at 15.00. It was a mass start even though it is called a prologue. Although, we were not many teams in the UCI women category, all the teams were very good and any team really had a chance on the podium. Many international riders who were in South Africa for training camps were present. It was a little nervous because it was the first race of the year for many and hard to guess who would be strong etc. Fortunately, the temperature was around 23-25 degrees warm, not like last year when we had the prologue in 43 degree heat !!
We got off to a good start and it felt easy to sit in the bunch and on the only climb of the day we went with Candice and Mariske and when I turned around there was no one else with us. We dropped a few meters on a sandy downhill single track but could easily catch again on the flat. With 5 kilometres left to the finish, I heard Nadine saying something behind me, at first I did not understand what she said but then I understood that she had a puncture!! Exactly what we did not want then!! We stopped and I quickly got my Sahmurai sword and plugged the hole, she hadn't lost much air so we quickly pumped it up again and got off. No one else had passed us but Nadine lost the traction in a corner and fell, while she got back up the Ghost team with Barbara Benko and Anne Terpstra passed us. We soon caught up with them and I felt that they were not quite as strong so we were so maybe we could sprint for a second place, but then in the woods on the last single track with about 500 meters left Nadine hooked a tree with her handlebars and crashed again and Ghost is gone! Dormakaba with Robyn De Groot and Adelheid Morath also caught up with us but Adel fell behind so we could finally take the last podium spot, 1 minute and 26 seconds behind Candice and Mariske. Unlucky but maybe still good that it was on a short stage that it happened.
There are always early mornings at these races, the alarm went off at 4.30 so that we could have our oats in the tent and get ready for the start at 6.31. The men's elite class started at 6.30 and we one minute behind, here Swedish cycling has something to take notice of…! Basically the whole bunch stayed together the first 15 kilometres up until the first rocky downhill, everyone wanted to be first down there and I don't have the sharpest elbows so I fell down in the field, but the benefit of having done this race so many times is that I know the track very well and know where it is possible to gain places again, so I stayed calm and could pass on the uphill where it is rocky. In the next long downhill I sat behind Nadine who had Candice and Mariske in front of her and for a while we were the 2 teams in the lead. However, we slowed down a bit and more teams caught up. Nadine felt her rear wheel was a bit flat and we did not want to risk another puncture and we felt strong and confident we could catch up again if we stopped as we were approaching the first tech zone. We pumped her tyre and we quickly caught back up to the rest. We rode a steady pace but nothing fast and I think everyone was waiting for today's climb which came just after the second water point. Nadine increased the speed considerably and it was almost as if I was not prepared to turn up the intensity that much so I hurt a bit with Mariske and Candice on my wheel. The 4 of us got a gap as we started the climb and suddenly on a steeper section they dropped from us. I did see them catch back up only to drop again and after that we carried on to the top of the Witzenburg mountain on our own and could go down the rocky decent to the next water point in the lead. From there we rode a perfect team time trial and both of us worked just as hard and it was a fantastic feeling as both were evenly strong and just took turns without us having to talk. We won the stage with just over 3 minutes over Robyn and Adel and about 4 minutes ahead of Candice and Mariske and we also took over the leader's jersey.
Stage 3 "The Queen stage"
It is always a good feeling to race in the leader jersey while at the same time it is often expected that you will work more in front, Nadine was super strong this day and took good care of that task. After about 12 kilometres we came to Du Toit drop, a 4 km steep downhill single track, with about 10% gradient and just switchbacks so it is quite technical. I came in as the 4th rider and really had to concentrate on the loose corners, eventually I lost control of the bike when my front wheel just slipped out and I crashed. Nothing serious and I was quickly on my bike again but had to chase back on the flat section. It is easy to make up time after the drop and we were soon a group of 5 teams that were together again, and it stayed like that until the second water point. This is where the first of the 2 big climbs started. We put some pressure on the others and only Robyn and Adel could go with us. We kept a good pace up the first climb with Robyn and Adel in tow and we tried our best to make them work a bit between the climbs. The Merino Monster does not have that name for nothing, it is a 10 km climb with 1000 meters of ascent and it is terrible in the heat. Unfortunately I did not feel as good as the others and when Nadine attacked she got Robyn and Adel with her but not me and I just could never close that gap. I sat a bit behind the others basically to the top and we were less than a minute behind there. Even if the hill prize is nice to get it is the overall that counts so I stayed calm since I knew we would catch them on the downhill. It did not take long before we were on their wheels again but Nadine got a little bit to eager to pass them and punctured as she tried. I quickly got my Sahmurai out again and plugged the hole and we got going, but she said it was flat again. We stopped again and bombed the tyre super hard, to find where it was leaking, it was a side wall cut next to the other plug so it must have happened at the same time. This time it took a bit longer to get Nadines plug out of her plastic bag in her pocket but eventually we were on the go again. Afterwards we could see on the garmin that we had been standing still for 5 minutes and 9 seconds. We rode as hard as we possibly could on the last 15 kilometres to the finish and came in 4th on the day 2,5 minutes behind Robyn and Adel, so at least we had made up some time at the end. We still managed to hang on to the leaders jersey by 33 seconds ahead of Robyn and Adel and 37 seconds ahead of Candice and Adel! It would be a tough and tight race on the last day!
Double puncture on Nadine's tyre
At these races it is the same routine every day, the alarm goes at 04.30 and the oats is digested in the tent, breakfast is served in the main hall but the queue is usually so long that it is easiest to eat your own breakfast in the tent. It is still dark at this time, and still dawn when it is time to start to warm up around 05.45 for the 06.30 start which is just after sun rise. After finishing the stage we must be in the winners launch for interviews and media awards. Then we can shower and at 12 lunch is served. After lunch it is time for both of us to get a massage and the mechanic takes care of the bikes. At 16.00 I went to the managers meeting since we did not have a manager at this race. Then there is some time to rest, do social media and maybe talk to some other riders. At 6pm the dinner opens and at 19.00 there is an award ceremony and race briefing and pictures and movies are shown from today's stage. At 21.00 we turn off the light and hope that no one snores in any neighboring tents. The next morning we do it all over again.
Our camp for the weekend
I was very nervous before the start of the last day, and in hindsight I think I was a little too nervous. It was a relatively easy stage which also makes it harder to get away and our tactics were more to defend than to attack which is not always the best. The course had been changed a bit in the start from previous years, and we were soon 3 teams away, the 3 teams which were so close on the GC. But as we were back the normal route and the gravel roads more teams came back to us. This stage actually really starts after 35 kilometres after the first water point when we enter the first real single tracks and some more shorter climbs. We went perfectly into the first single track behind Candice and Mariske and let them set the pace, we lost the other teams including Robyn and Adel. When we got to the only real climb of the day we sat on the wheels of the others but they put a big effort in and neither of us could hold their wheels. We did not want to give up and we fought what we could on the coming trails and out on the open gravel roads which up until now had been our strong point. I felt much stronger than the day before but our combined effort was not enough to catch the leaders. We saw them for a long time but got times splits that went from 30 seconds to 55 seconds and when we only had 8 kilometres left, we were told 1.20 and there I think we gave up on hope. We finished 2.43 behind and unfortunately lost the lead. We had to settle for second overall, just over 2 minutes behind and although I was very disappointed, we had to be happy to be 2nd with 3 punctures and 3 crashes! We learnt a lot about riding together which was the main objective this weekend and we are now looking forward to the next big goal, the Cape Epic!
Big thanks to Fairtree who sponsor us for Tankwa and Epic, these are expensive races to do and it would not be possible without sponsors! We are so incredibly grateful! And also a big thank you to Nicole and Pierre who worked with us this weekend, without this kind of help we can not do a race like this at this level.
Now Nadine and I are in the area around Tankwa for a training camp for 9 days, we can concentrate on training, eating, sleeping and resting and it is so nice!
Nice relaxing morning at the training camp doing some admin