Thursday, 9 May 2013

Final diary from Joberg2c 9 day stage race in South Africa

Sunday 5th May

On Wednesday I woke up with a virus, a fair few people were getting ill mid race, including the race doctor! Team Contego lost 2 hours on stage 4 from the same bug, they had been fighting for a podium GC finish. I forced down a small bowl of breakfast but on the start line for stage 6 I was white like a ghost. I could barely pedal and as riders streamed by I knew this was the end to our general classification ambitions, the mountainous route killed me. After all the hard work I'd put in especially on stage 5 I was gutted and had a little cry behind my sunglasses as we very slowly made our way along the route, eventually we lost around 1 hour 30.

I'd felt like being sick most of the morning and was all achy the rest of the day. To make matters worse I couldn't eat anything and was in bed all afternoon. I managed a small bowl of musli that afternoon before going to sleep just after 6pm.

Having not eaten anything on Wednesday but ridden around 100 km's with over 2000 metres of climbing I was a little worried about Thursday, maybe I could just make it through the day and recover for the final few days of the race?

After the sickness and achyness of Wednesday the 'race' on Thursdays stage 7 was a little better, I felt no pain but still suffered in a different way. My body was empty, the legs looked like sticks, I felt like I'd blown half an hour into the stage and riders began to stream past, first the mixed teams, then the girls teams, then the tandems, then everyone else.... Tim did his best pushing me up the hills and I pedalled on the flat and descents to keep a small bit of momentum going.

I don't remember much from the stage, I'm sure it was an awesome route but I just couldn't enjoy myself. Again we lost about an hour to the top guys, not that it mattered anymore. Coming across the line people were complementing us on how well we were doing, this angered me, I felt humiliated falling from 4th place in the men's classification to hours off the pace but these people weren't to know how well we'd been doing I suppose.

The guys from USN South Africa were very supportive the 2 nights I was ill and did their best to help us out, thanks to Albi and his team of riders.

On stage 8 we rode probably the best singletrack in the whole of South Africa, just 2km from the start line we joined the ribbon of trails which flowed their way towards Jolivet. The 30 kilometre descent should and would have been have made today the best day at Joberg2c but having not digested anything for 2 days my legs were again completely empty. I felt even worse than stage 7, at least then I had energy for the first 30 minutes, today there was nothing from the start line.

As soon as the trails flattened out I started looking for a way out, having descended for over an hour there was no way I could pedal up a hill a similar size to the finish. I was told to pedal on to the first water point at kilometre 40, I knew these last few k's were my last of the race. I passed over the tools I was carrying to Tim and told him to continue on without me, again I shed a little tear, all that effort and success on stages 1 - 5 felt like years ago. After this I felt a little relief, once at the feed I just sat on the ground watching riders pass by, I was gutted to not have made it to the end of stage 8 or the beach in Scottburgh after stage 9.

As I sat in the feed zone waiting for my lift to the finish Cherise Stander and her teammate pulled in for water, these 2 were fighting it out for a podium in the womens pairs category. Earlier this year Cherise lost her husband, the incredibly talented cyclist Burry Stander who's life was taken in a road accident while he was out training. Despite all this Cherise was here riding her bike, the feed zone operation wasn't especially fast and they were loosing time but the smile never disappeared from her face. This put things into perspective, I started thinking back over the last 10 days we'd been in South Africa, its been one amazing trip, each corner you turn the place just amazes you. Then there's the race, Joberg2c is something very special, I did the Cape Epic in 2012 so can now compare the 2, without a doubt which ever one you do you'll have an amazing time but don't get sucked into the buzz around the Epic.

The atmosphere here at Joberg2c is hard to explain but at the final evening presentation after stage 8 it became clearer, the organisers are like one big family and they welcome you into that family, all they want is for you to enjoy every moment whether its during the stage or during the breakfast, afternoon and evening. The routes put together are truly sensational, its amazing that so many land owners want you to ride through their land and build trails for the race.

I've thoroughly enjoyed my time here, thanks to Kelly and Wappo who run the race for all their help when we were planning the trip to SA, its been very special.

Also a massive thanks has to be said to two very special sponsors who stepped up for this trip, Little Knocks in Wokingham who put money towards the cost of bringing Dan our mechanic/ campervan driver out to SA. Also thanks to Itec South Africa who sponsored us for the trip, I hope we can work together again in the future.

Final thank you to Dan who did a sterling job all week cleaning and maintaining the bikes, driving the camper van, and dealing with all our other wants. Thanks mate!

I might not have finished Joberg2c this year but it gives us a great excuse to come back next year! :-) See you there.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Stage 5 diary from Joberg2c South Africa

1pm Tuesday 30th April

We are now over half way through Joberg2c, today’s stage 5 was meant to be an easy recovery day at just 98 kilometres, there was lots of fast rolling fireroad sections so that groups could work together. What should have been easy turned into a proper suffer fest, the riders in 6th place in the general classification didn’t stop at feed zone 1, Tim did, and so I had to wait. The result was an 18 kilometres smashfest where I sat on the front of the chase group which included the rest of the top riders, no one else was willing to help and they were hating the fact I was ruining their recovery day. For 18 kilometres I sat at 170 bpm plus chasing down these 2 escapees, I chased them all the way to the base of the mountains where we caught them. Having just smashed myself for the last 45 minutes the pro’s rode away from us on the first climbs, luckily the Avis riders who I’d chased down were just as ruined.

After yesterdays solo effort the last thing I needed was another hard day today. Even better is the fact that we have 2500 metres of climbing to do tomorrow in 90 kilometres. Dan our mechanic and campervan driver had a pretty rough day also with the police directing him and others in the convoy the wrong way meaning they got lost.

Despite the suffering we weren’t the only ones, we think team Contego had an issue of some sort and will have dropped way down the general classification so our ride today might have gained us 4th place overall, we won’t know for sure though till dinner tonight when the results will be posted in the dining marquee.

We are all pretty tired right now in camp, I wonder if I’ll wake up tomorrow morning. Think I might just go to bed now and not get up till 5.15 tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Joberg2c Stage 4 Diary

3pm Monday 29th April

Is it Monday, yes I think so, the stage racing bubble has well and truly developed around us so not a lot else matters right now apart from eating, racing, and sleeping. The race organisers put the fear into us last night when briefing us about today’s stage and rightfully so. The time gaps today are going to be huge because the route didn’t suit group racing. The climbs were fierce and the descent even more fierce!

We are in the mountains now, within the first couple of kilometres the split occurred as we raced our way up a 20% gradient concrete climb, even before this the legs were stinging thanks to an over eager lead out tractor driver and the Europcar riders pushing the pace right from the start. We were on the wrong side of the split and ended up racing on our own the entire day after escaping on the long 20 kilometre descent near the start. We could see the lead group up ahead for most of the day but us on our own were no match for their pace. We did catch Kevin Evans on the penultimate climb which was a leg breaking 3 kilometre section with gradients up to 25%, it really was awful! This was then followed by the final climb which we assumed after 105 kilometres of riding would be an easy fireroad ascent, nope! A technical rocky very loose singletrack section which must have lasted about half an hour, ouch! It was fun though in a sick kind of way!

The descent made up for all the suffering today though, we might have climbed 1700 metres but we descended 2500 metres! The singletrack descents were probably the best trails I’ve ever ridden! I made sure I led into the first descent which dropped about 800 metres in altitude, it was a proper blast and put a good gap into everyone else apart from a Europcar rider who kept up but had to stop half way down because his hands were hurting so much from hanging onto the bars!

Anyway we had another good day and finished 5th in the men’s category, 6th overall as there was the super quick pro masters team in front of us.

Tomorrow according the race profile we race uphill for 90 kilometres, oh joy.

I ate 8 slices of banana bread at lunch today, the meals here continue to impress!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

South Africa Diary - Joberg2c stage 2

11.30am Friday 26 April 2013

Its 11.30, we’ve finished racing stage 2, we’re showered clean, Dan the mechanic has cleaned, degreased and applied the Fenwicks lube, and now were chilling out in the shade waiting for lunch. All we have to do now for the rest of the day is relax and recover which is good news because today’s 91 kilometres of racing was hard work and tomorrow we have 130 kilometres to do.

Tim and me got separated somewhere within the first 10km’s as puddle terror took hold of the peloton. Puddle terror is something we see at most races, everyone slam on the brakes in an effort to avoid getting wet feet, it’s pretty funny really but can be quite dangerous when you’re riding in a tight bunch. As we got separated Tim ended up on the wrong side of the split as a lead group developed and pulled away, after a few kilometres I had to drop back to assist my team mate.

A puncture later on Tim’s front wheel dropped us from the 2nd group and left us with work to do. Just before the final feed around the 60km mark we bridged the gap to the 2nd group again and we then just tried to limit our losses to the leading group. We lost 5 minutes in the end but still finished 8th overall and 6th in category so pretty good considering. Just outside the money! We were the top Itec Connect sponsored team so it feels good to pay back some of their commitment to us.

There was some awesome singletrack today, the last 10 kilometres was all singletrack, it was just a shame we were too tired to really enjoy it. I’m glad I’ve got the Scott Spark full suss to ride, the trails and even the fireroads are really bumpy, Tim’s riding his hardtail and I’m sure he’s going to fatigue much quicker because of it.

Tomorrow hopefully we’ll have a smoother ride, I do wonder though how my legs will cope after today’s huge efforts. Anyway off to lunch now, the meals here at Joberg2c are amazing, we are being spoilt and really did have the best steak EVER last night. The race briefing last night was also good entertainment, the organisers really do just want you to have as much fun as possible.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

South Africa Diary Day 3 and 4 (Joberg2c Stage 1)

8pm Thursday 25th April 2013

Busy day today, we ventured back into Johannesburg for sign on, the journey itself was pretty interesting, Tim didn’t particularly enjoy negotiating the chaotic rush hour traffic in our palatial campervan. Once we arrived at the Fire & Ice Hotel we did several laps of the block trying to find a suitably big parking space, eventually we gave up and resorted to pleading with the security guard outside the hotel to let us park up right in front of the entrance, VIP parking, sweet!

Registration was in full swing with the 5* hotel full of eager cyclists and bikes were propped up all around the reception area. Registration complete, freebie bag collected, Dan’s and the campervans accreditation collected. It was then time to drive to the race start to rekey the start of day 1. On arrival though we thought best not to leave the campervan in the middle of a field next to a busy main road unattended in a slightly dodgy area.

We drove back to the campsite to find a herd of dears vacating our parking space, they quickly fled though as we got closer. We ended up riding from the campsite, we found a good route to start with along gravel roads but couldn’t turn it into a loop so had to ride back along the way we’d ridden out on. All the same 22 degrees, no clouds in the sky, it was a fun ride and opened up the legs before we start stage 1 of Joberg2c tomorrow.

A couple of days ago we found a little kitten meowing in a bush close to where we’d parked at the campsite, this afternoon the kitten visited us. The words “what harm can it do” when Dan asked Tim whether they should give the kitten some milk turns now ring in our ears. Well let me tell you this little cutie turned out to be a right pain! It rejected the milk but made us its best friend, constant meowing quickly turned into an annoyance and as this evening approached we realised we’d have to vacate our camping space! This wasn’t so easy though when the kitten had crept inside the campervans wheel rim and was ready to hold on like a hamster in a hamster wheel! We tried everything we could but it wouldn’t budge so the next step was to roll the van down the hill, a quarter rotation of the wheel and this thing was still hanging on, we were in fits of laughter. We didn’t want to hard the little kitten but couldn’t leave it in there as it was going to keep us awake all night. Eventually we did escape from the crazy meowing kitten, don’t worry though the kitten will be fine without us.

Last night we heard a pack of wolves howling nearby, I wonder what animals we’ll hear tonight, hopefully not the little meowing kitten.


1.30pm Friday 26 April 2013 - Stage 1

Stage 1 done and dusted, today was neutralised so we just cruised around the 116kms sitting in the lead group, enjoying the awesome feed zones, looking out for animals, and admiring the stunning scenery. A 5.30am start was required to down breakfast and make the journey to the start venue, Dan our mechanic particularly enjoyed the early wake up, something he’ll have to get used to unfortunately as each stage now starts at 7am. On the start line the television helicopter pilot showed us his skills flying sideways at speed just above the start line arch.

The opening singletrack trail was a good taste of what will follow in the next few days, the trail was loose and rocky, there were 2 line choices which split and the top and didn’t rejoin until the bottom of the hill 4 kilometres later! The rest of the day was flat fireroads or double track trails through nature reserves and around the Vaal Dam.

The feed zones out on course were pretty amusing, everything from tasty pastries and pancakes, to meat cooked on the bbq! Today there was time to enjoy these sweet treats, tomorrow I doubt the lead group will be so sociable. We met plenty of people today out on the course, everyone was really friendly and there was always someone to have a chat with. The organisers are great as well, Wappo and Kelly are really making us feel welcome.

After about 70kms we had to cross a big river so rather than taking us across a bridge we had to dismount our bikes and climb aboard dragon boats, once 3 dragon boats were full with roughly 15 participants in each we had a little race across the river which was pretty good fun.

We ended up leaving the final feed zone earlier that most and ended up in a group of 6 at the front, although today doesn’t count towards the overall classification it was pretty special to roll into the finish town with the locals lining the road and cheering, the TV helicopter hovering over us, and the commentator announcing our names. Hopefully we can repeat or get somewhere close to this in the next 8 days of real racing.

More scrumptious food followed at lunch time in the huge food hall, apparently for dinner we are getting the best steak we’ve ever eaten, sounds good to me!

Itec Connect who’ve sponsored us for this race have been awesome so far, really helpful and supper motivating, hopefully we can pay them back with some good racing.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

South Africa Diary Day 1 and 2

7am Tuesday 23rd April 2013
We are currently travelling hundreds of miles per hour, no we aren’t in our new Vauxhall team van but we are sat on a plane travelling high over South Africa (about an hour north of our destination Johannesburg, another adventure is about to begin, we are racing the 9 day stage race Joberg2c. We being Tim my 2013 teammate who I’m racing with as this is another pair’s event, and my good friend Dan who’s here to generally look after us and create some extra banter!

Much like the speed of this plane the race season seems to be flying by, the year really began back in November but now the racing is in full swing each week passes by quicker than you expect. The start of the season started dry but cold at the final Brass Monkey race where I began with a win and the first round of the Gorrick Series where I finished 2nd.

Super motivated by my training we headed out to Spain to race the 6 day Andalucia Bike race, expected sunshine we and the organised were left a little surprised when snow storms swept through areas which hadn’t seen snow in 30 years! It certainly made the mountain top trails a little more testing. It was awesome to see fellow Brits Rich Rothwell and Ant White winning the Veterans category, they spent multiple days in the leaders jerseys and in my opinion are now ‘legends’ of the sport! Seb and Hamish Batchelor also put in a storming ride, bad luck on the first stage all but destroyed any chance of them achieving a decent general classification position but they weren’t deterred and finished top 10 numerous times over the remainder of the week, that’s one fast family! Our race didn’t go entirely to plan with mechanics and illness ruining what was one of my big aims of the year.
I used the disappointment to boost my training and turned up to the first National XC with strong legs; I finished 10th Brit but was still left thinking I hadn’t done as well as I could have done. The National was in fact the 4th or 5th race weekend in a row we’d seen snow, crazy! Another couple of weeks later and we made the hop back into marathon racing for the first European round of the World Marathon Series, top 20 qualified for World Champs so I was super happy to finish 17th despite having crippling stomach problems mid race, all the hard work was paying off. Jumping between race distances is a challenge but something I’m enjoying, a second place at the Southern XC against tough competition proved this.

So now we find ourselves about to land at South African turf, let the fun continue.

4pm Wednesday 24th April 2013
Since landing we’ve been swept up the South African experience which I’m glad about as we didn’t get a chance to do much touristy type stuff when I was here racing last year. Staying in the campervan is definitely the way to travel; the 3 of us are having great fun. After picking up the camper we drove down to our campsite an hour south of Johannesburg and parked up in the bush camp. It’s an awesome place with our own private swimming pool and animals like zebras (stripy horses), antelopes, ostriches, peacocks and wild kitten which we saw on a little 30 minute spin around camp.

We ate our meal of chicken risotto outside at the kids table which we’d been provided with the campervan! After dinner we climbed up to the top of the hillside to watch the sunset, we were a little late but it was worth the hike.

We were pretty knackered after a restless night on the plane so we were all tucked up in our beds by 8pm! Tim bought his Exposure Diablo light to use as a torch, 1500 lumens is a bit excessive though to make your way out of the camper and woke me up a couple of times, also heard some animals outside the camper. Otherwise it was a good night’s sleep, we all slept until about 9am, over 12 hours sleep!!  

Today we went to rides some mtb trails, it turned out there weren’t many trails to ride at the game park we’d been recommended but the 2 hour road loop was a good laugh and we saw loads of monkeys so Dan found some new friends! We also saw more zebras, wilderbeast, impala and loads of birds. The actual riding was a big loop through the game park so we only saw 1 car and the scenery was stunning.

The supermarkets we’ve visited so far have had pretty impressive bakeries but we’ve resisted the urge to sample some of the cakes, that must wait until after the race! We have discussed whether we are aloud puddings when the race starts, the decision was that we can if we finish higher than a certain placing each day. Dan thinks we’re mad! Possibly, probably!