The short 15km stage was set on the Buffelsdrift farm and featured tight singletracks most of the way that opened up in the last 4km. We pre-rode the route and highlighted the problem areas. We decided to ride conservatively and avoid crashing. the tracks were dry and loose and off-camber so it was easy to get it all wrong. The climbs were steep at up to 20%. We didn’t have a good seeded start and would have to make a lot of passing moves.

The day went to plan and we ended up feeling good. Team RAC finished 12th in open mens teams and  18th overall. Big day tomorrow.

Cam Warming Down

Day 1

The day started with a brisk tar and jeeptrack section which quickly became undulating, we pushed hard to stay in the top ranks but eventually the gaps opened up and we led the 2nd group on the road, the first 40km was fairly flat and fast and I was loving it. At around 40km we popped out onto the district road and rolled through with the Top mixed – German Pro’s. We drove hard to regroup with the top mens team’s including Kevin Evans and David George. We sat in with the group and hung in until 50km. Cams chain dropped and got jammed. We repaired and rejoined with the second mixed team and rolled through water point 2. Shortly after that the luck ran out.

My rear wheel broke same as epic, and meanwhile Cam cut a sidewall. I freewheeled back to water point 2 only to be disappointed that there was no tech zone at all. After 20 minutes of doing running around asking for spares that matched. I borrowed a wheel from an old lady that brought spares for her son. It was a 26er and I ride a 29er. I swapped out the brake rotor while Cam used my tire to repair his wheel. I didn’t realize until later but the rear brake rubbed after that whole way home on my bike. That was at 65km of 108. Cam then destroyed another sidewall and a tube and took a swim in the river crossing. We stopped a few times to re-inflate tires and repair cuts but lost a lot of time. The final 10km was into a headwind and we worked well to finish strongly, I had blown after my early efforts and the rear rotor rub didn’t help.

Oops that’s too deep!

Day 2

Tough stage today. Mostly uphill all the way with only three short descents. 2780m climbing. 1100m of it coming at 70 of 85km in the form of the Swartberg pass. This is going to hurt!!

So today went as bad if not worse. Cam broke a derailer hanger within 5km from the start. I thought he was in a group ahead and chased like mad. Meanwhile Cam walked over an hour and asked the organizers to stop me at the water points. I rode with the top mixed until WP2 where I realized Cam was AWOL. Some time later Cam arrived and we began a repair. We had no option but to convert his bike to a single speed we battled on for the last 40km including the Swartberg pass taking 5 hours from Wp2. We needed to stop and remount the chain more than 50 times eventually using our GoPro bracket as a chain tensioner. What else can go wrong? Today took a mammoth 8 hours to complete.

One gear all the way up…tough!

Day 3

Way better day today after starting very well, a long open district road warmed the legs and we got into the jeep track well up the field. We hit the water point and out again ahead of the top mixed and then climbed the rocky technical ascent that followed. We reveled in the descent until I cut a sidewall on the rear this time. We got a tube in a continued, the thorn bushes though had other ideas and deflated the tube. We stood and begged for spares on the side of the road and got going eventually to face a block headwind alone. We battled on into the rain that had now caused flash flooding. After the water point we hit a stunning section of fynbos single track that re-energized us both. We smashed it and made up a heap of places. That put us back in the running, after going from 7th to 12th mens and 13th to 23rd overall. We emerged onto the tar descent of Meiringspoort and continued the good form, riding flat out TT style to the finish 20 km away.

Cam climbing the rocks

It felt good to get a taste of riding like we should be. Slowly cutting down on the time spent on the side of the road! The Karoo tracks are strewn with sharp shale stones and Cam and I both descend relentlessly. Our tires are not coping. Lots of rain fell today and flooded most roads.

Day 4

Although both of us had some times where we felt the stages before take their toll, still TeamRAC had a good day. The stage started fast and muddy but then wound up to a very stop start section through a lot of river crossings as we climbed  in the Kamanassie mountains. The early stages were typified by lots of steep climbing and hike-a-bike portages. Some severe climbing on top of the valley meant a long rocky walk. Cam had no front brakes after losing fluid overnight somehow and we had some knarly sections down super steep concreted and rocky tracks to navigate. I broke my saddle halfway, splitting it down the center but managed to continue by riding it on the nose. We gained momentum in the middle sector and were cruising until WP3. The day seemed to drag on endlessly towards the end with grasslands and muddy swaps to contend with and a headwind home. Still we managed only one flat 300m from the line as my rear wheel burped… but I just rode it over the line like that. We came home an elated 9th men and 15th overall today. 🙂 That’s more like it.

Day 5

The rain I overnight forced a route change for safety. A 12km loop and 5km of singletrack was washed out. That shortened the day to 55km. We started straight up Duivelstoorn and down the steep rocky descent. The technical drop put into a great spot and we smashed out the rest of the fast roadie like course. Lots of headwind sections and steep climbs meant finding a strong group. Today was a lot more fun than we expected and we raced to 7th Men’s and 12th overall today. 🙂

Day 6

The final day of the Pioneer was soaking wet. Cold weather and a long muddy 84km. I had surprisingly good legs after being shot in the knee the night before with a gas canister. Off the line I was having issues with my front skewer but a few stop go moments solved it eventually. The climbing set in early and Cam and I struggled to get going into a speedy group. We rode the pass as best we could and were going pretty well in around 9th place when Cam burped a rear tire in a deep rain rut. The frozen weather made for a tough repair and we lost 35 minutes, three tubes and 5 bombs, a lot of pumping, cut hands and frozen bombs stuck to my palm later… We soldiered on slowly trying to defrost for the last 20 km eventually coming home 22nd for the day.

Lots of lessons learned this week and we’ll be back. Faster, wiser and hopefully luckier.