I had not done a stage race in a while and Robyn and I had not raced together since the Cape Epic so we were a bit unsure of our form as a team. It was going to be my 4th consecutive Pioneer so I guess I can no longer say that I am new to Mountainbiking. Craig also did the race for the 4th time! The race had changed a bit from previous years and for the first time we did not start in Oudtshoorn but in Mossel Bay, the race went to Oudtshoorn in the middle of the week and also to finish there as per usual. To be honest I felt that the route was better before since it was a lot more gravel road riding now. Unfortunately there were only 4 ladies team on the start list which was a pity since the organisers did go through a huge effort to get UCI status for the event and there were UCI points up for grab. Never the less did we have really stiff competition from Team Sasol in Esther Suss and Cathrine Wiliamsson.
Mossel Bay prologue 13 km
The prologue route was a big mix of fun technical single tracks, super steep tar climbs and some urban areas where I would not have guest to find a mountainbike trail… Esther and Cathrine started 1 minute behind us and we pushed hard from the start so they could not catch a sight of us. I felt really good throughout the 34 minute race, Robyn battled a bit but we managed to win by just over a minute to start the first long stage in the pink leaders jersey.
Stage 1 Mossel Bay to George, 111 km, 2052 meters of ascent
The route for the first stage was on the Diaz beach but due to the high tide it had to be changed and we were taken through town on a 10 km neutral zone which took us 35 minutes! It was very slow!! When we eventually got going we had to pass through narrow obstacles and pavements so it was just chaos. We came out of the chaos a bit behind Cath and Esther and had to chase to catch up. We were all 4 together over some of the major climbs but just before the water point we dropped back a bit and could not get back on to them after the change of bottles. It became a long day and towards the end I got very tired and we came to George 5 hours after we left Mossel Bay and 8 minutes behind the other girls. We lost the leaders jersey and were now almost 7 minutes behind on GC.
Stage 2 George to Oudtshoorn, 86km, 1253 meters of ascent
Once again we had a neutral start and this time it was so slow it was difficult to balance the bike. They took us all the way to the start of Montague pass before they let the race begin and it was a bit of a shock for the legs to go straight on to the climb! The first part felt fine but after the dip as we started the second part of the pass my legs just gave in, I had a feeling of wanting to just stop there and then but luckily I had Robyn by my side and it helped me fighting to the top. Unfortunately this day consisted mostly of open gravel roads so it was difficult for us to fight on our own when we could see the big bunch with Esther and Cath in the far distance. At least we only lost 17 seconds on the second half of the course so we still had our hopes up. We were 5 minutes behind at the finish and now 12 minutes down on GC. It was 39 degrees when we arrived in Oudtshoorn so the pool at La Pension was a real gem!
The start of Montague pass
Stage 3 Oudtshoorn to De Rust, 92km, 1950 meters ascent – The Kammanassi day!
We were going to tackle the famous Kammanassi on this day, last year we lost this race on the Kammanassi day… This year the Kammanassi was kinder to us. After the neutral zone we had a long gravel road and it was easier to sit in the bunch. We ended up together with Sasol and rode together with them for a long time, there were some fast technical descends and some rocky climbs which were a lot of fun. Eventually I could not keep up and we fell behind even though we could see them the whole time. At the waterpoint after 54 km we were only 40 seconds behind. Soon after we entered the rough terrain of the Kammanassi we saw the pink jerseys up front, they were fixing a puncture. As Ewald Sadie, the photographer who was capturing the action, said to us “Ladies, you just walked yourself in to the lead of a bike race”. It was impossible to ride there and I think every single rider who had been to the race briefing had a thought of Henties (the guy in charge of the route) who had said that he could ride up there. Later that evening he said it had been on a motor bike…. We were very cautious the rest of the bit of the Kammanassi, both up and down, to keep the bike and ourselves in one piece which was the most important that day. I found some new energy the last 20 km and felt strong again, we pushed really hard and were hoping to get the jersey back. We managed to do so since Esther and Cath had struggled with that puncture and only finished 19 minutes behind us, giving us a lead of 7 minutes.
When we passed Cath and Esther while they were fixing the puncture
Kammanassi is tough....
Craigs team mate had punctured early on when everyone were still together but they had not passed us, so I was a bit worried about what could have happened. After I had showered I heard another rider talking about someone who was badly injured in the Kammanassi and I heard him saying Craig. I went to the organisers and asked them to find out, eventually we heard that he had been bandaged by the race doctor but he was still riding and on his way to the finish. He had cut his under arm in to the bone and had to have stitches, his leg had lots of cuts and needed plaster and his finger was so badly bruised that the doctor thought it was broken. He went for an x-ray and luckily it was all good! But it was the end of his race….
Craig was riding well in the Kammanassi until he fell...
Craig on his way to the finish all bandaged up
Stage 4 De Rust to the top of Swartberg pass, 65 km, 2111 meters of climbing
Good to start in pink again! I felt good at the start and was hoping that the legs were back. We had a lot of gravel roads in the beginning and we ended up in a bunch together with Cath and Esther and it was all good, until we entered some single tracks, we were on the girls wheels but 2 mens teams squeezed in in front of us and they lost the wheels of the girls, I felt good at that stage but it was difficult to pass, so after the single track climb we were 40 seconds back. Once again we saw them in a bunch on the open roads and we ended up alone. When we got to the bottom of Swartberg pass we heard that we were 5 minutes behind. I felt good in the beginning of the 9 km climb with the 1000 meters of climbing but somewhere in the middle that feeling was gone and it was a struggle to the top. We lost the jersey and I was starting to really dream about a good form.
Stage 5 Prins Albert to Calitzdorp, 108 km, 2223 meters of climbing
The Queen stage! For the first time in the history of the Cape Pioneer did you ride up the Swartberg pass from the other side, we rode down it every year to the race village in Prins Albert from the top when we finish up there, but I had never ridden up that side. To spice things up Dryland had put in a mountain prize for the top with some different rules. The teams were not allowed to help each other in the terms of pushing, so no one was allowed to touch another rider. This was to make it fair for the solo riders who also raced in the men or ladies category. The mixed teams could also split up the pass to race for the price. If a team came to the top first it was the second rider who counted but if a solo rider or rider from a mixed team it was obviously that person who counted. This was both good and bad for us. The good thing was that Esther could not push Cathrine so we had a better chance of staying with them but there were also a very strong girl in a mixed team.
As usual I could not keep up on the very steep part so I had to let go early on, but we kept the same distance to Cath and Esther for a long time and we also caught them again a bit after the downhill on the other side. Fienie Barnard from the mixed team caught us and rode with us for a long time, but when she picked up the speed about 500 meters from the top I had no response so we were 3rd at the top.
This was a tough day, we had lots of climbing still to do after the pass and the rest of the climbing was on single tracks. This stage was the exact opposite to last years stage from Calitzdorp to the Swartberg pass, but everything looked so different from this direction. After we caught Esther and Cath we rode with them for a bit but lost them again, even though it was a long and tough day we were only 4.40min behind so I guess after this week it was not too bad, but the overall win was gone with the wind.
Stage 6 Calitzdorp to Oudtshoorn, 68,5 kilometer, 950 meters of climbing
I was relieved that it was the last day! We were a bit late for the start so I did not warm up and typically this was the only day when we did not have a long neutral start so my legs were burning big time when they let us go. It was a shorter and flater stage which suited me and we could easily keep up with Cath and Esther. Just after the first water point I heard something banging my frame, I stopped and found a stick stuck in my tyre, I was just about to pull it out when I thought I must just ride over to Robyn who was in front and I think that luck was on my side, cause suddenly the noise stopped and I don’t know if the stick broke off or if it pulled out, all I saw was the sealant spraying and then suddenly that nice moment when you hear it stopping because the sealant had done its job! So we could get going again and started chasing! We caught them and rode with them for the rest of the race. I was preparing for a sprint when I suddenly fell about 1-2 km from the finish in the last corner before we hit the tar in Oudtshoorn, I don’t know what happened but I was suddenly laying on the ground and struggled to get up. We tried to chase but couldn’t, a stage win was not on the cards for us today.
Some great single tracks on the last day:-)
So we ended up in second around 7-8 minutes behind Esther and Cathrine, maybe not so bad considering how I had been feeling but certainly not the result we were hoping for when we left Mossel Bay a week earlier… That is life and sport, you cannot always feel on top!
Thank you Robyn for helping me all week and thank you to Mags and Barry for all the support at the race! Well done to Cathrine and Esther, you were both very strong!!
Now a few days after the race I am still tired and I am looking forward to a longer rest. We just have a few more races to finish the season off with first. Wines2Whales is in 10 days and it is one of my favourite races so I am looking forward to that, I just hope my legs and body wants to join me!