For the second year in a row, the women's competition is held during the first out of three Wines2Whales events, this means that we get our very own stage race without any men interfering. There are men at this event but they start 10 minutes after us and since it is not any competitive riders this weekend they do not catch us. The men's competition is next weekend. This way we get more attention from the media as all the focus is on the women's race. With the largest prize purse, per day, in South Africa, this competition draws many of the best female cyclists from all over the world. For example, 3 of the top 5 at this year's Marathon World Champs were on the start line and many high-ranked XCO riders. In the results list there were girls from 8 different countries in the first 7 teams!
I had asked Nadine Rieder from Germany if she wanted to come and ride with me, we didn't really know each other at all, just from the fact that we had been competing against each other at Cape Epic this year, but she seemed nice so I held my thumbs that it would work well to race together. Finding a good team partner that works both on the bike, during the race, and off the bike is quite difficult but I was really happy that I asked Nadine since it worked better than I had dared to hope for!
During the week before the competition everyone talked about how much it would rain on Friday morning, the start was at Lourensford in Somerset West at 7 am. We kept track of the weather report and it said a lot of rain, but I thought (or hoped) it would still change. But that was not the case. When we went there in the morning the rain was pouring down and I was probably the only one who warmed up in the rain, I did not see anyone else. It was of no use as the race was delyed for an extra 25 minutes until they decided to let us start. The fun riders were given the option not to ride and still be able to start the next stage, I think half of them took that offer! The worst thing of the whole day was probably the minute they let us stand in the rain before the start signal came! We started with an 8 kilometre climb which made us warm and after that it rained so much that I don't think I've ever been outdoors in so much rain in one day! It was so wet on the ground that the trails were small rivers, you did not see the ground at all. It felt good from the start but a bit up the climb I couldn't keep the same pace as Team Faces with Candice Lill and Adelheid Morath and Team Dormakaba with Robyn De Groot and Amy McDougal, so we ended up in 3rd place alone. I was a bit nervous about how slippery it would be on the trails but I think the water made it none slippery. Nadine's rear wheel had lost some air just before the second water point, so we decided to stop to pump her rear wheel, but we did not lose much time on it. My brakes were completely finished but I did not want to stop and change brake pads and I thought there was something left on them at least, but unfortunately it was nothing left and since I kept riding like that I destroyed the brakes… The compulsory portage section became really difficult as it was slippery on the rocks, I envied my partner her long legs as we walked up for about 12 minutes! The course had gotten shortened as some trails could not be ridden at all with all the water, but we were grateful not to be out longer than necessary in the rain!
Our mechanic Pierre worked hard all evening to get our bikes clean and change all cables and brake pads etc. After Craig massaged us, he had to go home to Stellenbosch and fetch new brakes for my bike…
During the first wet stage. Photo: Henk Neuhoff
Portage section. Photo: Xavier Briel
Finish day 1. Photo: Xavier Briel
Prize giving day 1 in gumboots :-) Photo: Henk Neuhoff
When we woke up the second day there was no rain and we were very grateful! It was still wet on the ground so this day became a real mudfest! The second day on W2W is called "play day", it is almost only trails and incredibly fun and nice ones and without many climbs! We got off to a good start and were with the first 2 teams for quite a long time, eventually I dropped on a climb and we were a bit behind. We stayed calm and could see that the others were not going very fast so we caught up again. I had a hard time on the climbs and it happened a number of times that we dropped but always caught back on the trails. It was really fun to ride behind Nadine on the single tracks as she rides very smoothly and takes good lines, and we rode fast together in that way, and we knew we would catch up with the others, which meant we were not stressed when we dropped. We were all together when we had about 500 meters to the last feed station and from there it was only 10 km to the finish. Suddenly I heard a loud strange noise and my rear wheel came to a complete stop! I looked down and saw a wire in the rear wheel, it was wrapped on the inside of the cassette and it took me quite a while to get it out ... It was a pity as I think we had been with the other teams to the finish that day. Now we got another 3rd place.
Day 2. Photo: Henk Neuhoff
After a muddy day 2. Photo: Henk Neuhoff
After day 2 with Craig. Photo: Pierre
We were very spoiled with good food at this event, Woolworths South Africa sponsored the food and they had really gone out of their ways to serve fantastic food both for lunch and dinner!
More lunch ;)
I knew that South Africa was fanatical when it comes to Rugby, but it really took the prize when they changed the start time on the last day to 06:00 instead of 07.00 (as if it is not early enough…) so that as many people as possible could get to the finish before 11am when the semi-finals were played at the World Cup in Japan, South Africa played against Wales! So we had to set the alarm for 04.10 and ride to the start in the dark in front of the car's lights at 05.10! This country is a little crazy ...
We got off to a pretty good start but the pace was much higher than the previous days and I was almost at my max and could feel it would not last long. We had one more team in the first group today, Ariane and Samara from Team Spur and stayed in the bunch longer than I could. Nadine had to slow down and wait for me and then she was super strong again and I could sit on her wheels. We rode as hard as we could and just before the second water point we could see Team Spur a bit ahead but we kept a very similar pace to them so we didn't get much closer. We got time reports that said 1 minute, then 40 seconds, then 30 seconds and finally only 10 seconds, but we were approaching the finish and it didn't feel like we were going to catch them. But then with only 500 meters to the finish we caught up! I was completely exhausted and if Nadine had attacked straight away I couldn't have gone with her, luckily it turned in to a bit of a cat and mouse game which gave me time to breath so when the sprint started I could at least try! We managed to outsprint them to take another 3rd place and also a 3rd place overall in this year's W2W!
Considering how my form was, I have to say that I was very pleased that we could take a podium spot in such a strong ladies field!
A big thank you goes to Craig and Pierre who worked so hard for us, it would have been completely impossible to do this without you! I am incredibly grateful that I asked Nadine if she wanted to come to South Africa and race with me without us knowing each other! I hope and believe that we will do more stage races together in the future! A big thank you to Fairtree for helping me in South Africa so that I can do these races!!
Now it's really time to take this year's holiday and rest, but first Craig and I will do the last W2W as a mixed team, so on Friday we will do this all over again!
On the last day. Photo: Henk Neuhoff
Photo: Henk Neuhoff
The last few kilometers! Photo: Pierre
Overall podium with Adel, Candice, Amy, Robyn, me and Nadine.
Photo: Henk Neuhoff