This past weekend was the SA XCO #2 held at the Voortrekker monument in Pretoria. It was my first XCO race since worlds in late August last year which ended in a disaster after having my derailleur ripped off my bike and watching as the chances of a possible medal position slip through my fingers.
When things like these happen it can go both ways. It can either motivate you to come back stronger and fight another day or it can be extremely disheartening and take a while before you even want to get back on the bike. As for me, my confidence went completely out the window but I held my head high, and began preparing for 2015.
I’ve set new goals and have a fantastic group of people around me. I signed my first ever contract with Red Bull who have given me a new set of wings! A sick set of wheels from Specialized South Africa which will see me on the woman’s specific ERA (he’s beautiful)
And been given the opportunity to race for the Sasol racing team for Marathons which led me onto a slight detour at the beginning of the year. I raced alongside Yolande De Villers for 2 stage races, the Tankwa Trek where we placed 3rd Woman and then the GR300 where we finished 1st. They were both incredible 3 day stage races and Yolande was an absolute star to race with!
From there I made the decision to miss the Absa Cape Epic. It was an incredibly hard decision as once sucked into the hype of the Epic fever it’s hard to pull yourself out… But I have embarked on the long road to Rio 2016 for XCO. Of course there is the possibility that I may not get there but I am wanting to give myself the best opportunity. Usain Bolt will not run a Marathon when wanting to qualify for the 100m – that’s one way of looking at it.
XCO requires speed and power, it’s a 2hour max race. You have one chance and one chance only. It’s cruel , unforgiving but very exciting!
So with that said, SA cup #2 was my first XCO race this year. I flew up to Pretoria earlier than usual for better preparation. The course was rocky and loose and not very technical. The hills were placed perfectly well so that no one had the chance to recover, I knew it was going to be hard!
The pro elite woman started at 10:00am Saturday morning. Very few people realize the importance of the start in XCO even Marathons for that matter. As once off the front group it’s very hard to bridge over again and if you do … You probably the first to get spat out the back when the pace turns up. I was ranked 7th which meant I was in second row (top 5 ranked girls were row 1). Not such a mission but if you didn’t get near the front in the first few 100 meters before the single track that’s where you would stay till your reached the last quarter of the lap, this was where the first opportunity to pass came. Sure, I had practiced my start… Once or twice.
The gun went and we were off and it was if I was wearing takkies… I just couldn’t find my cleats.
First try – fail
Second try – fail
Third try – fail
Finally on the fourth try metal met metal and I was on my way. By now I was sitting in tenth as we began the hill. I tried passing but no one was budging. Ears closed, Elbows out. And I watched as the front two girls snaked away from the rest of us. We reached the top and began the rocky decent that I had punctured on in practice. The rocks were sharp and unforgiving so I decided to run slightly heavier tyre’s on race day that were safer than taking a chance. Many girls paid for this in the later laps as I heard many were puncturing left right and centre.
Once we reached the bottom of the technical decent there was a nice decent on an open jeep track followed by a drag to the tech zone. This was where I bridged over to the two leading girls (Mariska Struss and Candice Neethling) making sure I didn’t bring the others with me. But I knew I had emptied myself out before we began the final climb… (Stupid girl!)
Mariska got a gap on us and it took me a while before I came out the red. She got just far enough in front that I could no longer see her. I couldn’t see anyone behind me so from there I got into my own rhythm. Towards the end of the 4th lap I saw Mariska in the pits jumping back onto her bike later I learnt she punctured but she flew past me at such a speed I honestly just let her go… she didn’t get very far though 7 seconds she pulled out on me up the hill.
With one last lap to go, I gave it one more shot, I descended as fast as I could and was able to catch onto the wheel again, but as luck would have it I made a small mistake and took a little tumble. I never had much chance of closing the gap now, Mariska could smell the finish line.
I ended off in a very pleasing 2nd place 20 seconds back, a real confidence boost going into the new season. Well done to all those who competed. It was a really treat to watch everyone fight it out on Saturday. And to all the great support on and off the track you guys are awesome! XCO is really on the up!
This weekend we head down to KZN for the PMB Mountain Bike Festival.
Friday will see us bombing down the hill on the Endro.
Saturday we head to war in the XCO.
Sunday we race around KZN in the Marathon
Make sure to keep up on the latest action.
Till next time