The Queen Stage was upon us this morning. It was supposed to be tougher than the Kammannasie stage so we all woke with a little apprehension and a little worry for what was to come.
We were greeted with partially cloudy skies and the same routine as before:
– Wake up early
– Forcefeed yourself
– Get some coffee in
– Check the bike
– Motivate self
– Start chute in time
– Neutral zone
Same same, but different.
The legs were going well this morning and I found myself riding comfortably with the usual group of guys up the Swartberg Pass, from Prince Albert.
There was a little split and I made it across to the front half of the group, which contained my travel squad for the week. They were in with a plan for the day, to distance a specific team so I helped when I felt great and tried to grow the gap for them going up this incredible road rising 800m before cresting the top.
I may have done a little too much work up front as the split dropped me but it was ok, as they were away for the day and the plan worked out really well. I eased off towards the top to get a gilet on, get some drink in and not draw the group behind towards the group in front.
In the group that caught me was the third placed guys on the Solo Category GC so I settled in there to see how he was going and see if anything would be possible for the day.
The group worked really well together – we were 6 all doing turns and making our way across the district roads and even some tarmac today. I felt great, honestly. It was great to work in a group and help out where possible and save a little for the climbs to come nearer to the end.
We hit Water Point 2 and my GC guy went through the water point really hard, leaving a gap for me to close. A little offside for me, water point etiquette says the group regroups out the water point and gets back into the work. I was last in, had to wait for my drink and food and then had to work really hard for a couple kilometers to get back into the group.
Either way, we rolled on, we did our turns and up the first steep climb of the day I got stuck towards the back of the group after doing my turns – these things happen – and as we were going up the steep stuff the same guy couldn’t hold his line and had to get off the bike and walk. Two of us tried to get buy, calling “Rider coming through” but he blocked the single track so we walked past him and made our way over the ridge near the top. I was clearly being marked and while the GC has little importance to me, manners are manners.
Down the other side of the hill, some fun single track along a riverbed and the last climb of the day. Into a corner and my GC guy got himself unstuck in a technical corner again and I had to work really hard not to crash into him or fall into the ditch on the inside.
I heard the tyre give the recognizable sound of a burp and in the back of my mind just hoped it sealed again. After about 2km of chasing to get back up to the group, I could feel the tyre wavering across the trail as stability was not great. We were riding in some great, albeit rocky single track now and I could feel the rim on the trail so I let out a little frustration, my GC guy came around me as I was dismounting to get some air in.
It took me a full CO2 to get enough in that I was happy and I double-checked the valve and to make sure everything was sealed. I shook the tyre around a little but all seemed ok, but I had lost a good 3minutes by the time I got going again. It was going to be a solid 35km chase from there, so I had something to eat and drink and set about getting it done.
We were now in this vast, unspoilt Karoo goodness, so it was all-ok. What a great way to see this incredible country – by bicycle, albeit in a bit of a rush.
There is so much talk lately of all the crap going on here – load shedding, varsity fees, and corruption… the list is endless. And yet, here, we have been lucky enough to be untouched by any of it for a few days. It’s been good to get away and clear the head of all the incessant bad news in the media, if just for a few days.
I was pushing along, making sure the tyre was ok, when I came across my GC guy with his own admin going on. I slowed down and asked if he was ok, he said he was fine, so I rode the last bit of single track before we got to the last stop, 20km to go, on some superb district roads.
The profile read downhill to the line, and it was mostly downhill for the first 5km until we came to this magnificent dam. I instantly remembered it from last year, but it also brought back the memory that it was not nearly all flat to the finish. There were some leg-testing rollers in the way of a downhill finish, so I set about polishing off my remaining juice in intervals of 2.5km.
It’s a reward system essentially. Get through 2.5km and get a sip of juice. At the 10km sign to go, I was going along nicely, no major rush and rewarding myself accordingly. I realized that tomorrow this thing is all over around that time, which made me happy and a little sad.
I digress. I counted down the sips and mileage and at -0.5km to go (essentially the finish line should have been 500m back) I was in Calitzdorp and the traffic officer shouted ‘2km to go’ which was a little maddening, as it required me to reward myself with non-existent juice which was now finished.
108.5km into a 106km day, the line appeared and voila, across the line.
Minor hassles, no drama and a superb first climb of the day where I was able to play a small role in tactics, dynamics and put in a solid effort. My best start to the week, undoubtedly and a 3rd in Solo on the day. BOOM. I am a content man after all that.
SO much happened out there today in the 4hrs that it took. There were strange dynamics while being marked and while I am now only 3min off the overall podium for the Solo, I am not sure it’s even that important to me. I’ve already had a superb week and I am excited to be heading home soon back to my pregnant wife.
I did not get too many images today and I do apologize for the lack of in-race images, but today felt almost more like a personal ride. Riding in the group meant less time to get the camera out, stop and grab a superb image, so check out the official FB page for Cape Pioneer Trek today for some incredible images no doubt.
Last day tomorrow. Big climb to start, small climbs to follow and a fun, flat run-in to the line. Chat then for some overall anecdotes.