Wednesday 22 September 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:45 | No comments

Karoo2Coast 2010

For years I have had to put up with mountain bikers talking about a ride from the quaint little Karoo town of Uniondale, down some mountain passes, to Knysna. I have had to listen to the war stories, the tales of triumph and heartbreak, the accounts of steep cliffs, dangerous drops and atrocious weather. When asked how my ride was, I would mutter under my breath that I hadn't ever done the ride, and in an instant I would be excluded from the conversation and given that look. The look that says "You obviously aren't a real mountain biker."
The Route
But that all changed this year when we finally decided to enter the Karoo2Coast Mountain Bike Challenge. How hard can it really be? Apart from the odd bump here and there it is all downhill. On big wide roads. These mountain bikers are pansies! I had ridden the route in reverse in the 2007 Epic, and although Julian had suffered a bit, it didn't seem that bad. And surely the Epic route was the tougher direction to ride the route in anyway!
It's all downhill!
Along with the usual Hermanus contingent, we had a visiting Belgian physio/soldier/cyclist - Luc, who was eager to see just how tough us South Africans are. Bonte had once again used her amazing organisational skills to secure us accommodation in the school hostel, and Luc's first hurdle would be to survive a night with The (injured) Runner and The Greek in a tiny dorm room. After a few ground rules were laid down, I think they all got on like a house on fire. First rule - no snoring. Consequences - Death. Actually, that was the only rule. The Greek was particularly scared, and was only too grateful to have a very cute duvet with chickens on it to cuddle in the night as he made sure he didn't snore.
Our accommodation for the night
Race day dawned bright and early with The Greek bringing The (injured) Runner breakfast in bed. Those two do make a good couple. After breakfast and the usual pre-race pfaff we all headed off to our start chutes - the threat of bad weather having failed to materialise. It looked like a perfect day for a downhill ride to Knysna.
The Greek's duvet
And that was probably the last pleasant thought I had until I crossed the finish line 3h42 later. Craig and I had the pleasure of starting in the Elite bunch, with both of us downplaying our form - Craig blaming his island adventure, and me blaming all the racing I had done. At 7:30 we were off, and I was quite nervous - whenever a large bunch of mountain bikers get together in a bunch on tar bad things are bound to happen. Barely 100m from the start and I almost had my first crash, and in return sending Craig sideways into some other innocent bystander. Luckily no one went down. Shortly after that 2 riders did go down - but it was on the other side of the bunch far away from us.
Rent-a-mechanic as The Greek and The (injured) Runner look on.
As we hit the dirt at the bottom of the first climb the race exploded and the front guys were off. Craig and I were stuck behind some riders whose own perceived ability and actual ability were on opposite ends of the spectrum. I weaved my way through the traffic, thinking Craig was right on my wheel - Team 5339 ripping up the course. The reality was that Craig had bust his dérailleur at the start of the climb and was on his way back to the start to either look for a new dérailleur, or a new bike. I should probably look behind me every now and then.
Nelly got her own special place to sleep
After some ups and downs I found myself in no man's land - there was a group up ahead that were getting away from me, and a group behind me that weren't quite catching me. I plodded along at my own pace when I was eventually caught by Jarryd just when I needed someone to pick a line down Prince Alfred Pass, and he was the perfect person for it. Unfortunately he punctured not long afterwards and I was all on my own again. I finally got some company in the form of Tiaan Erwee, another Helderberg local and together we rode well up the never ending climb towards Buffelsnek. The bunch finally caught us, but nothing changed - Tiaan and I stayed on the front and did all the work while we towed the rest of them along. It's the burden of riding a 29er, and I am slowly coming to accept it.

We were picking up riders who had been dropped quite regularly, and one of them happened to be Hector, a Hermanus local, and my future DC teammate. It was rather bad timing for Hector, because as soon as we had caught him my little bunch decided to drop the hammer and the gaps started to open. I had to go around several riders to stay in the bunch, with Tiaan falling victim, and Hector barely hanging on. It wasn't long before the elastic broke, and Hector was off the back.
Luc - the sun burnt Belgian
Things pretty much stayed the same, 29er on the front until we reached the last hill. I had descended quite amazingly, and was looking good to get over the climb in good shape when my legs decided to call it a day. They just wouldn't go and I slowly found myself going backwards. By the time I got to the top of the climb the bunch was gone and I was left to limp home to the finish line on my own. Never before have I hated riding on flat tar so much - it just didn't seem to want to end. I finally finished in 3h42, in 30th place, having had one of my hardest races in a long time. Karoo2Coast certainly isn't easy, and it certainly isn't downhill. I was sore all over, and a little disappointed that I could stick with the bunch, but that's bike racing.
Still smiling, despite over 6 hours of trouble
After what seemed like an age, The Greek crossed the line in fine form, shattering his personal best and comprehensively claiming the floating trophy. With The (injured) Runner out of action, his win seemed assured, but as is often the case, a new contender stood up and put her cards on the table. Bonte finished a mere 20 minutes behind The Greek, and while he basked in his amazing victory, I couldn't help notice the fear and worry in his eyes.
The Greek receiving his trophy
As for the others - The (injured) Runner had done 250km in a little over 3 hours, and was looking as fresh as a daisy. He did complain of a sore bum, but that is to be expected over such distances. Yolanda had a disaster of a ride - her dodgy Specialized equipment letting her down, although she swears it was her mechanic's fault. Craig, once again, got beaten by pretty much everybody. It's happening at such a regular occurrence that it doesn't surprise anyone anymore. Yolanda was more than happy though - Craig's mechanical skills were put to good use on her bike. Just a pity his own bike doesn't get the same level of care. Luc got his money's worth and enjoyed the scenery and the race atmosphere. He also now admits that all Belgian cyclists are wimps and that South African's are slightly crazy (despite us telling him that The (injured) Runner and The Greek are not true representatives of typical South Africans).
Podium girls, fame, groupies.
The Greek has arrived

Monday 20 September 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 11:35 | No comments

Stanford Finishing Photos

Some nail biting action photos from the finishing line in Stanford.

Winding up the sprint

The lunge for the line

All by myself 

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 19:06 | 1 comment

Staalwater 2010

As the poster boy for this Staalwater MTB Challenge I had an obligation to attend. Thankfully, the organisers had set up a course that favoured my strengths, and decided to keep the technical stuff to a minimum. It still wasn't going to be easy - we had loads of climbing to do, and it looked like it was going to be flat and fast.

With Karoo2Coast just around the corner, this was to be the last dress rehearsal for The Runner and The Greek, and an opportunity for either of them to gain the upper hand in the psychological war games. We were all expecting big things from this race.
Another reminder - I am the poster boy
I was a little disappointed to see that some of the big guns had rocked up again, and were likely to ruin my poster boy day in the sun. Equally distressing was the fact that I had competition from 3 other riders: my Baviaans team mate John, Marius the Pansie, and Henning, a local Somerset West rider.

With a turnout that far exceeded the size of the start shoot, the long route set in a flurry of riders. The quicker riders eventually made their way through the traffic and a nice little bunch formed at the front. The old saying "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" applies here - I thought I was doing well, sitting comfortably in the bunch, feeling good when all hell broke loose. In slow motion. Four riders just rode away from the rest of us, and no matter how hard I tried I could do nothing about it. Two hours of chasing followed, with mixed results.
The Greek, having a pre-race stress about the integrity of his carbon Giant

We managed to catch one of the leaders, also on a 29er, and so there were 3 riders chasing the 3 leaders, with us being chased by John and Marius. A catch 22. I wanted to stay away from the guys behind us, but I didn't want to kill myself trying to catch the leaders, and give Henning a free ride. Thankfully, the course was very 29er friendly, so Henning was practically removed from the equation.

The Runner, adopting an interesting warm-up routine
The status quo remained until the first water point, and the sharp little hill that followed it. We lost the other 29er early on, with Henning next to go. In the interim, Jarryd, a downhill demon and future Double Century teammate, had been dropped by the leaders and was about 100m ahead. With everything looking great, it was around this time that my legs decided that they were no longer interested in cycling, and were going on strike. To make matters worse, all three of the guys I wanted to beat had now joined up, and were working together to chase me down.

My only hope was to get over the climb with a slight advantage, and hope that some more 29er  friendly roads would present themselves. While my wish wasn't granted exactly, I got the next best thing - some technical downhill. John was able to ride across to me, but the others struggled, and before they could close the gap the hallowed 29er friendly road appeared and John and I were able to open the gap. Things pretty much stayed like this until the finish - we could see third place, sixth and seventh could see us, but there wasn't a lot that any of us could do about it.
Third placed Jarryd looking cool
With Caledon approaching fast, John got a serious case of white line fever, and I had to hang on to his rear wheel for dear life. Just when I was about to pop, the cycling gods smiled on me once again, and John dropped his chain on a steep little uphill. Doing the thing that Alberto Contador should have done, I waited for John. (That's what it appeared like anyway - the truth was that I would have walked that hill anyway.) In return for my generosity, John didn't sprint me for fourth place. We had ridden the 60kms in 2:14, and were only 5 minutes behind the leader. Being old also has its benefits as I was the first SubVet across the line (and the first 29er, but there are no prizes for that).
Both the ladies beat the boys
Back to the main attraction - The Runner vs The Greek. We were expecting fireworks, with thousands of spectators turning up to see the action, drama, and suffering. What we got was one of the biggest anticlimaxes in the history of cycling. Sadder than Lance Armstrong's return to competitive racing, more disappointing than Jan Ullrich's attempt to win a second Tour de France, less riveting than watching a Dennis Menchov interview. It was a total damp squib. The Greek and The Runner had declared a truce and rode together. Something about The Runner suffering from an old ITB injury he picked up back when he was an up and coming endurance runner, training under the watchful eye of Arthur Lydiard in a bid to smash the Comrades up run record.
The deserved winner of the trophy, flanked by the two losers.
Bonte had gone to great effort in securing a trophy for the main attraction, but given the outcome, it was decided that she should receive it as she comprehensively beat both of them. Whether this stunt by The Runner was just another salvo in the psychological duel with The Greek remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, this burgeoning rivalry will keep us gripped for many years to come.

Monday 6 September 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:55 | 1 comment

Stanford 2010

One of my favourite rides on the calendar happens each year in early September, just as the legs are starting to recover from Baviaans. The Stanford MTB race. I am not entirely sure why I enjoy this race, as it certainly is one of the tougher rides on the calendar. Maybe it's the scenery and the great views from the top of the mountain, or the laid back atmosphere at the venue, or the rush of endorfins when the pain finally ends once you cross the finish line.

This year was no different. The route was a new route, but the idea was much the same - lots and lots of up, some short, sharp, lethal descents and bit of district road for good measure.
The medium route wasn't immune to the evil streak running through the race organiser either, and also took the riders over any hill that he could find.
A reasonable number of brave mountain bikers had once again turned out for the long route, known as the Akkedis (Afrikaans for Lizard). In a rare moment of weakness, the race organiser has decided to give us a 7km warmup loop before we started climbing the fabled Salmansdam climb up to the mast. In fact, one of the draw cards of this race is that it follows the part of the route as Stage 6 of the 2008 Epic.
An Akkedis
The race set off at a reasonable pace with the bunch being quite large until we hit the first rolling hills, where it suddenly reduced to about 7 or 8 riders. And then the real climbing started. The racing snakes and mountain goats disappeared up the climb and I found myself in 6th place. We climbed for around 45 minutes in hot, airless conditions, the sweat dripping off me. Ever since Knysna, I have become a little paranoid about losing a bottle and so made sure neither of my bottles were trying to escape at regular (i.e.2 minute) intervals. The new bottle cages also helped.

Once we made the top of the climb we had a sharp, dangerous descent back to the valley floor below. I had ridden up the climb on the wheel of the guy in 5th place, but as soon as we started going down I lost sight of him, and half expected the rest of the field to come flying past me. By some miracle they never did, and I managed to catch the guy ahead of me as he stopped with a puncture. I was now 5th, and had some lovely farm roads ahead of me - 29er terrain. Still half expecting the bunch to catch me I rode on by myself, when, all of a sudden, I got a glimpse of the guy in 4th - Chad the Chiropractor. I think Chad is one of those guys who struggles to leave his work at the office, as twice he had tried to straighten out my back on the warm up loop. Now I wanted to catch him and ask him if I really had a skew back.

The only catch was that I had just caught sight of the bunch (containing everyone I wanted to beat - the Hermanus locals and Marius) closing in on us as I slowly climbed one of the rolling hills. The effort of riding on my own into the wind up a hill was taking its toll, and almost on cue, as if the race organiser was speaking to me, I saw a squashed Akkedis. That was pretty much how I would feel if I got caught. Suddenly, we turned the corner onto some flat grass fields, and I could feel Nelly was eager to show me what she was made of. Before long, I caught Chad, and told him about the fast approaching bunch, hoping the two of us could work together. Chad was obviously still too interested in my back that he forgot to pedal, and when I next looked back he was gone.
A tired spectator catching a napAdd caption

With the last big climb of 7km approaching fast from the front, and the bunch and Chad behind I was in a bit of a spot. I needed a gap over any chasers so that I could survive the downhill, but I also couldn't go too fast on the 29er up the hill. My only hope was that the guys behind me would suffer as much as I was going to, and the gap would be intact once we got to the top.

Everyone's a winner at Stanford
After riding through a sheep field, the climb began. It was a series of short sharp climbs that strained the legs and lungs, followed by relatively flat sections. With half an eye on what was going on behind me I gritted my teeth and clenched my knuckles up each climb. Again, as if on cue from the race organiser, an Akkedis came running past me as I slowly ground my way up hill. Was I really going that slowly?

After the endless false flats I finally made it to the top, and there I caught a glimpse of the guy in third. Did I climb the hill that well? Was there enough race left to catch him? In a combination of my fixation on the guy in third place, and some poor route marking I took a wrong turn and followed the guy in 3rd place back to the mast we had climbed to earlier. Once I realised I was on the wrong route I then proceeded to ride down the way we had ridden up earlier. Thankfully I didn't follow the guy in 3rd place again, as he got horribly lost, going down the hill we had descended earlier. Marius too made this mistake, and had to be rescued in Caledon. Feeling a little disappointed and annoyed, I crossed the line in 5th place, in just under 3h30, Chad and another rider finishing ahead of me after taking the correct route. After gulping down some coke and hanging around for a back massage that never happened (Chad seemed to have lost interest in my back), I joined the ladies on the picnic blanket for a picnic. They had had a great ride on the 35km route, and finished 4th and 5th in a sprint finish, Yo's new bike Crumpet doing the business.
Picnic time!