My CTL (Chronic Training Load) value is the highest it has ever been going into racing.
After Cape Epic I spent 4 weeks to build on my speed for the cross country season. I did all the crucial sessions and when it was time to take it easy I came down with flu for 5 days. The hard work was done, but I still had some after effects from the flu when it was time to race on Sunday.
My CTL (Chronic Training Load) value is the highest it has ever been going into racing.
Three years ago I raced on this same track in Albstadt when I came to Europe for the first time with Mr African (Mannie Heymans) and Team Garmin. The track had changed since three years ago, but the weather on race day was exactly the same.
My light weight Scott Scale RC 29er combined with Maxxis Beaver 2.0 tyres front and rear pumped to 19psi was the perfect combination for this steep and slippery course.
On the start line we had a moment of silence to pay our respects to Burry Stander and two other fallen riders. I was seeded 19th and had the perfect spot going into the first bit of single track lying around 8th. Throughout the race I could never really settle into a comfortable fast pace and just kept on losing positions. I just suffered throughout the whole race! This is normal to suffer, but usually I can find a “comfortable” pace to suffer in and get used to it. I think the flu still had the better of me in this race. I finished 57th. Hopefully I can prove myself right this weekend at Nove Mesto and get some confidence and reward for four weeks of hard training.
We are now in Nove Mesto. What a privilege to be here and thanks to Scott Sports Africa I even have Morne van Rensburg, AKA @Manniesebroer, with me as support!
Optimum recovery after every stage was our main focus in this year's tenth edition of The ABSA Cape Epic. Matthys and I never really raced together in the last 2 years, only against each other at local races. It took us the first two days to sort of "find" each other in this team racing vibe. We also settled into a good recovery ritual after each day witch involved USN recovery products, double shot espressos, ice baths, massages, beetroot juice and we even had an electric scooter to eliminate any unnecessary walking. For what ever little bit everything was worth, I think it all contributed to recovering faster and we only started feeling better throughout the eight days. Plenty of praying went into it all as well. So many things have to go right to do well in this race.
Another strategy we had was to ride conservatively and safe to ensure we have as little as possible mechanical issues or crashes...,we had absolutely none of this. The SCOTT Spark 29ers we raced also contributed in minimizing our overall body fatigue. I can not imagine how I did my first epic 4 years ago on a Aluminum 26 inch hard tail....,getting soft now..
We have learnt allot in this Epic and there is still loads of things that we can do better and we now have a whole year to plan and prepare for the next one!
Our goal with this Epic was to win the All African Jersey competition. We didn't know that we would have to race deep in the top 10 to get this jersey. Our worst day was definitely day 3. We both blew at about 90km and had to spend extra time refueling at the last waterpoint. We lost about 12 minutes on Cannondale Blend that day. The Podium we got on Stage 4 was with some luck, but our sprint finish on the final day was an all out effort!! That was probably the loudest cheer I've ever heard as we got onto the field! I would come back just to experience it again! Another special moment and honor was receiving the Burry Stander Memorial trophy from Cherise Stander for being the first African team.
African champs took place in Pietermaritzburg on the Cascades track. My legs were still very fragile after the fierce 4 days of racing at Grape Escape. For the first 3 laps Renay Groustra was away with me but unfortunately suffered a mechanical problem. I was alone and my pace was very chilled. I played it safe even into a few walks down the slippery rock garden. I wasn't keen on taking any unnecessary risks a week before Epic. The only problem I had in the race was on lap 5 where I slid out on one of the corners and burped my front tire and had to stop and inflate the wheel. I secured the title of Elite African Continental Champion for another year!
I raced The Nashua Grape Escape very aggressively and this probably cost me the shot at winning this stage race overall....,but I definitely got some good conditioning for the Epic out of this....
On day one I got in a break with Erik Kleinhans for a while and was later reeled in by a select bunch of riders. On a very undulating part of the route I kept on attacking, thinning out this lead bunch. Unfortunately I could't stick up the final climb and ended up 1min40s behind the leaders in 8th place.
On day two I took a gamble and made a early break for it about 20km into the race. Again I was reeled in with about 15km to go on the flat roads approaching the finish. Got 5th. I was now 4 minutes from the front.
With 20km to go on the final day, Christof was away and I bridged over to him and we worked together. I was going for the stage win or 3rd place overall. To get 3rd place I had to ride more or less 2minutes out of James Reid. I finished 2nd just behind Christof and could only ride 1min and a few seconds out of James. On GC at the end I managed to get 4th.
Sunday It was time for the Argus MTB race. My legs were definitely feeling it now. Riders that didn't race Grape Escape came with fresh legs and made the pace hard from the start. Confusion on route and plenty attacks scattered the field. Christof Sauser crossed the finish line first, followed by Matthys Beukes then me in 3rd. With all the confusion out on course the organizers decided to have two podiums in the mens competition. The second podium had Erik Kleinhans on the top step then Kohei Yamamoto second and Dominic Calitz in third.
My Epic partner, Matthys Beukes, seems to be back in full swing of things after having bronchitis and I am confident and happy with my current shape going into Epic.
The first 20km of the race was pretty chilled. As we started climbing up the first huge mountain of the day, Darren Lill got a gap on the rest of the field.
I bridged over to Darren on the very washed out and long high speed downhill after this climb. Time made up on any downhill is free..,I was very cautious though. Darren and I rode together for a while. He unfortunately took a wrong turn at some stage which left me alone up front with a 2min lead over the rest.
At about 70km just before we went out for the second loop I had to stop and plug a slow puncture. It seemed like the wheel would hold up. Later again I started loosing air and ran out of bombs with no tech-zones up ahead. By now I was already down into 9th position. I had to ride the last 25km on a very flat rear wheel. I was passed by one more rider 2km from the finish. No use in asking for a bomb at this stage....
Better luck next time!
Sabie was the first race on the Spark 29er...,fit the job prescription perfectly. I will definitely race this bike allot more!
Mud was the order of the day for the first SA cross country national race on Saturday. Seemed like these European conditions came with some European riders as well! We had the privilege to race against Florian Vogel And Ralph Naf, two top world ranked riders.
Up the climb in lap one I got to the front but briefly pulled off due to gear problems. This put me back in about 7th. I spent allot getting into the chasing bunch. It was now James Reid up in front and then a bunch including Brendon Davids, Ralph, Florian and I. We managed to reel James in after a few laps. I attacked and Ralph joined me only to have some bike problems later.
There was about a 25s gap between James and I for the last two laps that gave me the victory!
I've recently received the new Look S-Track MTB pedals and did a few rides and the last 2 races on them.I enjoy these pedals, they have a solid tight feel to them which gives me full confidence in sprints and technical sections. No fear of a foot jumping out of the pedal. They also have a huge contact surface that ensures no numbness or “stud pressure” to the feet. The quick and easy to find snap in action of this pedal will ensure for good starts at the XC races we compete in. The S-track Carbon Ti is their lightest version, weighing in at only 122g. For our riding conditions in South Africa I would recommend the slightly heavier, but tougher version called S-Track Race. (weight 145g)
Going down to race the EP Herald in Addo wasn’t initially part of the plan, but having half a race at Barberton, I decided to make the trip to PE
A strong field made for fierce racing! I managed to break away from the rest going through the XC track on route and rode sole for a few kilometers. Later I was joined by James Reid and John-Lee Augustine. We dropped John-Lee and seemed well away from the rest. To our surprise Matthys Beukes joined us with about 20km to go.
In the final 5km I was keen to take them on in a sprint finish. Matthys made a break for it, James responded and I jumped onto his wheel. With my turn to role through, James thought I came right and he gave way to the left, we clipped handlebars for a few seconds to long and both went down.
By the time we were back on our bikes Matthys was well away and set for the win. I managed to beat James in the sprint for second.
At Barberton I decided to race with my Scott Scale machine mainly because of the 3000m vertical climbing and most of the race was on smoothish roads....
Early on in the race Darren Lill got away and at one stage had a 6min gap on the chasing bunch. Before we reached the summit of the big 70km loop climb I decided to up the tempo and get a gap on the rest to capitalize on the downhill on my own. Matthys Beukes joined me and we made up some time. The gaps were now 3minutes to Darren in front and 3 minutes to the bunch behind us. I had not put myself in the suffer zone yet and played it very safe going down the mountain.
With about 15km to the 70km/120km split Matthys and I were joined by a smaller chasing bunch. At this time a thorn punched right through my tire straight into the rimtape, exactly where the nipple hole was. I used half a bomb to try and get it sealed again then eventually inserted a tube that already had a hole in it......what luck! The question you ask guys now at the sharp end of the race is, "do you want to give me a tube and a bomb?!" and not "do you have a tube and a bomb?!". I eventually got air into my tire again and by this time I was already close to 20min from the front. I decided to withdraw from the race at the 70km split and rather rest up for next weekend's race.
With heavy hearts we drove down to KZN and made our way to Port Shepstone on Thursday for the funeral of Burry Stander. A very emotional time for everyone. The pain seen in his family is heart breaking, one cannot imagine what they are going through. My prayers for strength, healing and peace go out to them.
In the short time I spent with Burry at the Olympic games and racing with him, I have learnt what it is to be a professional mountain bike racer. Burry as a person and everything he achieved in his life is nothing short of extraordinary. My Olympic qualification or any other of my best achievements would not have been possible without him. He paved the way for any South African rider who has dreams of becoming world class and he forced me to push myself over scary limits in racing. For that I am endlessly thankful and salute him.
Our tribute to Burry Stander would be to believe in ourselves, pursue and fulfil all his and our own dreams. Impossible is nothing! As Pastor Trevor Downham's message said at the memorial service, the halftime whistle has blown and it is time to reflect on our lives up to now and each make sure we move forward on the correct path laid out for us all.
Let us not forget Burry Stander, what he stood for as a person and let's be safe, considerate and awake out on our bikes and on the roads.
My first race of the season was The Cycle Fest the past weekend in Pietermaritzburg (Cascades).
With the start of our XCO race I decided to go hard from the gun and make sure I give the rest of the field a good shock, we now have a standard to uphold and no time to slack and make racing easy and slow.
Conditions were by far the worst that I've ever raced in at this venue, so I also thought that if I go out hard from the start and not win the race, I could always just blame it on the muddy conditions.. :)
I did the hard hours over the last two months and knew that I had good power. I managed to extend my lead throughout the race and win it in the end. Tyre choices had a huge influence in the outcome of your race in the muddy conditions. Fortunately I made the perfect decision to race with my 2.0 Maxxis Beaver tyres at 19psi.