The Bridgestone Route 69 Mountain bike Experience is a 3 day mountain bike stage race held in the Magaliesburg region of Gauteng. This meant rocks and lots of them! It was a race Sean and I had won last year so naturally we were keen to defend our title.
Day 1 start, trying to look serious.
Photo Credit: Deon – Waterpoint
Day one would start at Valverde Hotel and finish some 80km’s and 1200m of ascent later at Van Gaalens cheese farm. There was a bit more competition this year in the form of the Exxaro teams also using this race as preparation for the ABSA Cape Epic as we were and a couple of teams from Cycle Lab/Toyota. A relatively cruisey pace saw us entering the first single tracks not long into the race. Unfortunately Sean burped his tyre and we had to stop to bomb it quickly. Our chase back to the front end was slow as it was difficult to pass teams in the many single tracks. Credit must be given to course designer Eric as these were in much better condition than last year.
Our bad luck continued just after re-joining the front end of the race I managed to bend my chain and in the process the front derailleur somehow?! We soon managed to fix this and set off in chase of the front group once again. We got a bit too caught up in our chase and by our own mistake missed a turn and rode some 3km’s down the road before realising our mistake. It was still early in the day and; there was still a good two and a half days of riding ahead; so we again tried to make our way back.
Our chase resumed until an ambiguous route marking saw us get lost again. We realised our mistake when summiting a koppie and reaching a complete dead end… I’ve had enough of writing about our misfortunes now so something a bit more positive. 🙂
Trying to make back time.
Image Credit: Deon – Waterpoint
We kept a constant pace through the rest of the day, not taking too many risks on the downhill’s with the many sharp rocks and eventually finished the day in 7th place and some 12minutes down on the first team. Not an ideal platform for the rest of the race but it wasn’t game over yet.
Our second day was resoundingly more successful! I had noticed some of the other teams were struggling in the technical single track on the previous day and with the first 5km of the stage being single track I made a decision in the first 30 seconds of the stage to just bang it and see what happened. Our move paid dividends and we emerged onto the dirt road with one of the solo riders and almost a minute gap. We worked well together on the gravel roads and would guess we opened this up to almost two minutes at the foot of the first climb, a torturous ascent up cement strips and very rocky jeep track. With Sean on the gas we managed to ride away from the solo rider here and soldiered on encountering some amazing single track down the other side of the mountain.
Image Credit: Deon – Waterpoint
With things were getting a bit hot at the front end I took an unplanned swim in through one of the river crossings with my front wheel washing out on the slippery algae. It actually was quite refreshing and no damage was done to bike or body.
Sean and I pushed on with the chasers closing the gap at one stage but we managed to consolidate and again open our gap up the second major climb along a rough, tufty, grassy trail up a mountain. To say that this climb was tough would be an understatement but I knew if it was hard for us it would be hard for everyone.
We kept things going trying to be consistent as possible and fought a big battle missioning up the last climb. We knew it was hard from last year but one forgets how never ending it feels. After pushing through we eventually crossed the line to take a very hard fought but satisfying win.
With some uncertainty on how much time we had made back and what the GC looked like Sean and I pretty much hit it out from the gun again. Day 3 was 60km in length with 800m of ascent. I remembered from last year it was a particularly fast day with the winning time a shade over two hours.
The beginning of the stage encompassed quite a lot of rough terrain and a few hard rolling hills through the veld. Sean and I stayed in the front and kept the pressure on which resulted in the other riders gradually falling off the bunch until it was just us and one of the solo riders left at the sharp end 15km in.
We backed off on the rocky single track and pushed on the dirt roads and climbs not wanting to risk a silly puncture. Our tactic worked and we built up a steady lead of up to nearly four minutes at one stage. It felt pretty rock start with the TV chopper following us for most of the dayJ
You know how they say it’s not over until the fat lady sings… Well it really wasn’t. With around 10km to go, most of which was on tar and a four minute lead it seemed as though things were finally starting to go our way until disaster struck… I was in front with the solo rider in between Sean and I. We were pushing along the tar at about 40km.h and I only noticed a left hand marker into the single track at the last moment. There was no pre marker which was unfortunate especially considering the pace one would expect the top teams to be going along the tar at. I shouted to the other two “Left”, started slowing down and when I realised we wouldn’t make it got off the brakes. Personally I don’t feel as though I braked hard and having done a good deal of road racing know how to ride in a bunch. I think the solo rider perhaps braked too hard as I heard his tyres lock up and this resulted in Sean going into the back of them and their bikes tangling. I glanced under my shoulder and saw Sean crash exceptionally well in that he got into a good roll position and barely came off with a few scratches. His bike however was not so fortunate. Additionally the way in which he had crashed had caused a puncture with so many holes which needed to be plugged the next best option was to put a tube in. This we did after trying to bomb the tyre twice.
Approaching one of the drop off’s.
Image Credit: Deon – Waterpoint
It was heart breaking to see teams passing us while we fixed the puncture so close to the finish after so much hard work. Sean had ridden so well and we had made up a good deal of time potentially putting us in the position to win the race. Unfortunately that’s bike racing and we had given it our best shot. We have to put this disappointment behind us and focus on the rest of our build up going into the ABSA Cape Epic going forward.
For me it’s back to Durban where I will be racing the Momentum Health UCI XCO races over the next two weekends at Karlkloof and then Cascades.
If you’re still reading this hope you’ve enjoyed reading probably one of the longest blog’s I’ve ever typed… whew… need another cup of coffee.
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