After a heavy few weeks of training I was keen to race, something, anything… by chance I picked up a Tweet from fellow RSAWEB MTBikers Nic and Simon Lamond who had already entered for the Oude Molen MTB challenge. I checked the weather and it didn’t look good, in fact it looked horrible. Since my last venture out to Paul Cluver after a heavy storm didn’t go well for me in the least (see WP XCO #3) I was very hesitant, in fact I didn’t enter, and sat on the fence debating it until well after lunch time on Saturday. When Nic and Si confirmed they were going I knew I had to go for two reasons… Unfinished business in Grabouw, and to test the legs, it should be a small field I thought…
I got up and dressed and scampered about in the pouring rain loading my bike, it was hosing down, I stood for 5 seconds just watching it pour and thought – “what the hell am I doing, I could be fast asleep” – the moment passed and I jumped in the drivers seat and hit the road. Thankfully the closer I got the Grabouw, the better the weather got and by the time I’d entered and got changed it was warm enough to ride without leg warmers and dry. On the start line though, my ideas of a small field were quickly put to rest. An 85 strong entry list including some top dogs lined up alongside me and froze waiting for the starter’s instructions.
We set off at a very neutral pace, there was a strong crosswind and we echeloned into a small bunch quite soon but very easy to get warmed up. This soon changed as we broke into the 1st climb of the day that turned with the wind. I dropped my chain and lost touch with the group by 50m or so, but dug deep to trycatch, I settled down when I saw the group splintering up a bit and maintained a rhythm, slowly catching a few riders on the way. The problem now was that I was alone as I turned into the wind and the top bunch worked away together.
I kept an eye on riders ahead and maintained a steady distance while watching the riders behind me, the 1st climb topped out at 8km and then I knew the next marker was around 15km for some respite. Some steep 25% sections stood in my way and my legs were burning as I crested the climb alone. Two riders followed closely behind and I tried to force a gap on the rocky rutted descent. It was blowing a gale on the way down which made it hard work. A singletrack section followed, it was narrow and undulating, which made it difficult to pick a gear. It was also very rocky and scattered with wet roots. I took it easy until I slipped on a thick wet root and lost the front. I bailed over the front of my bike and ran to a stop down the steep embankment. I gathered my bike and refitted the chain. I was overtaken by Willie Brink who asked if I was OK. I chased after him and caught him after a short climb. We passed waterpoint 1 together and set off into the wind. I figured we could work together and maintain our positions if not catch anyone else.
The gravel roads were nice and open and we descended equally well, on the flats we rotated a little and in the singletrack I just followed for safety sake. Through the forest we were caught by two youngsters from the Focus Bikes team battling it out, They came up quickly and I thought they were a bit fresh for the long route, which would be confirmed at the split later, but in between we used them as windshields and saved our legs in their slip on the open sections. Once they had split our pace dropped a bit and we consolidated. We both started having chainsuck problems the drivetrain was sounding audibly grumpy, I offered up my squirt lube, which we both applied and got going to a much happier whirr from the gears.
It all went cruisingly well until later in another wet rooted singletrack section, Willie started having shifting issues again and resorted to using the big blade only. He pulled a gap as I spun to conserve my legs and he battled the bike mashing gears uphill. I chased at my own pace and clawed back where I could, mostly on the flat open sections until I regained his wheel into the 2nd last singletrack. It was a long forested track and very twisty, I could follow closely and conserve energy. On the small rises I could tell his legs were starting to suffer under the heavy gearing and waited until 4km to go before applying the pressure over the final climbs.
The last drag up was a sandy, rocky road at about 5%, enough to sap everything out of you, but easy enough for me to drive open a gap. I held enough advantage to ride the last singletrack home, but didnt expect it to be that long! It was also super narrow and tight turns slowed your momentum. There were a few steep uphills which I had to run. I then started noticing some rub on my front wheel and looked down to see the skewer has flipped open, perhaps in a passing branch. Better safe than sorry and I took the time to close it properly. Willie had closed to within two switchbacks of me, so I railed the last few sections of the track and once I got into open roads I put the hammer down. I looked back to emptiness and relaxed a bit in the last 500m or so, then enjoyed my cruise through the Brandy Cellar and crossed the line.
My efforts were good enough for 1st place in the Subvet category and 6th overall! It’s great to have a win under the belt going into racing season.
The post race prize giving and chill zone was 1st class with loads of recovery freebies in the Rehydrat and Bokomo tent, even pro-nutro and rusks and complete with a free massage (which I sadly didn’t make use of)
Overall it’s a fantastic event and one not to miss on the calendar next year!