“Hey Waleed. How is the big man doing today?”
(In my head, I am thinking I was never supposed to be this far back. I have so much work to do but thankfully, a long day to get it done. But Waleed is a good guy, so always greet him no matter how hard you are going.)
Minutes earlier, I was on the floor, on top of another rider, thanking my stars that that rider was there, below me. I knew I was unscathed and my bike was unscathed. The guy underneath me had a bent derailleur, a massive amount of skin missing on his left side and possibly some shattered dreams lying around as well.
I am generally loathe of neutral zones. But neutral zones where the whole field starts together and 1min after you drop the hammer there is a 2 person walkway for 200 riders to get into at the same time reserves a special place in my heart.
Over the winter I had worked hard at my race starts. But there is only so much you can do in this scenario. Squeals of brakes, screaming of voices and being hit from behind was the order of the day. This was the start of Stage 1 at Cape Pioneer Trek 2015.
I narrowly avoided three more crashes getting through the masses (I reckon I was around 100th getting up from the fall.) and having a small group of 4 guys working to get back into the race. I knew two of the guys and knew they could work with me, so we set about bridging to the next group. At this point we were still well behind the mixed and ladies leading teams.
We got back to the mixed but my compatriots had the look of tired men, so I went alone to get back up to the leading girls to see what was going on there. I caught them at the base of one of the many short, steep climbs of the day and rode past to have a look-see and grab a photo and Esther Suss came with me, as you will see in one of the photos below. I had gone by quite hard, but she easily followed.
I did not want to be an influence on the ladies race, so I merely set my own tempo up front, letting them sort themselves out. When they bridged back up to me, I sat in the back to make sure they had their race, fair and square. Three other riders bridged too and when one of the solo men went off the front it was my queue to get to him. The Sasol ladies were looking the stronger of the two ladies teams as Robyn de Groot was first to drop. I rode next to Esther to see their plan as the first water point was arriving and she was going to grab a bottle for Katherine so I rode straight through and they bridged back.
By now I was in full metronome mode. Years of Ironman riding in the legs means I can comfortably pick a pace that I can ride all day that is tough but very consistent – no spikes in pace. I set about riding the metronome pace, no matter who followed and we picked up a German team along the way who had a guy who could contribute on the flatter sections, but was determined to blow up his partner on the climbs (partner rode my wheel all day on the climbs).
The miles ticked off one by one and into the 2nd stop I could see a couple guys about 90sec ahead, meaning we had bridged a good 2min over the course of the last 30km or so. In my head, I figured we would catch them about 20km later and out of the 2nd stop we tagged onto their wheels. There was some great single track here and we dropped the ladies and I was still feeling super strong, 95km into the race, still in full metronome.
Out of the singletrack we dropped a couple riders and it was just Craig Uria (who I am touring with this week) and the 2 Germans. 100km passed and then 105km passed. I knew the route as we passed a beautiful dam on our right and I knew there was less than 5km to go. In my mind we were doing well and I was ready to hit the climb out of the dam wall hard to the finish, just to see what was left in the tank.
A sharp right onto the dam wall and instantly, there was a huge problem. I followed the exact line of the guys I was with, but my back tire was spewing sealant like a rapper blowing a bottle of champagne in the Club. There wasn’t even a chance to plug the thing as it was down to the rim by the time I got off the bike, expletives ringing quietly in the air.
OK RDJ, now is not the time to fret. I got the inflator out and somehow, my first CO2 canister was empty.
ALL CALM WAS THROWN TO THE RACCOONS, CIRCUS FREAKS AND DUBSTEP DJ’S WHO BLEW THE ROOF OFF THIS PARTY.
Second canister got me going, but the damn hole would not seal quick enough. I was now stuck with about 0.3bar in the back tyre (1.5 is the normal pressure) and had a climb and 2 corners left to the finish. Anger took over and I locked the shocks on the bike out and rode out the saddle up the climb (sitting meant the rim banging on the ground) and went Peter Sagan on the downhill. A sharp turn almost caught me off guard as I nearly (very) rolled the tire on the tarmac.
One more short rise, a very slow corner into the finishing area and I was home.
I went from having a superb day to fully BROMOTIONAL in 8minutes.
What could have been a fun last 2km ended up being total damage control, a new tyre and some burning quads.
Lesson: It’s not over till its over.
On the plus side I am up to 5th in the GC for solo, but those 4minutes will have to come from somewhere else. The body felt great all day and that is a plus considering I had very little help all day in what was basically a 111km solo TT with some passengers in the Venter Wagon behind me.
An exciting, emotional, long day and as I said before, it was going to be a day to bring your big boy pants. Now onto some of the pics I managed to get today. Enjoy.