Unfortunately we were not able to defend our title from Tankwa Trek 2017. Esther and I felt in good form and ready for 3 good days of racing with tough competition from many strong teams. Since it was a UCI race we had a ladies only start, which is really good and with more strong teams than usual it turned out to be a tough first day. Team Dorma with Candice and Helen set the pace from the start but since the first part was flat we were still a big group when we hit the first single track. I felt that I was a bit too far down in the field and started to pass one by one until I only had Team Dorma and Spur with Ariane and Christina in front of me, but when I turned around Esther was not on my wheel so I had to let the others go and wait for her. We rode together with Ascendis with Sabine and Robyn, and the second Dorma team with Carmen and Sam on the single tracks all the way to the first water point. We could see the 2 teams up front and heard that we had 40 seconds. I worked hard to catch them and strangely enough I got help from the second Dorma team. Christina did not feel well so soon it was us, Dorma and Ascendis riding together. I knew the big climb was coming and my plan was for us to try to break away there. I sat in front all the way up the climb with Esther on my wheel, but Candice and Helen managed to come with us and they opened up a gap on the downhill. We had a flat section on tar where we could see them and we made up some time but at the same time Ascendis caught us. We only had 20-30 meters left to Dorma when we started the last climb and I thought we would catch them there but when I looked around half way up the climb I only had Sabine on my wheel and we had to wait for Esther and Robyn. Even though we worked well together the last 15 km we could not catch the other 2 who were 1,5 minutes ahead of us at the finish. We finished off with a 3rd place on the stage, 5 seconds behind Ascendis.
We had big hopes for the second stage since it was the queen stage with a lot of climbing, we were positive since we normally climb well and the plan was to try and do something on the 2 big climbs. It was a very tactical start and not so fast until we got close to the “Du Toits drop” (this is a 3km downhill singletrack with a descend of 300 meters, 10% on average) and everyone started to sprint for position. We rode over a very dodgy place with off camber gutters and one had a big rock in it, I just managed to keep my balance, but shortly after I started to hear the girls shouting “Esther” and “crashed” I turned around and she was no where to be seen. I turned around immediately and found her laying on the ground just after the gutters, she had seen that rock too late…. Ariane who was out of the race since Christina was sick, had stopped to help. Esther had a big hole in her upper thigh. We got the attention of the helicopter and they called for the doctors who came to take care of Esther. I called Craig (since his number was the only number I knew by heart) for him to tell Nicole and Pierre to go back to the finish to take Esther to the hospital, all on the doctors order. Ariane and I carried on riding, my mind was not in it any more though so when Ariane pushed really hard on the climbs I let her go and rode my own pace to the finish. The Merino Monster is no joke when not racing, you kind of question why you are doing it at all. As I crossed the road with 1km to go I saw the car coming back with Esther, so we came back to the finish at the same time. They had patched her up with 9 stitches in her leg. She was lucky that nothing was broken and it had just missed the muscle, so it looked worse than what it was and the doctor said she will be able to ride in 4-5 days, we were all very happy to hear that. She went back to Meerendal that afternoon to fly home to Switzerland the next evening.
The last day was really good training for me, since I was not racing I could just push as hard as I could, or take it easy, what ever I felt for. They changed the start this day and everyone started together, which was very messy for the ladies and I was actually happy that I was not racing! To stay out of the way from the ladies race I went ahead in a bunch with men on the long open roads in the beginning and sat with them until the first single track, from there I rode the whole way on my own and I felt really good on the day. I saw a small bunch of guys in front and I worked really hard to catch them and thought I could sit with them for the rest of the stage but when I went to the front to help on a small climb they were gone at the top, except for one guy who came with my all the way to the finish, he got a good lift ;)
Now I hold thumbs that Esther heals quickly and can make the final preparations for Epic. I really look forward to racing with her again!
A huge thank you goes to Cape Brewing company, Meerendal wine estate, Pierre our mechanic and Nicole our masseus for helping us out and making our weekend so good and so much fun!! I look forward to having the same set up at Epic, it will be good:-)