Day 1 is always a tough one. Unsure of how the body will respond to the stress, especially if it’s been a year since you went ‘deep’ for long. I was also unsure on how the solo thing would go if I felt slow, if my head wasn’t in it.
When you have a partner, there is someone to support you when the chips are down, someone to motivate you to ride harder if you are making up time, riding gaps and the likes. There is someone to share the wind, motivate you and ride lines for you when you need a little break.
I wondered how I would go with all these little changes and some of the answers came loud and clear out there today.
We left Oudtshoorn at 7:30 with the very slowest neutral zone I have ever come across in my life. Batches AA – D all bunched tightly, rather than giving space. Wheels touched, people went down and the general consensus was that it should have been a little faster.
Once we hit the dirt and the pace was hot, I found myself in the 2nd group, about 90 seconds down, and stated my little game of Pacman, moving between the splinters of the groups and working my way to the front. Between kilometer 10 and kilometer 28, I worked back the 90 seconds and the group came together again as I dragged a big group across and suddenly; we were 50 guys in the front.
This only lasted for about 4km as we hit WP1 and a tough little climb to splinter the group again. My effort to bridge was felt and the body just said ‘not now’ when I asked it to respond with more power.
I settled into a small group which included some guys who ride 3 minutes or so quicker than me. We were riding nicely and the guys were able to ride the single track nicely. I got a small gap down one of the hills and when we popped out between single tracks, was a good 30 seconds up. This is when a partner is worth gold; taking turns to get to the next single track to cement the little lead.
Instead, I worked into the headwind, on a false flat, with 15 guys chasing me from behind. Hungry, Jozi ex-roadies, PRO’s in their day. I was a rabbit, aware that it wouldn’t last long. I got 5 or 6 seconds lead into the next single track, determined to make it stick and overcooked one of the corners, having a fight with a thorn bush.
It won, obviously.
Bleeding, I emerged from the bush now at the very back of the group. They were much slower in the single track than I wanted, and to add insult to my bleeding right arm, I felt the telltale sign of sealant spraying onto the back of my calves.
I stopped to look, but saw no sealant on the back tire. To be 100% sure, I checked the front as well.
I hopped back on and rode back into the back of the group in the single track and again, the wet calves made me hop off to check and still, no white sealant.
Another effort to rejoin the group and still the wet calves.
I looked down to see the entire rear triangle was wet, but it was normal, like water. It was super weird and I am not a heavy sweater.
SO I got off a third time and looked at the bottle behind my seat. My argument with the bush had left a hole in the bottom of the bottle, so it was dripping out onto the tire, perfectly to spray it onto my calves.
By now I was tired from the efforts to keep bridging gaps and I was without a 2nd functioning water bottle, so I downed what was left in the leaking one and worked my way back to the 2nd water point to get some fresh Rehidrat Sport in me, as I noshed through 2 Llama Bars as I was feeling a little jaded and the sugar would give me some motivation.
After the 2nd water point, I was feeling better again as I had lost some ground and started working my way back through the group, leaving them behind at the WP and seemingly not going to see them again all day. Their technical riding gave me gaps every time it was loose and rocky (which was pretty much every jeep track or single track on the day) and down the last rocky descent I managed to get a decent gap and didn’t see them as I left WP3.
The remaining 19km was on an open district road, but my legs were tired and my motivation levels were low. To make matters worse, there was a properly strong headwind coming up the district road. I put my head down and ground it out as decently as I could, continuously looking back for the group as there were two guys in the group whose open-road hauling was world class.
At 15km, I saw nothing. I could see a good 90seconds behind me and nothing.
At 10km, nothing.
1km, onto the tar section, my legs blown from the effort into the wind ,8 guys came by so quickly up the last hill I wondered if I was seeing things. True to the form, the two strong riders were on the front taking turns doing damage.
I cruised in, defeated near the line, but I will be back for them this week. Its an interesting dynamic with them and I need to time my efforts better to make them stick, but I am looking forward to the battles.
Time for a nap, a beer and possibly, another nap. Enjoy the few photos I got today. The roads were loose and tricky, so I didn’t have too much time to take photos while riding.