Team RSAWEB traveled up to Port Elizabeth on a mission. 4 Sub-vet men of varying talents were assembled to defend our Jersey – the South African National Championship jersey for the 30-34 age category. Robert Quinn didn’t want to let it go and had only simple advice for us to do battle with: Ride as if you are the champion defending your own jersey.
Rob flew up early for the TT and the rest of us drove together, we talked a lot of bull and had a lot of laughs along the way as we got to know each other well in the 8 hour confinement of a Mercedes Vito. On arrival there was already good news. Rob had already lit the fuse on the weekend by winning the TT the day before, Ed Greene was 5th in a stunning ride in the U23’s TT and Carl stormed home to 7th in the Elites TT. The SV Road Race was up next and we couldn’t disappoint after that. We’d hardly begun unpacking and were treated to our new team kit. Stunning neon red Champion-Systems gear, complete from head to toe including jerseys, arm warmers, gloves, bibs, knee warmers, gillet and the most porno socks you can dream up completed the look of the best dressed team in the peloton.
Pre-Race the news wasn’t good: the U16 girls had near misses in the traffic on the original route planned for us and the parents and organisers had a disaster management meeting about safety concerns on the course – without complete road closure, and lack of sufficient marshals and traffic officials meant we could not ride the proposed route which suited me o.k up until now…the climbs were shortish and incredibly steep at 15 and 17% respectively but there was a great plateau top section, some fast downhills and flats to recover and hurt the climbers on. Sadly the latter half section I liked had to be dropped and the course was condensed to contain only the two climbs a bit of flat and two downhills for me to make back any time or recover. It didn’t bode well for me at all. Race morning was equally as full of confusion as we were destined to start at 7, revised to 8am, then delayed to 8:30 and revised to 9!! Rob pulled rank as current SA champ and demanded a neutral lap on behalf of the riders. The course was brutal. Short and steep with nowhere to hide, grown men were about to cry.
9 Laps of 8.2km remained. “This is going to hurt” I thought.
The start was fast, I spun to warm up again before we hit the 1st climb, the pace was steady enough for me to go in up front and slide to the back and I went over in contact, my pulse racing, the top section was false flats but big blade with a few twists then a longer flat to the top turn 270 degrees and down the valley at 85kmph plus, I hooked off the front and turned through the crit-like “speedbump-circle” combo and onto the next climb, shorter but steeper then the 1st tapering to 17%. I went over half way back and soon found my big blade to work forwards in the pack. I decided to cover moves early and do some work before I was toast. Luke Phieffer jumped and I followed, the bunch speed was really slow, we were brought back immediately but a minute later he went again with me right on his wheel, the bunch didn’t flinch or follow or move it seemed, we had a big gap pretty soon and the tight course meant we were soon out of sight.
I didn’t work, I told Luke I was there to defend and he accepted that and worked on the front alone for a lap and a half, since he won the 35-39 TT I knew he was up to the job. I decided to keep the break alive, Luke was not any faster than me on the climbs and we rode together, I chipped in on front in the easy sections to give him a rest where I could but I knew conservation was key.
On lap 4 above climb 2 we were bridged by Jaco Fereirra, a TCS pro and serious threat. He was alone and I couldn’t see Rob. I had to now slow him down but not get dropped – Luke and Jaco could now work together. They knew I was dragging and the conspired to drop me, dead wheels and hill attacks came from mostly Jaco but he couldn’t shake me in a sprint. I attacked on the downhill before Climb 2, mostly to get a jump on the climb, but effectively shelling Luke who was already struggling on the hills. This was good as they couldn’t work on me in tandem any more and Jaco needed a helping hand if he wanted to stay away. I couldn’t take him on myself, he is too good a climber and would drop me with a lap to spare if we went head to head. I played poker.
I needed him to believe I was working, but not work while making him wait for me on the climbs. I delayed him but saying I was waiting for team orders – that didn’t come. He asked me to pace. I refused. He attacked on climb one, I followed. I knew now he would dig every time we hit a hill. I attacked on the plateau and downhill to get him out of my slip and take some breathing space for climb two, it worked but looking back as Jaco passed me I saw Rob coming up the climb behind me with a second TCS rider and Clive Seebrechts and Jac-Louis Van Wyk. I left Jaco and waited for Rob. as they coupled my back wheel I paced Rob back up to Jaco. Rob gave me the bad news I already knew – My job wasn’t done yet and he needed me to stay there at all costs to counter their paired attacks. Two on one would be certain defeat.
I rested (relatively) on the flats and killed myself on the climbs to stay in touch, I got dropped on the climbs as the TCS riders took turns attacking me off. I would crawl back into contact after each time and rejoin to rest while Rob played sheepdog on the climbs, I did the same on the flats.Lap after lap. We had a huge gap of 5 minutes on the bunch thanks to Tredoux and Peter taking turns at demoralizing whoever was still in the race.
The dissapointment on Jaco’s face each time I came back for more was keeping me going, they were getting desperate. Jaco escaped on lap 7 and I couldn’t fetch him all in one go after another comeback, we let him dangle in the wind while keeping the gap big enough for his team mate not to be able to ride across. On lap 8 I now needed to reel him in, Rob couldn’t help because if he did he would tire, then when I blew he’d be alone and tired. I was already cramping before I started the chase, but I willed them away swearing at my legs in my head, I stuck it in the big blade and dropped low, Rob on my wheel and I dug as deep as I possibly could into the black hole for reserves. I was closing, not fast but closing. Over the start finish he had 200m and by the time we arrived at the climb there was less than 20m gap and Jaco was tiring. I had closed all I could, Rob thanked me and told me that it was now up to him.
I cramped, uncontrollably, I pedaled squares on the climb 1 and soon had to dismount. I stretched out and waited for the pack to close in from behind, but they didn’t come. I got back on my bike and crawled the remaining half of the hill while zig-zagging across it.. I recovered on the flats and stretched my calves on the downhill.. I looked back over my shoulder continuously in disbelief. If I could just make it up climb 2 without cramps I would make it home for sure… I took my time and zig-zagged again to lessen the gradient, it worked and I crested OK.
The remaining portion was easy, flat, fast and mostly downhill, I passed a few tail-enders and kept looking back into empty space. Over the line I was 4th, ecstatic and completely disbelieving… then a spectator shouted out: YOUR TEAM MATE WON!
We had done it, Rob had ridden a calculated race and blown them away in the sprint – The jersey was ours, mission accomplished!