Thursday, 17 November 2011

Posted by Velouria Posted on 13:31 | 2 comments

Wines2Whales 2011

The third edition of Wines2Whales promised to be bigger and better, with more single track, tastier food, and cosier tents. Right after entries opened, the 3 antagonists in the Highly Competitive Married Couples Racing Division from the 2010 event met at a neutral venue to lay down some ground rules. After some tooth and nail negotiations, several bottles of wine (someone mentioned something about focusing on the "Wines" part of Wines2Whales), and some subtle psychological mind games we settled on the following rules:
  1. Pushing is allowed
  2. We all had to start in the same group 

Pre race excitement
There might have been more rules and stipulations, but between the lack of minutes at the meeting and the wine no one could recall much the next day. All that was left was for the secret training and intelligence gathering to begin.

While I'd like to think that my team was well on track to reaching new levels of fitness and technical skill as the cold winter months wore on, I'd be telling a lie. As it turned out, my sources revealed that things weren't going much better in the other teams. Intra team politics, bad weather and sheer laziness all culminated in a phone call I received with a little under two months to race day. The faster half of Team Heading for a Divorce (Red John - as I'm pretty sure he tried to kill me several times) was quite worried that they would have to change their team name to Team We're Already Divorced, and so in the interest of saving his marriage had come up with a proposal. Would I be willing to do a partner swap - not the keys in a fish bowl type - and ride with him? And to sweeten the deal he'd throw in some free massages for my wife and I. Team Starsky and Hutch (I was Starsky) and Team Pinky and the Brain (still not sure who is Pinky and who is the Brain) were born.

The problem - too much stuff, not enough space!
Having successfully beaten Red John in 5 out of 6 stages in 2011, I was up for the challenge, but still had two conditions:
  1. Since Red John and his bike weigh less than me alone, he would have to wait at the top of the hills
  2. No swearing at me (people still think Red John's wife is known as "For F*cks sake Nadine")
While I'd been having fun in the hills of Swaziland, Red John had been hard at work on the road bike, earning a podium at the Msunduzi Road Challenge - part of the UCI World Cycling Tour. To say I was nervous was an understatement, and when there was talk of finishing in the top 3 I suddenly wished I hadn't been so cheap and accepted the free massages.

Red John on the podium (in red)
Stage One

Team Starsky and Hutch were initially seeded in B, but this wasn't good enough for Red John. After analysing the seeding of all the riders ahead of us in A, he sent a threatening letter to the organisers promising to pour pool acid all over their plants if we weren't immediately reseeded. Valuing their plants, and not wanting to incur the wrath of Red John, we were promptly reseeded into A, which meant a 7am start from the beautiful Lourensford Wine Estate.

A blurry Yolanda and Coach Louise in the start chute
As we stood in the start chute with hills all around us, I felt a little bit out of place with all the race snakes sussing us out. Thankfully, our podium aspirations had been downgraded to a top 10 in our category, and a top 20 overall (which still made me nervous - I went to the toilet 4 times before the start).

Preparing the "bedroom" tent
The bedroom tent
As soon as the gun went and the trail started going up, Red John assumed the position that I would get well acquainted with over the next couple of days - a couple of bike lengths ahead of me, looking like he was out on a social ride with mates as I laboured on the pedals to try and close the gap. The ultimate indignity came when he offered me his pocket for a tow on the first 7km climb of the day. While I might be prepared to swap my wife for a free massage, I do have some principals, and getting towed on the first climb of the day is against one of them!

A gloomy looking race village and meal tent
With the climb over we got onto some terrain that I'm more at home on when I realised my bike was handling like a minibus taxi. My suspension had popped, squirting oil all over my front brake, and so like your average minibus taxi I had no front brakes and no suspension. Little John's mid morning mechanical gremlin had found a new victim! Downhills suddenly became bone rattling death traps, sweet flowing single track became a hiking trail that I could push my bike along. They say that when you are about to die your life flashes before your eyes, but all I can recall as I headed towards a collision with a barbed wire fence at break neck speed is that I hoped Red John would eventually realise I wasn't behind him any more. No epiphanies, insights or restful bliss - just fear that I'd die and my partner wouldn't even know!

Pinky and the Brain (or is it The Brain and Pinky?)
Amazingly, despite my lack of legs and mechanical well-being  we found ourselves slowly moving up through the field (I did swallow my pride and accepted a pocket), and by the time we got to the Gantouw Pass portage section we had several teams lurking just ahead of us. Some determined hiking saw as crest the top of the pass ahead of several roadie teams, with about 15kms to the finish. A slight sense of humour failure and some annoyingly twisty turny single track later we crossed the line at the Grabouw Country club, completing the 70 odd kilometers in 3h48, in 15th overall, and 6th in our category.

The race village
Several hours later, after a shower, a tasty nutella sandwich, and an excruciating massage, Team Pinky and the Brain crossed the line. I wasn't quite sure if that was the time to ask FFS Nadine if she wanted to swap back again and ride with her husband the following day, but judging by the smiles all around I think I knew what the answer would be. Yolanda had only fallen once, which by her standards is a good day out, and they came awfully close to beating Mike and Adrian of Team Finding Vino 2 (a wholly inappropriate name - something like Team We've Got All The Snacks, and We'll Eat Them would have been more suitable).

Malan of Cycle Addiction (my LBS) promised to have my bike in tip top shape the next morning, although part of me wished he couldn't fix it and I would get to ride the rest of the event with my wife.

Stage Two

The A bunch contenders
If there is a better day of cycling to be had in a bike race in South Africa, I would like know about it. With 60% of the course on single track, stage two promised to give those of us with a smidgen of technical skill an advantage over the bunch of roadies we found ourselves racing against.

Is there a better place to ride than this?
Once again, the pace from the gun was frenetic, and I struggled to keep the back of Red John in sight. My legs felt better than the squishy noodles I'd had for legs the previous day, but between the traffic and the occasional hill I wasn't making good progress. A cunning bit of forward thinking by Red John had him dragging me up the steepest hill of the day into some single track ahead of a mixed team, and we slowly caught all the teams we were racing against. Some track cycling like slingshots later and we were on the back of the bunch as we slowly started to climb again.

Just as we were getting a gap over the bunch, a water point appeared, and in a move that I'll be mocked about for a long time, I stopped for something to drink. Apparently it isn't cool to stop at water points when you're racing, and that is only something the guys further down the field do. Sensing Red John's scorn, and the lack of any future offers of a tow I dug deep and managed to rejoin the bunch that we'd been with. To make amends for my amateur water point behaviour I kept the pace going, and before we got to the top of the hill, we had opened up a nice gap on the bunch going into the best single track of the day at Lebanon.

Perfect conditions for bike racing
My shock and front brake working flawlessly, we were able to increase the gap as we exited Lebanon and headed towards Thandi, and the next water point. Before we could even see the water point I was told that under no circumstances were we stopping. As we whizzed through the water point, I didn't even dare to look at the cups of coke, and kept my eyes firmly glued to Red John's bum when I suddenly realised that for the first time all day he was showing signs of taking strain (he probably should have stopped for a cup of coke at the water point, but I didn't dare voice that opinion). Red John started to struggle in the final 10kms, so I was able to repay the earlier pushes and slingshots as we raced towards the finish, desperate to keep the gap over a bunch of riders that were steadily gaining on us. With the exception of Tennis Playing Pete, we were able to hold on, and eventually crossed the line in 3h01. It was nice to know that Red John felt pain too. We'd lost 2 places overall, and one place in our category, but had a nice buffer over the teams behind us. It was also nice to know that we'd ridden 11 minutes faster than Little John - perhaps now the persistent mutterings of my lack of technical skill could finally be put to bed.

Yolanda's penance for riding her bike
Several hours later the ladies arrived in a sprint finish for 382nd place, and much like her husband, FFS Nadine's sprinting skills let Team Pinky and the Brain down. This didn't dampen their spirits at all, the grinning from ear to ear continued well up until dinner time. Team Finding Vino 2 had miscalculated their nutritional requirements versus the distance remaining, and with one kilometer to go had to stop for an energy gel. It was only several hours later that Mike stopped bouncing off the walls.

Post stage torture massage
Stage Three

For those of us staying in the tents, stage 3 began at 2am with a howling wind signalling the arrival of the cold front that we all knew was coming but were too scared to talk about. For once, those carrying a few extra kilos were at an advantage as several stick like racing snakes awoke to find themselves half way across the Western Cape. At around 4:30am I was finally able to fall asleep as the wind died down, only to be awoken by the sound of torrential rain, followed shortly thereafter by a phone call from Red John somewhere in the vicinity of BotRivier, letting me know that today Starsky would be going solo. Hutch's sub 5% body fat would not be enough to keep him alive on a bike in freezing conditions.

Pinky putting up a pyjama protest
I wasn't too phased by the conditions - my trusty pair of arm warmers were at hand, and I'd seen worse in the form of the still spoken about in hushed tones 100 Miler of 2009. It looked like Pinky (or perhaps in this case - The Brain) was also going to withdraw, citing a well crafted list of excuses, ranging from the fear of pneumonia to the cost of replacing bike components, depending on who she was speaking to.

The food tent looked like a refugee camp
Just before the start time at 7am, the organisers decided to delay the start for another hour while they frantically put plan B, C and D into action. This was like a stay of execution for many - we'd made the decision to ride, had mentally prepared for a wet, soggy day out on the bike, only to be forced to huddle in the warm, dry food tent as we awaited their decision.

Nervously awaiting the final decision
At 8am, a rather nervous looking congress of commissars stepped on stage and announced that after much deliberation and head scratching, stage three of Wines2Whales was being cancelled, and that this year's edition of the race would be known as Wines2Waters forevermore (it was that, or cut off the second W on the medal). Judging by the cheers in the tent, they had made the right decision, even if we all were a little sad not to be riding into Onrus. Overall results would consist of the first two days of racing, which meant that Team Starsky and Hutch had met the goals set out before stage one - a top 20 overall (17th) and a top 10 in our category (7th). I was glad the stage was cancelled, not because of the weather and the conditions, but because it gave us an official finish, rather than a DNF. The real Starsky and Hutch would never have gone their separate ways!

Snow in the background
A wet and cold looking race village
As for Team Pinky and the Brain, they managed a credible 12th place in the ladies, and 6th place in their category (out of 13 and 6 respectively). Mike and Adrian were quite disappointed too, although I'm not sure what they were more disappointed about, not riding the final stage, or missing the opportunity to stop at 3 water points for potatoes, oranges, bananas and coke. Perhaps next year Red John will let me ride with Team Finding Vino 2 - I think I missed out on a whole other side of Wines2Waters.

Who brings an umbrella to a bike race?
And now you know why we call him Little John

Our thoughts go out to the families of the 3 workers who lost their lives building part of the course.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:53 | 3 comments

Swazi Frontier 2011

Once again, the cousins from Cape Town found themselves re-enacting the Groot Trek as we made our way from Cape Town to Hawane, via Johannesburg, Hendrina, and Carolina, for the start of the 2011 Swazi Frontier (possibly not the exact Groot Trek route).
Nervously awaiting the arrival of our bikes
Apart from the odd ablution stop and run away whirlwind, the trip was rather uneventful. No lost baggage, no forgotten passports, no missing customs receipts. Until we got into Swaziland. Rather prophetically, in the space of 9kms, we got lost 3 times, but eventually arrived safe and sound at Hawane Luxury Chalets. After registration and picking up our race goodies, chatting to familiar faces and sussing out the competition, we made our way to our accommodation. Once again we hadn't quite cracked the nod for a luxury chalet, but we had been upgraded from the tents to the stables.
I drive, Little John navigates. That was the deal!
Once we'd made sure the airline hadn't performed random drop tests on the bike boxes, we un-boxed and rebuilt our bikes. I'm always a little nervous about riding a bike that I've just put back together - I always have this nagging suspicion that I might have missed tightening an important bolt or two, particularly when I'm flying down a bone rattling descent, and of all the races to discover a loose bolt, Swazi is not the one.
Our room for the night
Dinner and stage one's briefing was a rather subdued affair by Fossil's standards - there was no talk of distance or altitude gained, and the profile for the stage was only subliminally flashed on the screen before we were distracted by the arrival of desert. There was some mumbling about a big climb, and drinking lots of water before we were told the difference between a stone and a rock (something along the lines of a stone can be picked up in one hand and thrown, while a rock requires at least two hands). Apparently, all stones had been removed from the course, which leads me to believe that Fossil can't pick up and throw anything bigger than a golf ball.
Little John and his new steed
As far as the competition went - the Kenyan Grasshoppers were back again, and they'd brought some reinforcements in the form of two youngsters. The Swazi pair of Thulani and Fana were looking good, and eager for a spot on the overall podium. Bad luck had struck the Osama Bs (is it just me or are they a magnet for bad luck) with Bruce Turvey falling sick in the week leading up to the event. We spotted a couple of other racing snakes and made mental notes on people to keep our eyes on.
Navigational homework

Stage One

Bright and early at approximately sometime after 7 (Swazi time is a non-exact concept) we were off and almost immediately we were climbing. What little air there was just seemed to get thinner as we gasped our way up the climb, our team name of Altitude Sickness suddenly feeling quite apt. Meanwhile we watched the Kenyan Grasshoppers and their protégés disappear up the climb, but we weren't overly concerned. We knew the Grasshoppers couldn't navigate, and so they were falling into our trap at the front of the race.
Another tough day in Africa
In what is becoming a rather regular occurrence, Little John had an early mechanical problem with a dodgy pedal and several teams came flying past us. We got going quickly again and made our way back up through the field. With the footage of the mountain bike hating buck fresh in everyone's mind we entered the Malolotja National Park and almost immediately spotted one of the now feared and infamous Red Hartebees. I held back a little and made sure I was behind Little John. Everyone now knows that it is the front guy that gets taken out!

Up ahead we could see our plan in action as the Kenyan's had indeed taken a wrong turn and we quickly nipped around a corner and out of sight. Another tough, rock littered climb awaited us before we encountered one of the scariest, death defying technical descents I have ever ridden. I have fondly named the descent Tyson's Traverse, and although I can't remember too much of the descent because my eyeballs were bouncing around so much in my head, I survived the prolonged 10 minute crash-in-motion, my entire body feeling like I'd just been in the ring with Mike Tyson for 5 rounds. Bruised hands, aching kidneys, cramping arms, and sore legs. Several times I questioned the wisdom of riding a hard tail at this event. By the time I got to the bottom Little John was out of sight up ahead, I'd lost a bottle (Fossil's warning about drinking enough suddenly haunting me), and I was convinced I'd forgotten to tighten several bolts on my bike.

Thankfully the descent had given us a bit of a gap, and while Little John and I both had some Mother Earth reacquainting falls, we were in the lead. We flew through the water point, gulping down some Pepsi and ignoring the temptations of the doughnuts and ice lollies and crossed the suspension bridge. All we had to do was keep our cool, follow the map and get to the last climb with a sizable gap and the first stage would be ours. What we hadn't quite banked on was that we'd miss the simplest of turns, get lost on the wrong side of the mountain and then bump into two teams of Kenyans.
Charlie the lettuce farmer feeling the effects of a long day out
We knew were we had to go, and the only thing standing in our way was the almost vertical side of a mountain. While I was trying to find a route AROUND the mountain, a decision was made to go OVER the mountain. I still wonder what Little John's reasoning was, not about going over the mountain, but the decision to take navigational advice from the Kenyans. Half an hour and four blisters later we'd made it to the top of the Kenyan Crux to find that we were now in second place, with several teams approaching fast and one last opportunity to make up time on and lose the Kenyans on the descent.
The Country Club at Bulembu
Little John contemplating a swim
However, Little John had other ideas and got us lost again, somehow sniffing out an illicit plantation of Swaziland's finest cash crop. And it wasn't just us that ended up among the tall, healthy plants - half the field of the Swazi Frontier got "lost" there. This probably explains the ten and a half hours it took the last team to complete the stage (and why they were giggling like girls when they finished).
Thulani stocking up on flapjacks
With our morale at an all time low, and several teams ahead of us by now, we started on the final climb (with the imposing name of Too Brutal). Both the Adult and Nymph Grasshoppers were back on their preferred terrain and flew up the hill as Little John and I adopted a rather more sedate approach of riding, pushing, carrying and dragging our bikes up the climb, eventually crossing the finish line at Bulembu in 5 hours and 7th place, for what has to be one of the toughest day's out on a bike I've had in a while.
Lunch at Bulembu
More worrying than the lack of BMT displayed by Team Altitude Sickness was the news that Little John had cracked a rib. Thankfully, the hospitality, food and surrounds at Bulembu provided enough of a distraction - we would deal with the rib in the morning.
Charlie applying Voltarin to Little John's rib
After failing stage one's navigational test, Little John is eager to make amends
Stage Two
In stark contrast to the treacherous nature of stage one, stage two has to be one of the most enjoyable days one can have on a mountain bike. Fantastically fast descents, countless river crossings, twisty single track - what more could a mountain biker want. Fortunately, the route was almost exactly the same as the previous year's stage, so while we couldn't rely on the Kenyans getting lost, at least we wouldn't get lost either (or so I thought).
The bicycle cleaning and self servicing area
With Little John doped up on anti-inflammatories and pain killers we set off from Bulembu, leaving the inspiring town behind and headed off towards Piggs Peak. Our plan was the same as the day before - try to lose the Kenyans on the descents, and make them have to navigate for themselves. Before we could really put our plan into action, Little John once again had his early morning mechanical, breaking a chain. We got going quickly again, and watched as the group up front were forced to make some navigational decisions.
The pool at Piggs Peak
We rejoined the group just as the long downhill was about to begin and almost immediately noticed that the baby Kenyans were under pressure on the downhills. The Kenyans had to make a decision - wait for their protégés or stick with the lead group. They chose the latter and soon there were just three teams from three countries at the front, Thulani and Fana from Swaziland, David and Davidson from Kenya, and Little John and myself from South Africa. The Swazi guys were riding a great race, they'd ridden smartly on day one and now were setting the pace on the front. I was worried that they would out climb us on the final climb of the day, and so was eager to put them under pressure in the technical stuff.
Now this is luxury
We got a slight gap through one of the longer river crossings and while the Kenyans rode across to join us, the Swazi duo took their time. A lightning fast stop at the water point and we were on our way again, the Kenyan's marking us (obviously relying on our superior navigational skills). One minute we could see the Swazis hot on our heals, and the next minute they were gone - nowhere to be seen. We put this down to them missing a turn, but the reality was that Thulani had broken a frame. Not just a dent or a crack, but a solid clean break. His bike now consisted of two halves, held together by gear cables and brake hoses.
Thulani and his new bendy bike
In a rather courageous move, Thulani told Fana to go on ahead - they'd never been in the lead group before and he would like to know how well they could have done if he hadn't had a mechanical. In order to be considered finishers of the Swazi Frontier, Thulani had to finish the remaining 18kms of stage two with his bike, and so with a borrowed pair of shoes began the torturous trek up towards Piggs Peak, carrying what used to be his bicycle.
Secretly, I think every rider checked their bikes for cracks that night
The only bit of route advice Fossil had given about stage two was that when you see the big blue concrete block, turn right. Guess which way Team Altitude Sickness turned? Ironically, it was the Kenyans who had to tell us we were going wrong, before they kicked it up a gear and vanished up the final climb, eventually riding 11 minutes into us as we settled for second place in just over 3h30.
My pansy feet showing the effects of the Kenyan Crux!
Once again the BMT jokes were flying around as we lounged around the pool when Thulani arrived, bike in hand, to the applause of all those there. We might have beaten Thulani on the stage, but there is no denying that he was the true victor that day.
I came back from Swaziland 2kgs heavier.

Stage Three
Lance was right, it's not about the bike
Much to The Pipe's disappointment, the route for stage three had been changed quite considerably. Mickey's Madness was a thing of the past, as was the long boring district road that climbed out of the valley up to the beginning of Mickey's Madness. Instead, we were all in for a new surprise. Ordinarily, this would have played into our hands, as this would force the Grasshoppers to either follow us, or do their own navigation. However, the Kenyans no longer trusted Little John's navigational skills, and were quite prepared to venture out on their own.
The finish - no high fives allowed!
Instead of having our early morning mechanical within the first hour of racing, Little John decided that 5 minutes before the start was a better option. As if our navigational skills weren't under enough pressure, his speedometer had stopped working. Perhaps we would be following the Kenyans today.

Enter The Pipe, who the previous night had made a bit of a nuisance of himself, immediately offered up his own GPS. Just another one of those things that makes this "race" so special. After a quick crash course on how to use the GPS we were off, and almost immediately the whole lead group got lost. Several times. Team Altitude Sickness wasn't to blame this year, as we were still trying to figure out the GPS at the back of the bunch. I suspect it was the Kenyans who were trying a new tactic - Treacherous Intentional Route Extension - they were trying to T.I.R.E us all out by making us ride up and down hills we didn't need to. A very sneaky tactic.
Do we really have to go home?
After passing back markers for the 3rd or 4th time (that's how many times we chose to ignore the route card), the racing upfront settled down and we reached a pact - we'd help with the navigation if the Kenyans didn't push too hard. Unfortunately, the Swazis were feeling the effects of the previous day's bike portage and were off the pace. However, the Kenyan protégés were in the mix, and this time we wouldn't be able to shake them on the descents.
The Kenyan youngsters - Antony and Kennedy. Keep an eye out for them - you saw them here first.
After a fabulous section of single track along the Komati river we were faced with a couple of torturous kilometers on a tar road up to Maguga Lodge - both Kenyan teams ahead of us, and another team hot on our heals. As the road went up, the Kenyans vanished and we were left to defend 3rd spot. A rather brutal way to finish another fantastic tour of northern Swaziland. We'd done enough to hang on to second place overall, thirty minutes down on the Kenyan Grasshoppers. Once again Little John was the bridesmaid to the Kenyans - and that's not something we minded too much. It's not often that guys like us get to race riders like them and the format of the Swazi Frontier makes that possible.
The overall podium
All that was left to do was enjoy some beers by the pool, cheer in the riders as they finished, pack our bikes back in their boxes and prepare for the prize giving party that night. The Swazi Frontier was over for another year, and already I was making plans for 2012. From the passion of Brett and Lesley, to the hospitality of all those involved, the beneficiaries of the money raised, and the other "competitors" - the Swazi Frontier is quite a special event, and a must do for any mountain biking enthusiast.
Not only did they beat us on bikes, the Kenyans have all the moves on the dance floor too
Time to pull up our socks.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:27 | 7 comments

Trans Baviaans 2011

For the ninth time in succession I made the pilgrimage to the dusty little one-horse town of Willowmore in the Karoo for the queen of endurance events - The Trans Baviaans. Once again, I had dragged my faithful sidekicks - Captain Craig and Little John along for the adventure, with Little John starting his 5th escapade from Willowmore to Jeffery's Bay.

After 5 years of perfect conditions through the Baviaans Kloof, Mother Nature decided to show her angry side and had unleashed a spate of bad weather over the Eastern Cape, with the result being that the rivers in the Baviaans Kloof were barely passable on a bicycle, and completely impassable in a vehicle. Rather than pull a Pied Piper of Hamlin move and lead 1200 cyclists to a cold and watery death, the organisers put Plan B into action - code named "LangsBaviaans" (for the 2 english readers out there - "Next To Baviaans"). While we wouldn't be going into the Baviaans Kloof, we would riding one mountain range over to the right. The positive being that my nemesis hill - The Mother of All Climbs - was no longer part of the route. However, a new hill affectionately dubbed The Father of All Climbs had been found to spice things up (and give me sleepless nights).
Captain Craig, wearing all his branded race gear.

After spending a noisy night in Willowmore Primary School's hostel, and being woken up at 4:30am by some very eager cyclists (bear in mind the race only starts at 10am) The Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies (formerly known as the Soggy Bottom Boys) were ready for the 235km trip that lay ahead. There was a fresh, chilly wind blowing, but thankfully the threatening rain clouds had disappeared overnight. Little John was given the honour of being the team captain to commemorate his fifth Baviaans adventure (and hopefully avoid any of the grumpiness from 2010). This wasn't just a token gesture - along with the title came some tasks and responsibility.
Little John looking nervous, flanked by his merry men.
An elementary seeding system was introduced this year, and our 7th place from 2010 ensured that we cracked the nod to start at the front of the race for a change. It also gave us an opportunity to suss out the top guys, psych out some buddies, and steal some camera time. Our kit got a couple of "Go home roadie" chirps. Little did they know that in true roadie fashion we also had newspapers stuffed under our jerseys to keep the cold tail wind out.
We're at the front!
After an interesting interpretation of our national anthem - Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika - the race got under way, and almost immediately the biggest guy on a bicycle I have ever seen - he made his 29er look like a BMX - and his partner shot off the front of the lead bunch. There wasn't a reaction at all from the bunch, and if anything it had the opposite effect - the bunch sat up - everyone trying to hide from the wind and not do any work up front. Enter the Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies.
Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika performed by the Willowmore Wailers.
With a massive bunch of wheel sucking mountain bikers on our wheels Captain Craig and I took turns on the front, enjoying the open road, the tail wind and the beautiful Karoo scenery. After an hour and a bit a couple other teams came forward and helped out with the pace setting, and some moves started to go off the front. This was what we had been waiting for - time to thin out the bunch and get rid of the hangers-oners. Careful not to get into trouble with Little John we followed a good move that looked set on going away when Little John broke his chain. Just as in 2009, it felt like the entire field came past us as we tried to figure out how to fix it. In reality, we were probably only at the side of the road for about 5 minutes, but by the time we were rolling again the bunch was long gone. Now Captain Craig and I had no choice but to set the tempo and make sure Little John was protected on his Little Bike.

Langs Baviaans

We raced through checkpoint 1 after catching our first target, and up ahead we could see several other teams - encouragingly acting as carrots. With the skill of true roadies we'd figured out a move on overtaking the slower teams that would prevent them from hooking onto to our wheels. Little John was the key, and would fly past as we crested a hill or bump, and then Captain Craig or I hop across at pace. We're both convinced that Little John would make an excellent roadie - we're just not sure what will be easier - getting him on a road bike, or getting him to shave his legs.
The roadies on the front!
(Click for big view of the awesomeness)
By the time we reached the second checkpoint we were lying in about 15th place, having made up a good few positions. We needed a quick stop to maintain our advantage and close in on the teams ahead of us when Little John failed in one of his captainly duties - he'd lost the little token that was marked at each checkpoint. This was a 20 minute penalty, the last thing The Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies needed. Thankfully Captain Craig kept a cool head and found the token, lying on the ground and averted a potential morale sapping disaster.

Slowly but surely we were closing in other teams, and at the same time closing in on The Father of All Climbs. Almost on cue, my stomach started acting up, and only through the expert encouragement and motivation from Little John (never before has a coke been so intimately described) and some welcome pushing from Captain Craig did I reach checkpoint 3 in one piece. Another motivating factor not to get off and walk was the fact that I couldn't really walk. In an amateur move akin to wearing underpants under your cycling shorts to your first Argus (come on - you've all done it!) I had bought new cycling shoes the week before. While they did their job perfectly when riding, they chaffed like crazy when walking, and by the time I got to The Father of All Climbs I could already feel some blisters from the walk around the parking lot back in Willowmore.
I didn't realise we were towing THAT many people!
(Click for big view of the awesomeness)
A quick purge of my stomach contents, 500ml of coke, some soup and a bun later and we were ready to conquer the rest of The Father of All Climbs. By now we had caught "The Biggest Cyclist in the World"and it was rather encouraging to see him walking up all the climbs. My legs felt great, my stomach was under control and the top of the climb was beckoning. A rather disappointing descent later and we arrived at checkpoint 4 in 12th place. A lightning quick stop including some expertly peeled Patensie oranges and some coffee for Little John and we were on our way again - the Never Ender ahead of us. We briefly lost Captain Craig as he got lost IN the checkpoint, but a few minutes later we were on our way again. I was paying the price for trying to race "The Biggest Cyclist in the World"™ into checkpoint 4 and was having a (another) bad batch - thankfully not stomach related. Calling in some favours from several years ago, Captain Craig graciously offered a pocket for me to hang on to while the Gu kicked in.

As the sun slowly set we could make out the lights of several teams ahead of us and we dropped a few gears, put our heads down, and rode like the wind catching and passing 4 teams along the way. Our professional backup driver (and my wife) later told us that we put in the 3rd fastest time on this leg, only 2 minutes slower than the eventual leaders. Another lightning quick transition, some raised voices in the direction of the backup driver (nothing that flowers couldn't fix later) and we were on our way, eager to make up some more ground when disaster struck.
The Duckies approaching the finish
Little John collapsed in a heap right in front of me, with our two bikes getting tangled up together. On closer inspection the little wheels from Little John's bike had disappeared down a hole and he'd come to an abrupt stop. Fearing a buckled wheel, broken fork or some other race ending damage, we slowly extricated Little John from the hole and from his bike. Apart from the handle bars being slightly skew, everything was fine with his bike. It was only then that someone asked if he was ok, and thankfully a little thing like a hole wasn't going to stop Little John from getting to Jeffery's for the 5th time.

We'd lost sight of the team in front of us, but there was no sign of anyone behind us either, so we rode a steady tempo into Jeffery's Bay, finishing the 2011 LangsBaviaans in 8th place as fireworks lit up the sky, in a time of 9h47. Little John had joined the Five Finisher's Club, and we all agreed - this was our best ride at Baviaans, even if it wasn't our best time or placing.
They need a bigger board for our team name!
After teasing the Man Mountain about his descending skills (if I can go faster than him downhill he deserves a bit of teasing), he paid me a compliment (I think): "For a skinny guy you're quite strong". I didn't tell "The Biggest Cyclist in the World"™ that I was only too glad to see the back of him before the Never Ender ;)
Fire Breathing Rubber Duckies done.
Little John has officially retired from the Trans Baviaans, but just like Lance we reckon he'll be back. As they say - you have to retire in order to make a comeback. (Some reading for you Little John). After all - it will be Captain Craig's fifth, and my tenth. Imagine the party afterwards!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:22 | No comments

The Nav Challenge 2011

Just when you though mountain biking couldn't get more exciting, along comes an event that tests not just the strength of your leg muscles and your technical ability, but also your ability to think and plan at the same time. The 2011 Nav Challenge took place in Hermanus, mostly up the Hemel and Aarde Valley and pitted teams of two against each other. For the sake of inclusion, the event is also open to our poorer cousins of endurance sports - the joggers, so a big, diverse field is guaranteed.
Maximum points after the abseil near the old Hermanus harbour
The concept is simple - get to as many checkpoints as possible in the allocated 3 hours to collect as many points as you can. The further the checkpoint is from the start, the more points it is worth (or, as it turns out - the better hidden it is, the more points it is worth). To keep the joggers happy there were two point systems in place, and this time the joggers were favoured over the mountain bikers. Personally, I feel that if you forget your bike at home you should be made to suffer the consequences.
What is it with girls and maps?
Our team, the Head Banging Billy Goats, had a distinct advantage in that we relied heavily on local knowledge, some tips the guys who cut the singletrack, and several other teams with better map reading skills. The trick concerning the last point is to pretend you know where you are going, yet are not as fit as the team you are following. The only catch is that you have to chose the team you are following wisely, as several teams spent more time studying their maps than actually cycling.

One of the other more interesting approaches involved intricate plotting, distance measuring, note taking, marking of bearings, and then once on the bike relying on gut feel to find the checkpoints. Needless to say, such a strategy doesn't work that well, and we made sure not to sneakily follow this team.
Verf Meisie coming through!
We had the privilege of competing along side the Ladies classification winners from the previous event, and pick up vital tips and hints. The boys did however chose the more risky approach of relying on brute strength and local knowledge to rack up points, while the girls (this time riding under the name of Die Verf Meisies) chose the tried and tested approach of targeting a couple high scoring checkpoints and then having some fun. Previously this included swimming in a dam, and this time it was fooling around on the canopy zip line.
Made it back with 1:13 to spare
With a little over one minute and 13 seconds left to the deadline, we made it back to the start/finish area, having collected a whopping 175 points from a possible 200. The three checkpoints that we missed didn't really fit in with our plan (or the plans of the other competitors that we were following). To our disgust we discovered that two teams of joggers had beaten us into 3rd place. We suspect a slight favouring of the joggers at this event after the complete domination by the mountain bikers at the previous event.
Fun for the whole family
Die Verf Meisies had done well, or so we thought, only for the organisers to make a clerical mistake and lose their result completely. It turns out they came 2nd in the Ladies category, once again showing the boys that perhaps sometimes brains do beat brawn!

All in all, the  Nav Challenge is a great event and adds new dynamic to the sport of bike riding. Nothing like a bit of navigation to create tension within a team. The Head Banging Billy Goats will definitely be back, and we'll be out to extract some revenge on the joggers. And perhaps we'll listen to the series leaders in the Ladies category next time they give us some tips and hints

3rd overall and first MTB team:
The Head Banging Billy Goats