Since the WP Road and TT Champs were moved to October it gave me a chance to ride this round of the XCO series. The Cape put on a magnificent blue sky day and I looking forward to racing my new 2011 S-Works Stumpjumper 29er. I had built this new weapon on Wednesday and ridden it only on Thursday morning. My initial feeling was very good and I was positive for the race. My legs however had taken a beating the day before in a 132km road ride, so were not going to be at their best. I decided to use it as training and see what happens.

Out of the blocks my legs were cold and I was soon down from the front row to about 7th place on the first steep climb. On the tufted grass plateau I shifted to the big blade and made three places to 4th following Chris Botha. I made up some ground on him in the 1st singltrack climb and was on his wheel looking for away past by “Cowpat Alley” where he rather gentlemanly let me overtake “off piste” and I chased the front two riders (well I though there were two) ahead of me.

After lap one I had a decent lead over Chris but was being chased by a fair sized bunch not too far off, including my brother Rob. After two laps I was still on my own and couldn’t see anyone out front, I knew Neil Bradshaw had set off like lightning and I kept my pace hoping he would fade, but he never did. Jason White chased me for three laps but I made sure I kept my advantage by counting out seconds in various parts of the course to keep my position, when he finished on lap 4 I had some breathing room, but a late charge by Chris and Tim soon put paid to that.

My lungs were busting and the legs were crying out for me to stop by lap 4, but now the race commentator was calling out that I was in the lead of the SV race, awesome, and I had a good lead too 30-40 seconds should be sustainable I thought. I ground out another lap of the Nitida Wine farm course. The route seemed like 80% climbing, the descents were steep and short lived, there was no place to recover, and to finish things off a 27% climb out of the quarry meant any recovery took a while!

I started my 5th lap still confident, but now Chris was hot on my heels and Tim Osrin was close behind him, still I had 30 secs so I should be able to hold out…

Wrong. My bike decided that today I shouldn’t win and rather punish me by dropping the rear wheel out the frame and locking it up against my chainstays. I was livid. It took me 25 seconds to release it and get the wheel back in, but my haste proved my undoing as it was still skew, and the rear wheel, now buckled, was rubbing on the frame, and the rotor was binding in the calliper – not so cool up and short 20% climb. I stopped on the flat to fix it again and Chris came past me.

I knew I was quicker in the next section so I rode on his wheel and waited to get by on the steep open descent into the forested singletrack climb. I did and held the advantage right to the top, wher emy gears slipped and locked in the rear wheel again. I jumped off and ran up the last rise while pedaling with my hands to realign the chain. I hopped back on but now only had 5 seconds advantage into the descent.

I hung it all out on the singletrack downhill in an attempt to make enough time to carry me through the quarry where I knew I would lose it to both riders behind me. My fears were right as I didn’t’ make enough time and they overtook me 1/4 way up the steepest climb on the course. I followed but my legs were toast. I was too far off the wheel to make any kind of attempt to get my lead back. I sat up and rolled over in third place, kinda disappointed.

Overall I was happy to be up there on the legs I had on the day, so my initial expectations were exceeded but I still felt robbed 😦

Thanks to my brother James for the pics out on the course… looking good!

RSAWEB Neville Cragg
Emerging from the forested singletrack
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