Excitement builds for skinny wheel action

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                                                                              French Broad Classic Criterium

                                                                                               Image Credit: Ash Smit

 

I find myself strangely excited with the return to what was my bread and butter last year. Yes, skinny wheel action and more specifically criteriums…

 

After racing a couple of crit’s in the USA last year, I remarked that we didn’t have ‘real’ criteriums in South Africa and hence I found myself in front of a steep learning curve. “My love hate relationship with criterium racing” rings a bell…

 

Come Sunday, I will be lining up at Century City with the Lights by Linea team to take on the final race in the Lights by Linea Hero Challenge Series. Strangely enough, I have not yet managed to do any of these crits and from what I have seen I am proud to say they look like REAL crits!

 

Sunday will be the warm up if you will for next week’s: Bestmed Tour de Boland where I too will be racing with the LBL boys. The four day tour precedes the Cape Argus Pic n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour come the following Sunday (that event name is for real, no kidding!). The Tour de Boland which a couple of years ago was one of my first tours on the road kicks off with a 20km time trial and is followed by 3 road stages, with the final stage finishing atop the beast of a climb that Franschoek Pass is.

 

The Argus, as it is better known as will be raced after a day’s rest. As the biggest timed event in the world with 35 000 participants it carries a certain amount of prestige to win it, even though it is affectionately known as the “Fun Riders World Champs”. It won’t be easy to win it and despite what some may say, in the South African domestic cycling world, being the Argus Champ carries more value than being the National Champ!

 

Until next week then, ciao!

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UCI World Marathon Series: MTN Sabie

It’s not often that a plan comes together, and when it does, it’s awesome! The Dutoit Tankwa Trek and the MTN Sabie UCI World Marathon Series races, a week apart, were my first goal races for the year and I am pleased that both went according to plan.

 

(Check out the reports on Tankwa below if you have not yet seen them)

 

I haven’t raced in Sabie for a number of years, as an elite athlete not once actually! Quite a scary thought considering the number of years I have raced mountain bikes in South Africa. My last visit to the Louwveld town was at the age of 17, where I was racing the National XCO Cup race and finished 7th in the junior men. On this trip I was fortunate enough to join Tess and Rodney from Enervit for the weekend.

 

Now I would be lining up with the big boys, all guns blazing. As the race was part of the UCI World Marathon series and afforded opportunities to qualify for the UCI World Marathon Championships to be held in June this year, a stacked local and international field lined up. Just about anyone who’s anything in South African mountain biking was there, along with once again, a strong German presence from the Bulls and the Ultrasport Rose teams.

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Platt on the move.

Image Credit: Zoon Cronje

Rodney from Enervit affectionately described Sabie as being on the bottom of a fish bowl, hence the only way out, is up. And yes we went up, soon after the gun, tackling the sh!t show of a mud bath that had brewed overnight. The mud, as I’m sure you have seen, heard or experienced was a dog show. I myself didn’t mind it, but I did feel sorry for my bike, which held up very well through tough conditions, but will need some serious TLC this week. With conditions as they were, managing your equipment became as important as managing your efforts. I think I did both well and it paid dividends in the last hour of 6 hour race when I think most had budgeted for a 5 hour day.

 

This is not to say I didn’t have a good few what the f&ck am I doing here moments, but as I felt strong towards the end, I picked up shrapnel from guns blazing early on and finished in a strong 12th position. The job on the day was to qualify for World Marathon Champs (a top 20 was needed) and I am glad to say it was done. To be honest I was always aiming higher than this and am content with the result on the day, steadily moving up.

 

With the first part of my 2014 campaign done, it’s back to the drawing board to refine the rough sketch of my next plan into a work of art. This translates to hours in the pain cave, but when a plan comes together; it’s just worth it…

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Mud and bicycles, the bike shops will be doing well this week.

Image credit: Zoon Cronje


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I think she may have had more fun than I did.

Image Credit: Zoon Cronje

Dutoit Tankwa Trek Day 3: Position 3

After a day to forget on day one of the Dutoit Tankwa Trek, to finding my legs on the second stage to a surprising result which I am stoked about the race really has come a full circle for me. I snuck onto the podium in 3rd place with the Bull’s hot shot profis Urs Huber and Karl Platt grabbing the top two steps. Convincingly I might add.

 

The 3rd and final stage had somewhat of a different take to it. It was shorter at just 63km but we would ride 26km in a neutral procession, to where the stage proper would start. The poetic side of me related this to the Tour riders leisurely pedalling into Paris on the final stage, sipping on champagne before the final business, laps on the Champs Elysees started, in our case, one last lap in single track heaven around the Koue Bokkeveld.

 

We rode some truly phenomenal single track on the third and final stage. I boxed smart, spending my penny’s wisely. Fortunately I had my super back up team at the 2nd water point and topped up the energy and morale levels from their support. From here it was a good 30km to the finish line. Racing with teams and individuals adds a somewhat different dynamic to it and it takes a day or two of working out who is involved in which race. I had thus calculated I was in 3rd on the day but you can never know for sure. Being on my own for the final 30km resulted in me riding a consistent, hard effort all the way to the line. I wanted to eliminate the possibility of having some of the other solo guys catching back up to me, and having to dice in the closing kilometres. The gap which I built would also allow me a minute or two’s respite should I have any mechanical incidents.

 

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Water point replenishment.

Image Credit: Kirsten Smit


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Image Credit: Oakpics

I was pleased to hold the chasing group of 3 solo guys: Nic Lamond, Oli Munnk and Waylon Woolcock at bay and get a foot onto the podium on the final stage.

 

I know I have raved about the exceptional quality of Dryland’s events day in and day out. I can assure you they are NOT paying me to say this and if you have a look at the Tweets they have received it only confirms what I have said. Dryland certainly have set the bar high with this race and hopefully other race organisers can follow suit. A big thank you to the race sponsors notably Dutoit, Wilde and Kaleo Manor, without whom this race would not be as big a success as it was.

 

This coming weekend I head upcountry to Sabie to take on the MTN Sabie Ultra Marathon which also doubles as a UCI World Marathon Series race.

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Loving the Merida Big 99 Team.

Image Credit: Oakpics

Dutoit Tankwa Trek Day 2: Finding my legs

After a day to forget yesterday I am pleased to report that the legs seemed to have come around overnight, thankfully.

 

Yesterday was a tough one for me, not quite feeling like I know I should and being much further down than I would have liked, it left me questioning what I was doing as a bike rider. The mind games start, as they usually do and I couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason as to why I was feeling like I did.

 

Fortunately I have travelled with Team Bosal and their off the bike their antics have kept the morale high. The rally drive to dinner after getting lost and the constant friendly banter helped take my mind off things. I have mentioned Team Bosal before, although I should probably dedicate a blog post solely to them in the future to bring the readers up to speed, so to speak with the nature of the relationship and how the name of this team was derived.

 

This morning we were once again we were off to a fiery start, with the speed high the front group was whittled down to the usual protagonists. This time, I was there too, not just hanging on for dear life but comfortably. The descent down the escarpment, towards Ceres, was on a newly constructed section of single track. This trail was crafted by local farmers: Mauritz Walters and Fred Lingenvelde and their workmanship was exceptional. I found myself sandwiched between the pairing of Martin Gujan and Ralph Naef… No pressure having a former XCO World Champion hot on your rear wheel…

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The lead group early on.

Image Credit: Zoon Cronje

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The peak of the Merino Monster at casual 1700m above sea level.

Image Credit: Zoon Cronje

 

The group split and rejoined a couple of times until the decisive moves on the climb back up the escarpment went. The warm up if you will, for the beast, the Merino Monster that hungrily awaited our arrival. The 8km beast saw us ascending 800 vertical metres, on mostly good road but some sections ramping up to 18% in the exposed heat had us begging for mercy.

 

The rugged, technical descent allowed no respite but once we were off it, 10km lay between the finish line and the riders. I had kept Stefan Sahm within 45seconds going up the Monster and now set about trying to close that gap on the flatter roads to the finish. Despite a good effort, if I may say so myself, Sahm held me off and finished some 15 seconds ahead of me at the line.

 

It was not an easy day out by any means but the riders will most certainly agree it was a rewarding one. Hopefully I can carry the good legs through the final stage tomorrow.

 

Results:

Teams:

 

  1. Bulls 1 – Stiejbahn & Bohme
  2. Trek Racing – Reid & Davids
  3. Fairview Elite – Louw & Looser
  4. Greenhope – Naef & Gujan
  5. Cannondale Blend powered by Red E – Keey and Lill

 

Solo:

 

  1. Urs Huber (Bulls)
  2. Karl Platt (Bulls)
  3. Waylon Woolcock (Cannondale Blend powered by Red E)
  4. Chris Wolhuter (Sponsor needed 😉  )
  5. Jurgens Uys (Contego)

Dutoit Tankwa Trek Day 1: The running of the Bulls

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The lead bunch in the morning light.

Image credit: Zoon Cronje

 

Day one of the Dutoit Tankwa Trek certainly marked the running of the Bulls. A full squad of the German team arrived on the start grid and took matters into their own hands from the gun, controlling the race and keeping the speed high.

 

This translated into putting me in the hurt box and keeping me there for quite some time. Visions of myself sitting in the leading bunch, watching the big boy’s trade punches, ended just under an hour into the four hour stage for me. The lights were on but no one was home today. Essentially, it ended up being a good hard slog through the Koue Bokkeveld. It was however made more pleasurable aboard my new beast, the Merida Big 99 Team issue bike and when the opportunity arose I took in the beauty of the surroundings.

 

Nonetheless, it is fantastic to be back at a Dryland event and be looked after so well. The dining at these races is on another level to their competitors and with hard days of back to back racing I am taking full advantage of this. This is just one aspect of where Dryland have got it right, attention to detail and looking after their customers, the riders, ensures that their repeat business is exceptionally high.

 

One must also consider that this race is only in its second year and having gone from less than 100 riders last year to selling out at 350 riders this year it is phenomenal. Growth has not only been number wise but the quality of the field has improved drastically too. As I mentioned the Bulls arrived with a full squad of some 6 riders competing in an assortment of teams and individuals. BMC’s Ralph Naef teamed up with Martin Gujan and the Euro-African partnerships comprised of Konny Looser together with Adriaan Louw and Erik Kleinhans teaming up with Frantisek Rabon under the RECM-Specialized banner. The South African contingent certainly came to the party too with a full squad from the Cannondale Blend team, Charles Keey and Darren Lill riding as a team and Waylon Woolcock solo. Reid and Davids joined forces under the Trek-Privateer banner. The solo category was bolstered with Cape locals Jurgens Uys and Oli Munnik. As you can see I could go on and on…

 

The bulls took top honours in both the teams and solo categories with Trek-Privateer the second team and the podium rounded out by the Cannondale Blend duo. I mustered up a 7th in the solo cat, a couple more minutes down than I would have liked to be.

 

Time to put the legs up, reload the engine and tomorrow we try again. Another running of the bulls or will we see another pairing step up and take the role of the matador? Time can only tell.

 

Results:

Teams:

 

  1. Bulls
  2. Trek Privateer
  3. Cannondale Blend powered by Red-E

 

Solo:

 

  1. Urs Huber
  2. Karl Platt
  3. Wayloon Woolcock

 

 

 

Dutoit Tankwa Trek Preview

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With bikes loaded on the back of the car and the excitement building, the Dutoit Tankwa Trek start is just hours away now. By excitement I mean trips (yes that’s right with an ‘s’ at the end) to the pain cave. Rumour has it, that as a reward the local boere have built some exceptional single track to compensate us for the suffering.

 

The second edition of this premier stage race sold out last week, and from what I have heard for good reason too. No doubt with Dryland being the event organisers it will surely be another great weekend of racing in the Koue Bokkeveld.

 

I will be taking on the race in the solo category, i.e. if I lose my sh!t out in the Karoo, there will be no-one to help me. I’m a big boy though; I should be fine and will have a front line seat to the battles between the big boys each day. On paper, the first two stages look anything but easy with a shorter, although I’m sure if reputation is anything to go by, not necessarily easier run in to the finish on the 3rd and final stage come Sunday.

 

Once again we will have a rock star line up on the grid. The rumours of another euro invasion on the race, has not being taken lightly by the South African pros, who will want to prove their mettle on home dirt. It does also mean, scarily, that we may be subject to replays of 90’s euro dance music each night in the race village. Which will cause more suffering? I’m not sure…

 

Many teams will be using the event as their first major test for the upcoming Cape Epic. Thus it will clearly show who is in tune with each other and which partners are no longer on speaking terms at the end of the three day extravaganza in the Koue Bokkeveld. As mentioned the route profiles and descriptions sound anything but easy. Thus not only will team dynamics be tested but fitness levels too, either all is on track or you may be considering selling that Epic entry come Monday morning.

 

With myself and many others being virgins to the event I’m not quite sure what we have all got ourselves into. Surely though, it will be another awesome weekend of mountain biking in the African bush. I’ll keep the news coming each day, relaying our adventures to you lot stuck in civilisation.

 

You can also follow the race action on the official Twitter account here.