It was a busy week leading up to Tankwa Trek with meetings, photo shoots for Team Meerendal/CBC and press conference, all for the Cape Epic and it felt a bit like more focus was on the Cape Epic instead of the 3 day stage race we had coming up. As usual some last minute stress accord when I fetched my bike from a race check service and was told my shock was broken and needed to be fixed at Omnico in Cape Town, we were supposed to leave the next morning. A huge thank you to Joggie from Scott for helping me out and had it fixed the next morning!
I was really looking forward to doing the first race together with Esther, we have known each other for 8 years and raced against each other a few times but never raced together as a team, it was of course a bit nervous.
It was my 5th Tankwa Trek and it has grown tremendously since the first edition when we were 86 riders to where it is now with close to 800 riders! It was the first time the race got UCI status which meant we were racing for UCI points, an increase in prize money and it also meant that it would be a ladies only start. A lot of teams use this as a pre-race for the Cape Epic, to test the partnership and to see how the training is going since it is 5 weeks before the start of the Epic. This was the case for Esther and I and a few of our Cape Epic rivals were also on the start line. Ariane and Adelheid were probably going to be the toughest competition and also Candice + Vera and Yolande and Mariske. We also had the other Team Meerendal/CBC with Cornelia and Hielke looking strong.
We got a good start and it was a fight for positions on the first very sandy single track and we kept a good pace. After about 8 – 9 km I saw Ariane letting go of the wheel in front of her, which was a bit strange. I picked up the pace on a smaller incline and when I looked around Esther was the only one with me. We could stay in the lead for the rest of the stage. We complemented each other well on the day with me setting the pace for the first half of the stage and Esther on the second half. We did not get a lot of time gaps so we did not know what was going on behind us but with 15 km to go we were told that we had a gap of 7 minutes and Ariane and Adelheid had stopped since Ariane was not feeling well. We might have tapped off a bit on the speed since Yolande and Mariske in second caught up with us a bit and we won by 5,5 minutes.
I woke up from a flashing light outside and was wondering what it was until I heard a big bang outside and realised that it was lightning and thunder which soon followed by heavy rain!! It is a draught in this area and they have not had rain for 3 months so it was very welcomed and no one complained! It was also good for the sandy tracks and nice to start in a bit cooler weather compared to the closer to 40 degrees from the day before. Our start was a bit slower today and the pace only picked up as we approached the Du Toit’s drop but it all came back together after. I took a small tumble on one of the switch backs down the 3 km downhill single track and Esther was a perfect team mate and slowed everything down at the front so that I could get my shit together again! We were still 4 teams together through the first feed station at a very chilly packing shed, the race turned a bit negative when no one wanted to work. Since I knew the route I picked up the pace on a single track up hill and we got away together with Mariske and Yolande and after the single track section we all worked together on the open roads. Mariske and Yolande stopped at the second water point and Esther and I carried on. That was also where all the climbing started and Esther paced me perfectly up the first climb. She was the perfect partner and constantly looked around to see that I was right there and going well! It felt easier than normal to climb that first hill. The Merino monster is a different story on it’s own, it is brutal! With 1000 meters of climbing over 10 km it is so steep that you can’t help each other. She was still a good partner and sat as close to me as possible. We went over the top as the first ladies team and could claim the Queen of the mountain prize! We managed to stay away all the way to the finish to win the stage by 8 minutes once again ahead of Yolande and Mariske in second.
After Erich had had our bikes washed he came to tell us that Esthers frame was cracked! Luckily she had another frame at Meerendal so Erich drove there to fetch it and was back 4 hours later to replace the broken rear triangle on her bike!
The last stage starts with a 21 km open road. The A batch started 30 seconds behind us and the next batch 30 seconds after them and so on. They caught up with us quickly and it got messy, it was impossible for us not to get any slip from any bunch when it was people all over, but we did as good as we could to stay away from the men. After about 17 km I hear Esther shouting that I must stop, she had a puncture!! It was at a terrible place since the speed was still high and it was people coming all the time. It was a small hole right by the rim, a hole which is very difficult to plug. We tried to shake the sealant to the right place for it to seal but nothing worked. Esther said we should probably put in a tube but I could just imagine how long that would take so I grabbed her plug and plugged it and miraculously it worked! She bombed it and it held. Good team work! And I guess in a way it was good for us to practice a stressful situation and I must say that we stayed very calm. We sat off to chase and passed bunch after bunch. We had a big bunch in front of us when we started to get close to the first single track, since I knew the route I gave it my all for us to pass them and we managed to do so only a few meters before the single track! After about 45 km we could see the other teams and we were not too far off so we decided to change Esthers back wheel at the tech zone at 56km even though it meant that we lost time again. Since Esther and Erich speak German I did not know what was going on when I saw him doing something with her seat post, only after the finish was I informed that the seat post was cracked! I did think it was a bit strange that we did not go faster on the downhill single tracks. We chased very hard after the wheel change and passed Vera and Candice quickly but could not get back to Mariske and Yolande, they had a very strong day and we finished 1,5 minutes behind them in second place and could take the overall victory!
We were both very happy with the win but more important was that we had seen how good our partnership worked and we are both looking forward to the Cape Epic now!
A huge tank you to Meerendal and Cape Brewing Company for making it possible for us to race together! And thank you to Erich and Nicole for helping us with everything during the race!!