Last year, I had a very, very big meltdown on the Swartberg Pass. It was an emotional day out where the lights were on and then, suddenly, they were off. I was not quite sure what kind of day it was going to be today. Yesterday was a big day and tomorrow is the Queen Stage, which translated in Dryland-speak, means ‘more gaan ons k*k kwagga’
There were some quiet faces at breakfast this morning as the effects of the Kammanassie were evident in some of the funny walks around the race village this morning. My morning routine is now set and our squad is operating on the next level in terms of planning and logistics, so getting to the startline is the easy bit.
A short, very sharp day is likely an apt description for what happened out there today. It really was a strange day, devoid of drama but also lacking much firepower in the legs. I don’t want to say it was transitional because 64km and 2100m of vertical gain (and if you take the first 20km on districts roads out, its 44km and 1900m of gain) is anything but a transition.
I had my best start yet, despite looking at my legs repeatedly wondering where the 5th gear had gone. I zoomed along in 4th only to find that 5th was nowhere to be found, most of the day. Knowing your limitations is often the best tactic, so I worked where I could and at 30km I was still hanging in there with the 2nd group on the road. This is the same group I have missed most days here.
I did what I could to contribute. I got enough drink and food in. I saved the legs where possible. I was riding with the top 3 on GC in the solo.
These are all great boxes to tick.
I figured the legs would come back once we settled down, but I was mistaken and we hit a decent single track climb around 35km and I just slowly drifted off the back enough to miss the regroup on the way down.
Neither apathetic nor stressed, I was somewhere in the middle setting a tempo I knew I could maintain for the rest of the day, off the back and on my ace. I almost enjoyed it for a while until I saw the 3rd place on GC dude pop off the back (after attacking the group a few times) and I figured I better up the tempo a little in case he has a bad moment and I can get ahead of him.
He was pretty determined to keep me at bay, attacking each false flat and flat piece of road while I set a nice tempo. This literally continued to the top of the pass and the stage finish. No stress, no panic and just a solid tempo day without feeling amazing or like I had been dragged through a thornbush backwards.
So let’s rather talk about WHERE we are today. The Swartberg Pass is huge, and wild, and raw. Yes its steep, but today I also found the Pass forgiving. It was smooth. There was no headwind. The heat was bearable. I was about 1/3rd of the way up and a Bateleur rose from the side of the cliffs up and over my head, circling for a while. Its my favorite bird of prey and it has been a while since I have seen one up close.
I counted off the kilometers with sips of my bottle, rewarding myself as I set a steady tempo. I could see my mates ahead, around 1km ahead which translated to about 6-10minutes, depending how well I was going to hit the last few kilometers. My 3rd place on GC guy was still hovering 75seconds ahead of me and I had no intention of going too deep to catch him.
More is nog ‘n dag.
The most rewarding part of today is the descent down into Prince Albert. I caught back up with my mates and set off to get some images of them coming down the mountain. I drifted off the back to ride through the canyon below alone, soaking up the red rock sheer walls, setting the bike down for a #benkenstyle moment to close off the day.
Prince Albert has a special place in my heart. It’s one of the stops on our Epic Unsupported trips and there is a great energy here. I am soaking up what I can before tomorrow… because it’s going to get real out there.
As I’ve typed this I realise how calm a day today must seem to those reading this versus yesterday.
And it’s true.
A bit like the yawn before the storm. I am excited to see what they throw at us tomorrow. I have a decent idea, but you never really know 100% right? Let’s have a quick squiz at the photos from today.