This weekend served up a double header, both league races and hugely important for the league standings. with 95km of Wellington and Paarl rollers with the now familiar Botmanskloof (Riebeek Kasteel) climb in the middle to add some sparks. It didn’t disappoint.
The weather forecast said heavy winds, but thankfully these lay dormant for the morning’s ride but gusting conditions prevailed on parts of the course. Unluckily Luke suffered a technical glitch as his rear derailleur cable snapped inside the shifter, and Rob also didn’t start as he was racing a machine with an engine today.
It was warm and pretty dark in Wellington as we set out on a small loop before leaving town, my legs felt dead and I hung at the back of the bunch trying to warm up a little. It wasn’t getting better as we got out onto the R44 and headed towards Malmesbury. The roads were quite and wide and the breeze coming from behind us, but as we turned slightly right it reared it head and was gusting hard from the right hand side.
The gutter soon followed as riders fought for cover, a small split came soon an i fought past a few dead wheels to get to the front. The wind was playing havoc with my deep section wheels and I was battling to ride in the straight line, I couldn’t trust them on the verge of the gutter and had to ride on the yellow line as we fought our way back tot he breakaway front bunch. I set up an echelon and shielded riders behind me and encouraged them to do the same , Shan Wilson was with us and he followed suit helping us get back in touch. The hard work did wonders for my legs as they finally came out of limbo and I felt ready for anything. As we reached the bunch ahead they realized they couldn’t get away and sat up and saved it for the pass.
En route there was another gutter section as the pressure came on front chasing a lone break from Swift, the group was strung out in a long line that swelled to size as the pressure was relieved, only to get stretched again as the successive surges played out.
less than 2km from the climb disaster struck the front 3rd of the peloton and a lot of riders went down, in the swerve to avoid the crash riders went as far as the right hand shoulder and into the ditch, a double cab bakkie coming the opposite way narrowly missing the strewn bodies and escapees. Hashiem went down, but Marius David and I managed to stay upright. There was no time to look back as almost immediately the front regrouped and continued the chase to the Swift break. The pack was now down to about 25 riders as we reached the lower slopes of the pass.
the pace was sustainable up to the left hand bend where the gradient steepens, here Hiemer attacked for the KOM points, not many people were able to follow, I accelerated and was lying 5th with a small group behind me and one’s and two’s up ahead. I chipped away and closed the gap the 4th and lunged for the KOM points on offer, my placing over the top was also great as the break formed over the top. Initially seven riders but closed down by another four, including Heimer, Shan, Enzo, Robbie, Myself, Tim, Neil and Andreas.
We worked well, in a team time trial formation flying into the wind, each man taking turns except Andreas, who sat on as his team mate Craig was in the leaders jersey and somewhere behind us. I looked back after 10km and couldn’t see anyone, we caught sporadic groups of Elites along the course and left them as fast as we arrived. Kilometers ticked by and it was head down and pull all morning… we didn’t get any time splits and the swift boys were determined to hold our advantage. I thought the Daiken train would be hot on our heels but there was no sign of a catching bunch.
With 25km to go I started noticing the Cycle Lab guys taking a rest on the back and parking off with Studer, I resented it, but I didn’t stop working. Inside 10km to go and we knew we’d stay away, I rested a little trying to get some fight back into my legs for the sprint, but I knew I would be outgunned by Studer and the cling-ons behind me… it was very apparent in the last 2-3km where they all presented themselves for the sprint.
There was a small incline over the bridge and this was already burning my legs, I was fighting to get near the front but I didn’t have enough power to go around, Studer set off early around the last bend with over 300m to go, I knew I couldn’t follow. I went around the last of the Swift riders and the AT boys and finished 5th out on my own, too far to be in touch with the lead sprint but comfortably ahead of the rest.
Later I found out the the Pink jersey had suffered in the crash, there was no Daiken chase and we’d taken over 8 minutes off the main peloton. This was a huge upset for the leaders, but accelerated me very nicely into the top ten 🙂
The only question left on my smug mind was…at what cost? Tomorrow was hilly, and windy and I’d used a lot of effort on today.