This weeks installment of cycling pleasure was played out in the rolling hills of Stellenbosch and the back end of Paarl with less than ideal conditions on the day with gusting wind from the North West and dark dreary clouds threatening to make things worse.
Luckily the rain stayed away, with 2 Railway crossings this was very good news, but the wind was here to stay.
The first action came at the 12km mark where the only KOM point lay in wait. The gradient of the course was not too steep and the KOM point came after the long uphill was out of the way and after a little flat section to rest on, this played more into the hands of the sprinters as the climbers were out powered with such a short uphill. Bad luck for Rob as he rode over some glass and picked up a terminal hole in his rear tubby. Better luck for me as I claimed 4th place which I was very happy about as an unlikely KOM contestant and used it mainly to gauge the final sprint as this would be uphill too.
The sprint caused a split in the field as the speed rose and the riders vying for the points had gone clear, but we didn’t sit up. Instead we used the launch pad and drove up the next incline and down the other side. We were a group of about 8 riders and pushing hard. We opened a sizable gap, but since it was very early in the race, there were many fresh legs to give chase. We rounded the corner and already some riders had gapped it to us, but we were soon brought back together and proceeded on to Pniel. There were a few jumps along the way particularly at the railway crossing “S” bend where the slinky effect popped some riders out the back. Back on smooth tar now and heading to Franschoek, Enzo Lezzi went clear all alone, he built up a fair lead and nobody seemed to concerned to chase, he held his lead for quite some time over the railway and through the left turn to bring us back towards Paarl. The bunch closed the gap but left him hanging, we were now into the wind head-on. The paced slowed as we waited on the fading lone rider until he was enveloped and slung backwards as the pace picked up once again.
The wind was now coming from the front right, with a gravel shoulder and bumpy road back towards the fruitsellers this made for a great guttering section, and that’s exactly what happened. The strong teams up front drove hard, at nearly 40kmph average and sometimes much more. The pain lasted what seemed like forever, and at every dip in pace I tried to move up a place or two as I knew the dead wheels would come sooner or later. Luke was well placed already, Marius and I were just behind. Then just as I thought after about 10km the leash snapped as someone died and left a gap open. The top three teams, AT, Daiken and Swift all in up ahead, we could not afford to let them get another meter. Immediately I swung right and set up an echelon for other riders to get a break from the wind and set up a pace line to roll through. Luke Marius and I, and three riders from CL drove hard and were closing as the lead pack looked back, trying to make their escape. Within two kays we’d closed and the guttering started once again until we turned left, now with the wind behind us and on smooth tar away from the Klapmuts fruitsellers. There was some respite as the bunch was shattered but quite a few had hung on through the intense and seemingly endless gutter.
The next section started out fairly easy going, but soon turned to attack after attack as riders with gas to spare tried their hand at a break. Nothing went too far and they were shut down pretty early, I went with three attacks and chased down one or two, then I tried to recover a bit, with the intention of resting for the sprint. This plan was very short lived as three riders, John W from AT, a Swift Rider and a Daiken rider eased off the front as we headed into Stellies again. With no-one else set to chase I hit the front and Luke immediately joined me as Marius picked his way through the peleton to lend a hand. Swift were spoiling, but Luke and I were going hard and closing. We nearly lost them in the turns of the town, giving the break the edge, and it took us all of the way through town to bring them back finally over the ridge past Distell and heading towards the traffic lights onto the R44.
As the catch was made, and like clockwork, another attack followed, this time Chris B of Daiken and Shane Thomson of Swift. I tried in vain to follow on immediately and hung on three bike lengths back, but after all the work closing the last one I was unable to keep up and waited for the cavalry to arrive. Anderson would surely give chase and they did but only Heimer and John W did. Luke and I drove the pace with them to try catch. At the 5km to go mark we could see the two riders slipping away and the bunch sat up and began planing their move for the finish. This is always entertaining as new faces and riders you have not seen since the start line suddenly appear out of nowhere and begin jostling for position. Suddenly there were more teams than I’d actually heard of ahead of me at the turn.
The final 1.7 km was 700m uphill and then flattened slightly, the “too early” attack came and went at 1300m to go and we’d settled again by the 1km to go mark. I was very poked and had felt the twangs of cramping already 5km ago and was doubtful of sprinting, anyway I found a little inside line and gave it a go anyway and ended up 10-12th somewhere just behind Luke who came round the other side. Marius finished in our pack of 18 over the crest and the rest of he SV’s came in dribs and drabs splintered by the uphill sprint.