What a journey it has been the last 7 days at the Cape Pioneer Trek, which for the first time had been granted UCI status and attracted many top international riders!
I teamed up once again with Robyn De Groot, who I won Sani2C and PE2Plett together with earlier this year, we ride very well together and without many words needed we understand each other both on and off the bike! It is in difficult situations that you really see if you are a good team , we got tested a lot during this week, it started with great success and ended with some tough days. This is what happened:
Day 1: Prologue 15km at Buffelsdrift. #BuffelsBattle
We started at 12 o'clock, when it was at its warmest! I do not know if I've ever been so nervous on a start line, my heart rate was already close to racing beats as they were counting down for us to start. My adrenaline went into my legs and I took off like a bullet, which I paid for closer to the end! We started as the last women's team and after a few kilometers we passed the team who started in front of us, and after about 6km we passed the team that would become our biggest competition during the week, Cathrine Williamsson from England and Alice Pirard from Belgium, team Asrin. We managed the technical bits nicely and with a few kilometers left, we passed the team which started three minutes before us, Yolandi Du Toit from South Africa and Aurelie HALBWACHS from Mauritius, team Garmin. We gave everything at the end and won the prologue by 19 seconds ahead of Cherise Stander and Candice Neethling, team iRideforBurry. We were happy to start the proper stages in the pink leaders jersey!
Day 2: Stage 1, Oudtshoorn to Calitzdorp, 100km, 1600 meters climbing #RedstoneRumble
We packed up all our stuff and moved in to our camper which would be our home for the next 5 nights and headed to the start in central Oudtshoorn, it was sunny and nice and would be a hot day, unlike this stage last year, which was the muddiest I have ever ridden in, so we were grateful for the heat! When the lead car let us go the race was in full swing and it was hard from the start. We got away as the first women's team but did not find any good groups to sit in and were mostly on our own, I struggled to find my legs a bit. Soon Cathrine and Alice caught up with us together with a bunch, and a bit later when the track did a U turn and we saw other riders we could see Theresa Ralph (my Epic partner) and Esther Suss of team Meerendal, not far behind. We put the hammer down on the uphills and managed to get away from both teams. We saw Cathrine and Alice again during the course so we had to ride hard all the time because we did not know how far behind they were. Towards the end we had a really heavy uphill and I battled a bit but enjoyed the technical descent on the other side before the final 15 last kilometers on gravel road. It was difficult today to determine how much energy should be spent because tomorrow's stage was the most important in the whole week! We won today's stage with about 4.5 minutes over Cathrine and Alice.
Day 3: Stage 2, Calitzdorp to the top of the Swartberg Pass, 87km, 2700 meters climbing #SwartbergShowdown
R125.000 (9000 euros) for first place on today's stage !! Nothing for second place! It is said that it is the MTB stage (or one-day race) with the largest prize money in the world. obviously we were a little extra nervous because we would love to win this stage! To win, we had to be first up the last hill, a climb of 10km with 1200 meters of ascent that finishes with an average gradient of about 12-15% over the last 3 kilometers!
The day started with about 20km on a dirt road, the whole peloton stayed together the whole way and it was good for my legs to warm up I felt stronger then yesterday when we started the first single track climb. We rode away from the other girls at the same time as we were trying not to burn too much in the beginning in case the others would catch up before the long climb to the finish, it was still a lot of climbing to be done before we got there! We thought that we were going well both uphill and downhill so we were a bit surprised when we saw Catherine and Alice just behind us at the long portage section. We went fast on a downhill to get away from them, sometimes you have to take a some risksJ I must admitt that we got a bit nervous when Robyns back brake stopped working, I am very impressed with her doing those downhills without a back brake!! After the last water point, we were completely on our own for the rest of the race, we were a bit worried that the others would catch up with a bunch so we were looking back a lot. We started asking people for time gaps and eventually we heard 4 and 5 minutes as we approached the bottom of the climb. One can easily loose that kind of time up that pass so we tried to go as hard as we possibly could without thinking of what was waiting at the top! The last steep kilometers were pure pain, but worth every little piece of it as we crossed the finish line as the winners of the historical stage with the biggest prize money ever for a single stage!! My legs were cramping but we could not stop smiling and laughing as we could not really understand that we had actually done it!!! Cathrine and Alice came in 2nd around 7 minutes after us which meant that we had gone up faster than them. All we had to do now was to finish the stage race and the money would be ours…
Day 4: Stage 3, Prince Albert to De Rust, 107km, 1500 meters of climbing #MeiringsMagic
This day we had decided to take it easy, we would have a recovery day to charge the battery for the next day which would be the toughest day of the week! We started on a flat dirt road again and sat nicely in the bunch but after about 9 kilometers the bunch split and we were in the second half together with Asrin and Meerendal, we all rode together until we got to some tough and rocky sections, there we got away from the others but we were on our own and they got back to us with a bunch. When we got to the longest climb of the day with some rocky portage sections, Meerendal dropped and we were alone with Asrin. We ended up riding the whole race with them and I dont think it turned out to be as much of a recovery day as we would have liked. The last 15 kilometers went through Meirings port, one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world! We were in a bunch of about 10 riders and I said to Robyn that we must try to sprint, she looked at me and said she was tired, and I said we must just try and see, after all we both come from a roadie background;). We went around the last corner and I started my sprint and I could see and hear that Robyn came with me, with about 50 meters to go we both looked back to see that we were far ahead of everyone else in the little bunch, so we got our 4th consecutive stage win!!
Day 5: Stage 4, De Rust to George, 109km, 2500 meters climbing #KammanassieKanon
Today's stage was 2 of last years stages put togheter!! It felt a bit cruel that this year we would have to do it as one stage and it was also cold and raining at the start! I knew immediately that Robyn was not herself today when she said it was hard as we were approaching the first climb in to the Kammanassie. Cathrine and Alice rode away from us there and we never saw them again that day. Robyn battled with the long portage section, she does not like walking, we are cyclists, right!? At the first technical zone we were told that we were about 3.5 minutes behind, so there was still hope! But on the long open gravel roads we were on our own and Robyn was empty on energy this day, it was more trying to minimize our losses and luckily I felt stronger today so I could sit at the front and pace. At the next water point we were 8 minutes behind and we still had 50 km to go. We climbed up the Louvain climb and as we started to descend on the other side Robyn suddenly stopped and said she thought she had a flat tire ... Very true, it was a side wall cut and we first tried to plugg but the hole was too big and when we tried to unscrew the scewer it just fell apart and we had to use an allen key to get the quick release out. When we finally got the wheel off the bike we managed to put a tube in and got going again, but I think we stood there for about 15 minutes, Theresa, Esther, Candice and Cherise all passed us while we were there. We got going again and it was terrible cold (I think I got my cold there and then). After a while Robyn felt the wheel wobbling a bit and we rode carefully for about 20 km to the next tech zone, the mechanic told us it was fine and we could carry on, but our speed was not high. It was a combination of everything that went wrong today and we crossed the finish line 38 minutes after Cathrine and Alice who took over the pink jerseys from us, of course it was disappointing but these things happen in this sport.
It was wet, muddy and cold in the afternoon and I began to feel tired and sickish in the evening and at bedtime I had a really sore throat. I was hoping for a miracle during the night but it did not happen...
Day 6: Stage 5, George to Louvain (Herold), 51km, 1200m climb #MontagueMettle
I woke up with a swollen throat and had difficulty swallowing, I was glad that today's stage had been shortened because the single tracks we should have started with were too wet and muddy to ride on. The start was delayed to 9:15 and the stage only 51 kilometers long. We started with the Montague pass and it went surprisingly well, at the top we were just behind both Catherine and Alice and Cherise and Candice, and we caught up with them at the bottom and sat in the group. My energy was getting low and I just just hung on at the back on the flats but as soon as we came to a short steep hill I was off the back. Soon Esther and Theresa caught up with us and I had to tell Robyn to let them go, my body had completely switched off! The last few kilometers to the finish was a real battle and as soon as I crossed the line I layed down exhausted! I tried to stand up but fainted and the doctors came to check on me. I must say that the medics at races are really good, they did lots of tests and checked everything. I ”only” had a bad throat infection, so probably start of a flu, all I could do was to eat and sleep!
Day 7: Stage 6, Louvain to Oudtshoorn, 87km, 900m climb #ChandelierChampagne
I was not feeling good at all when I woke up, so there was only one thing left to do, simply just cross the finish line in Oudtshoorn, although I must say that it felt like an incredibly big task on this particular day! It felt wrong to sit on a bike when I was feeling like I was and I think someone above told me that we would take it easy on the day! Only 300 meters from the start, I got a steel wire entangled in the front wheel and we had to stop and try to get it out, this meant that we were now starting at the back, probably where we belonged! Robyn was a super partner this day and helped me as much as she could, she made sure that I sat on her wheel or some big guy's wheel so I got a good slip, she pushed me on the uphills and if someone was in the way she shouted for them to move! She was increadably patient when she constantly had to slow down for me! It is in these situations that you can tell if you have a good team partner or not. When all goes well and you are doing well, it's easy to ride together with anyone but in difficult situations it is important to have a good partner by your side, and I had the best!
Even if we "only" needed to finish to get our Swartberg prize we still wanted to try to hold on to second place overall (after all we are competitive persons), we had a 25 minutes up on Theresa and Esther which were in third. So all we wanted to know at the technical zone was how far behind them we were, nothing else mattered. We were told the 5.5 minutes down at half way, we should make it but when we got to Chandelier game reserve I had absolutely no power and everyone around us rode away from us as if we were standing still, I could barely get up the hill! We crossed the finish line about 11 minutes after Theresa and Esther and it was a total mix of relief, happiness, joy, exhaustion and pride that we actually did it! We won second place and we won the biggest stage prize ever and the combination of this made us feel like winners!! It was so nice to see Andy and Scott from my sponsor Cape Brewing Company at the finishing line and I could see that they were as proud of me as I was to represent them!
Craig was also representing Cape Brewing Company in the solo men category, it was one of the strongest fields at this years Pioneer with 58 guys racing. He also had good days from the beginning and some tougher close to the end. He did well and finished top 10 every day and overall! Well done honey!
A massive thank you goes to Cape Brewing Company and Robyn’s sponsor Biogen Toyota who all made this possible for us!! Without you we could not get to the top! Also big thank you to Pronghorn for my bike, Powerbar for my race fuel, Continental tires for yet another stage race without punctures (on my bike), GripGrap that makes my hands have a comfortable journey and Rudy Project that protects my head and eyes!
If anyone ever goes to Oudtshoorn and need accommodation, I can highly recommend staying at La Pension Guest house, I have never seen such nice and helpful hosts !! Absolutely fabulous! We stayed here the first 2 nights in Oudtshoorn and the last evening after the race! Beautiful place!!
Big Shot Media TV production - Prologue
Big Shot Media TV production - Stage 1
Big Shot Media TV production - Stage 2
Big Shot Media TV production - Stage 3
Big Shot Media TV production - Stage 4
Big Shot Media TV production - Stage 5
Big Shot Media TV production - Stage 6