It was a long time since I was so sick as after Cape Pioneer, I dont think I've been feeling so bad since I started cycling… It took 10 days before I felt that I could sit on a bike again and not until last weekend, 3 weeks later, did I feel completely recovered. I was a bit nervous about the 3 day stage race since the form of course was not on top and I did not know if the body would hold for 3 days of racing.
I had an entry for Wines 2 Whales, as the winner of last year's race, but I had not found a strong girl to race with, and was entered in a mixed team. When Candice Neethling asked me 2 weeks ago if I wanted to race with her I immediatly said yes, the women's field was going to be tough, since many of the best girls in the country would be there and the prize money had gone up significantly from last year! We had never done a race together and had only done a short ride together the day before the start. All I knew was that she is a good Cross country rider, so very good on the technical stuff!
Robyn was teaming up with Cathrine Wiliamson and they were going to be our toughest competition, many asked me why we were not teaming up sicne we had done 3 other races together this year, the answer was simply that she had asked Cath already in May before Robyn and I did our first stage race together:-) It did feel a bit strange to race against her instead of with her, I must say!
Day 1 73km 1450 meters climbing
We started at the Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West, and from the start we climbed up a 5km long hill! I felt good from the start and pushed as hard as I felt that Candice could hold on to and we got a gap to Robyn and Cathrine straight away. On the way down on the other side we went fast since we knew that was our chance to open the gap more. It was fun to ride behind Candice on the single tracks since she is so good on the technical stuff, it was really fast in places and I did what I could to keep up! The route takes us through a nature reserve where there is a compulsory portage for about 1km, Candice got blisters on her heels and we both got really tired legs after, I got cramps towards the end and I got a bit worried that the others were going to catch us! We were a bit different as cyclists, Candice was faster downhill and I was faster uphill, but we did the best of it and managed to keep Rob and Cath behind and won the stage!
Day 2 67km 1300 meters climbing
Once again we started up a hill and we got away from the others, but then we could not hold on to a bunch and soon Robyn and Cathrine caught us with another bunch. Candice was tired today and we could not pass Robyn and Cath so when we got to the first technical stuff we were just behind them, we knew we had needed to be in front of them to be able to get away. We lost them on the next uphill and they just drifted away from us and it became a race against the clock for us. We had a frustrating day since we caught up with a group on the single tracks and had no where to pass but to sit behind them, but on the open roads they were stronger then us so we could never pass them. We could have caught up time if we had had a free run on the single tracks this day, and it was a lot of single tracks. The route on day 2 is amazing!! We came 2nd for the day and lost the overall lead and was now 48 seconds behind Robyn and Cathrine on GC.
It was a little confusing when we were divided into age groups, counted on the youngest person in the team, and each age group had a leader jersey. So we were in the purple jersey for "Open woman" since Candice is 23 years old and if you are under 30 you are considered open woman and Robyn and Cathrine were in the green jersey for Sub Vets. So even if we were 2nd overall we rode in a leaders jersey which made people think we were in the lead...
Day 3: 76km 1250 meters climbing
We had a bit of pressure on us this day, with only 48 seconds up to the win! It was hard from the start and Candice fell behind on the first uphill, we fought our way back to the bunch but we were hanging on at the back and eventually lost them. We caught up on the single tracks again and on the 8km long downhill gravel road, we caught up wiht them. When passing the first water point at Botrivier we were on their wheel and the 2 ladies teams were at the back of a big group of about 20 riders. Candice struggled to accelerate out of the many corners going through the township and we slowly lost the bunch, it was heart breaking to see the bunch with the other girls dissapear, knowing that we had to do all the work ourselves. We were on our own for the rest of the race and everytime we saw Robyn and Cath they were in a small bunch. It was mentally hard to see and we were trying hard, but when we had 20km to go and we got a time of 1.55 behind we gave up a bit cause did not think we could get any closer. When we came to the last water point I still saw them on the last long climb, and we got a bit of hope again. After the last long downhill we heard 55 seconds, so we had taken a minute on them. We pushed hard but when we only had a few kilometers left and we still could not see them it was all over.
It was a very exciting race, thanks Robyn and Cath for the competition! I dont think that it has ever been so close in a ladies stage race in South Africa, it is very healthy for ladies cycling when our races are exciting and it makes people want to follow us!
We were still happy with 2nd place, even if it was only 2.06 behind and there was a tiny feeling of disappointment as well! A big thank you goes to Stillwater sport for putting up such an amazing event! This is one of the best organized race in South Africa, absolutely fantastic! The routes are so good that we would be happy if they stayed the same but still they keep improving them every year!! It must be the race with the most amount of single tracks in the whole country!
Thank you to Candice for being such a good partner and a huge thank you to CBC for always being behind me and supporting every race!!