I have been quite tired since I came back from Europe, but I had to keep going since I had one more important race to do before taking my break and holiday. It was the Wines 2 Whales which I was doing along side Adelheid Morath from Germany, racing in the colours of Team Meerendal / CBC. We would have tough competition from lots of other ladies teams and it looked to be the toughest ladies competition we had ever seen in an SA stage race, counting out the Cape Epic. Robyn and Sabine were teaming up for Ascendis Health, Vera and Candice for Dormakarba, Sam and Amy for Valencia and Carmen and Michelle for Velocity. 5 teams who all could win this race.
I had never ridden together with Adel before and to be honest I did not know her that well either, so it was a gamble to team up but she seemed like a nice girl from what I had seen at Cape Epic and from when we had chatted on messenger. I picked her up at the airport less than 48 hours before the start and we got to spend some time together and do 2 short rides.
Day 1 Lourensford wine estate to Oak Valley wine estate. 68km 1300 meters of climbing.
We were both a bit nervous, firstly about how we would race together and also on our forms, Adel had not raced for 2 months and I did not know if I would be able to gather the energy for 3 days of racing. We got a good start on the 8 km climb straight from the start. We got away from the other girls and had a gap at the top. We did not do the downhill good as a team since I want a little gap to see my line and Adel waited for me when she saw that I left a gap, this slowed us down a bit and at the bottom I could see Vera and Candice coming closer. Eventually the 4 of us were riding together but we got away on a single track and stayed away for the rest of the stage. I started to feel tired just before the portage section and the fact that it started raining and got cold did not help. We had fun on the A-Z single tracks on the other side and since it is very open I looked back and could not see anyone behind us, so when we had 12 km to go and the cameraman said that we only had 35 seconds gap I must say that I got very surprised! Adel was super strong and I did my best to pick up the speed and I had to dig very deep and pushed absolutely everything I had to stay away. We won the stage by only 20 seconds ahead of Vera and Candice. It was great to get the yellow leaders jersey on the first day!
We had very good help from Craig who fixed our legs even though he also raced and Pierre who took very good care of our bikes! So we were both ready for day 2.
Day 2 Oak Valley to Oak Valley, 70km 1100 meters of climbing
The weather was better today and it was good since we were going to do mostly single tracks on the stage which had the name “Play day”. We got a good start and were the first ladies team up the first climb but since it is a very fast start after that climb it means that the bunch will be big and all the top ladies teams were in that same bunch. Vera and Candice dropped from the bunch early and we ended up riding together with Amy, Sam, Carmen and Michelle for a long time. I could feel that I did not have any extra power or punch today and quickly started to struggle as soon as it was uphill. We all went through the amphiteater together but a few kilometres later I could not keep the pace of Amy and Sam and they got away from us. We could see them for a long time but eventually they were gone. I did not get too stressed since they had been far behind on day 1 and we still could not see Vera and Candice behind us. We rode all the way to the finish together with Carmen and Michelle and finished 2nd on the day, 1 minute and 20 seconds behind Amy and Sam and 4 minutes and 40 seconds ahead of Vera and Candice. It was very tight between the 3 teams behind us, it was only 5 seconds separating them on GC! So without winning the stage we extended out lead to 5 minutes. It would be a tough last stage since the 3 teams would race hard for second place and also to try and get away from us!
Day 3 Oak Valley to Onrus, 70km 900 meters of climbing
I felt tired the last morning and in my mind I knew that it was only a 3 hour race until I could be on holiday, I just had to get that last bit of energy for this. It was once again a fast start and Vera and Candice was very determined to get the stage win. We managed to stay with them for just after half the route, we lost them once and caught back only to lose them again. I struggled and tried to just focus on the overall and not losing too much time. After a long single track in the forest we popped out on to a long open gravel road and I could see them in the far distance. I timed us to see that we were about one minute behind and we had 15 kilometers to go. At that time I did not know that Amy and Sam was on our wheels, I only got to know that when I saw pictures afterwards. We rode as quickly as we could on the remaining single tracks and with just a few kilometres to go did I realise that Amy and Sam were with us. We managed to sprint to a second place on the day, 2 minutes behind Vera and Candice to secure the overall win by 3 minutes! It was a fantastic feeling to manage to win the W2W for the 3rd consecutive year (and for the 4th time), it was the perfect way to end off a fantastic racing year. And to have managed to win all 7 stage races I have done this year.
It was great to see the high level of the ladies racing, to have different teams winning every day showed that the level is higher than normal and the fact that all 10 girls in the top 5 teams are full time cyclists says a lot. Also that the top 5 ladies teams were closer in time than the top 5 mens teams, I wonder if that has ever happened before!?
Now it is time for feet up for just over 2 weeks and I will really enjoy not touching my bike for that time. I will enjoy late mornings with a coffee without thinking of what training to do for the day. :-)