“Have you dropped the kids at the pool yet?”
“How’s your gunnel ridge this morning?”
“Is your leg still oozing?”
Stage racing is not for the faint hearted. Essentially it’s a heaving, hungry mass of middle aged white dudes riding through the Karoo, mowing their way through buffets and Pilsener like this was their last meal (with a few Pilseners thrown in). There is a lot of talk about body problems, bike issues and the very valuable ‘could have been’ stories around every plastic table the organisers can throw at the problem.
This is how we go to war in modern times and Dryland, the event organisers of the Pioneer, do their very best to make sure we get our money’s worth. The route is super tough (with no excuses for it), but the route markings are superb and the crew of helpers are typical Karoo-friendly people who really want you to have a good time.
I digress – you want to hear about my suffering.
Today was the day where tactics would likely play the biggest role. I needed to gamble hard to make it into the right pack today and if I wanted to be in the running for a podium spot today. I figured if it came down to it, there could be a possibility and my two travel companions snatched a 1-2 today, so the chance was real.
To tell you how close I got, it was 30-40seconds over the top of the Montagu Pass that I was down. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but if you consider the guys who were 15 seconds down never got into the pack and I didn’t make it across to them, it gives you an idea of the parcours today.
Essentially a neutral zone, a smash fest up the Montagu Pass, then a haul across the district roads and river roads of the Klein Karoo to Outdtshoorn and voila! you have 87km of riding today with a little over 1200m of vertical gain, half of it in the first 12km.
A year ago I took a photo of the leading ladies with a helicopter and this year, a pic of the leading Vets. Despite improving my riding to climb almost 4min faster up that climb this year, I still missed the important bunch by just a little.
Should I have gone harder? I am not sure I could have without leaving something in the tank for the next 60km of road. I was riding at my limit without throwing caution to the wind and I figured there was a chance to ride back into the group but the chance never materialised. I was chasing at 50km/h on the district road and visibly losing time to a duo who were visibly losing time to the group of 8-10 guys that mattered.
I consolidated and waited for some help. It arrived in the form of two German guys (same guys from yesterday) with one hanging on, so the stronger partner and myself set about getting the work done, as there was a pack of 20 or so around 60-75seconds back on us.
We hit it hard for the next 20km or so and the gap remained consistent. I knew once we hit the rocky climbs that the group behind would splinter, so I set a decent pace up the many long, rocky drags that followed after WP2. 2 Teams came across and I worked with them for the next 10km or so before heading off the front through a little section I knew from last year that required you to be in front to get the best line.
Team 1 got through the obstacles a little better than team 2 and we had a race (they are in the same category). When team 1 reconnected with me (I was not in the mood to ride on my own as there is a big week ahead) I asked if they wanted to race and they confirmed.
Being a solo between two racing teams is a huge stress because I do not want to have any effect on the overall race. So I sat in the back or rode next to the guys as much as possible, making sure I was not affecting the race for a podium in the Vets today.
My only option was to ride in with Team 1 or attack them. I tried twice to see if they would let me go in the last 8km but they rode back to my wheel both times and I sat in the back after that.
A decent day, no drama, no fireworks and the only thing was just missing that front group. Racing dynamics is so important at this level and I just, just missed out on what would be my very best mountain biking result ever. I still consider myself a triathlete first and foremost if I have to pick a sport, and my mountain biking was always the weak leg of the three.
I will take great pleasure from the progress I have made in the last year and enjoy a Pilsener and attack a buffet with OOMPH in about 30minutes. I got some pics today from the race as well as the chaos that is the morning before the race starts. Something a little different.