It is fair to say that my MarathonMTB.com team mate Will Hayter and I were pretty chuffed with coming 33rd in the prologue yesterday. To be honest, neither of us are amazing mountain bikers, or MTB time triallers. So we were pretty happy with how things turned out – especially seeing we hadn’t prepared for the race together,
And to be honest, things are still going well. I feel we should put this in perspective. Will and I haven’t ridden together, outside of a bike race, since… maybe June 2010, when we rode back from Crystal Palace together.
It was a cold start to the day at 5am, and bloody dark too. It makes getting dressed a bit difficult. Although the startline temperature was 14 degrees, the forecast was for well over 30. We joined starting Block A, feeling like rockstars. The top 10 and category leaders have their own section, A+ I guess. The rope between us dropped with a few minutes to go so we lined up next to Jose Hermida. Such opportunities don’t come along that often.
The gun went and the dust shot up. It was pretty quick out onto the dirt road, and by then the dust was thick enough that seeing your handlebars became a bit of a challenge. The usual start chaos was going on: bidons popping from cages, a skid and near pile up, guys chopping up the sides, some tyre buzzing, but usually not a whole lot of talking. At this point physiology takes over and groups form. After a few kms we were in the 3rd group. On a valley farm road we could see the first echelon about 300m ahead, the next one about 100m ahead of us, then ours.
A course profile can give you a good idea of what’s to come, and we knew we had two sharp climbs early on, and another to take us to the 59km point. But they won’t tell you too much about trail surfaces. We had plenty of loose climbs and descents today, and once the sun came out the suffering was more apparent.
My morning was rough. I had no rhythm on the climbs or descents, and kept a steady focus on Will’s back wheel. Having no time to do a nervous pre-race pee may have had something to do with it. It nagged in the back of my head, and internals, until I finally gave in around the 35km mark. My relief was so great that I couldn’t help but give a big thumbs up as the helicopter buzzed by about 25m away.
We spent most of the day in a bowl shaped valley, skirting up the edges through various plantations, and back down again. Will and I made a mess of most sharp climbs and descents, riding like two very awkward bags of spanners.
Then Will started to fade.
Perhaps it was not enough food in the race, maybe the lack of time in the heat, or not enough seconds at dinner. But Will was hurting.
We got a good enough group together, which even had ex Road Pro Roberto Heras. He was hurting though. So along with his team mate we tried to keep a steady tempo so our team mates could just sit in the 5 team bunch and survive, and hopefully find their legs.
The last big climb and descent tore the group apart again. It was steep and exposed, and the descent was loose and sketchy, requiring at least one use of the Euro-tripod on my behalf. Will bombed it, and we refuelled at the feed station at the bottom. In hindsight, probably not enough.
Back on course, we had 30km to go, with one minor climb and a lot of false flat. This should have been our hunting ground. But mostly we were getting reeled in. Heras and his team mate pumped us hard at about 15km to go. Will was flat, and my pockets were empty. All I could do for him was motivate and push now and then. However I think receiving a push from me is about as useful as 2 gels for a 90km stage.
We got a group together, with one or two teams catching us and spitting us out. As we came closer to Tulbaugh, the locals were out in force. We gave high fives to school kids, and got distance checks from farmers.
Of course, we had a short sprint to the line, getting in just ahead of my Slovenian mate Uros who had caught us in the last kilometre.
Checking results, we came in 37th for the Mens category. Sauser and Stander had a blinder again today. I may be predicting too much, but it really looks like the XC boys are hitting the Bulls Love Team of Sahm and Platt with all the heavy artillery.
Overheard in the race today:
“Just settle, we’ve got a whole week of this”
“Is your water bottle ok?”… “It’s ok enough.”
“Frischi just took his scalp back”
“There’s some tarmac up ahead. Who’s strong on the road?”
“I would have said hi when you passed, but my engine had blown up.”
Read Will’s account of the day on the MarathonMTB.com Race Team website