The 126km of the Bouckaert Soonen looked to be a good route, with only one significant climb, it suited our team nicely.
The overnight weather was supposed to bring rain, the black South Easter was bringing light drizzle to the windscreen as we set off from the southern suburbs at 4:30am but thankfully this cleared as we bid the mountains farewell and headed out on the N1. Paarl was already warm when we got there but clear and no wind. This is going to be good I thought. We unpacked out bike and bad luck struck immediately, Luke’s front brake cable snapped and needed emergency repairs. Luckily I had spares and quickly set to work restoring his stoppers. John W also suffered as someone nicked his front skewer while at sign on and I supplied him one for the race too!
With the bad luck out of the way we set off out of Paarl, a short neutral zone was a good warm up. A little out of town Luke and John W were off the front, and it seems the early start proved too much for the marshals and they were still asleep when they slipped by missing the turn. The bunch turned and Luke and John had to turn and scurry back.
Further up the road a lone Cycle Lab rider got off the front and the bunch let him go, he stayed away for quite a while until we brought him close enough for Hashim to bridge the gap and they set off along with another rider in a trio. The group wasn’t in too much of a hurry as it looked like the breakaway was to ensure their survival over Riebeek Kasteel. We eased along until the 45km mark and began winding up for the climb.
AT got on the front to control the pace, closely watched by Daiken and Swift, the Club100 SV’s were just behind them as we prepared for the onslaught. The initial bump was surprisingly mild but the screws were being turned at the front and the heat and heart rate was climbing. At the left hand bend the AT guys put the hammer down splitting the pack. 10 riders or so at the front just away and a chasing group of another 10 and then riders strung out below. Luke, Marius. David and I looked in a similar position in the second bunch. I played a tactic using the camber and gained meters on the riders ahead of me. Going over the KOM point I was now just about in touch with the leading group and went over with Charles S. We quickly caught the leaders on the downhill as well as the breakaway trio. Since our group of about 16 riders had a small gap we quickly set about trying to make it stick working turns for the next few kays.
We were caught by the bigger chasing group 20 riders before too long and the pressure on the from subsided. Rob and Hashiem in the next small group still had some work to do though and kept up their pace to make it back. 10 or so kays later they had managed an the SV bunch swelled to 3/4 of it’s original size. Soon after tho Hashim suffered a puncture and slowed off to the left, a real pity as he was having a good day on the bike.
We were now into a slight headwind and AT were keeping up the pressure but the wind kept the attacking to a minimum. We turned left and headed into Voor-Paardeberg road, I knew this was a rolling hilly section and a group of ten riders had gone clear just before the turn, all the team were represented in the break. I jumped and went across working with Charles Solomon, strangely tho as we arrived the pace slowed, and the group behind was chasing hard now too. We tried 3 times to make it stick but we were back together by the bottom of Windmeul. The climb wasn’t so tough, AT tried to shake things up more but over the top the bunch was still at full strength.
The bunch was now idling along in a recovery mode , with 100km down and 25 still to go, i think everyone realised it was going to end in a sprint finish. I was hanging at the back and a rider in front of me hit a pothole and veered into a rider alongside him taking the other rider down hard. I managed to swerve around him to the right and felt his pain as he hit the deck hard. It was hot, and dry and the tired riders were prone to mistakes.
5 Kays to go and things were heating up again we were entering paarl, wind from the side/behind us and the sprinters were moving up. The pace lifted now to 50kmph and the km to go boards were flashing past quickly. The traffic light provided some confusion and danger where a traffic official was waving cars off to the right and riders mistakenly took this as a turn signal and veered right, I was on the right and got squeezed almost directly into the policeman and had to take evasive action.
I had to sprint to get back in touch with the leadout men and managed just before the downhill where I took and inside line, Marius leaped out from the left and I switched onto his wheel and we set off around the outside at 70kmph. As Marius began to fade I switched to Charles wheel but I was already losing power. I couldn’t make any more meters on the 4 guys up the inside and got over the line in 5th!
This was a great team effort and we combined our strengths well to ensure a good finish. Well done!