Today we were invited to ride trails in the Kammanassie that have never been ridden by bicycles before. This, however, will remain after today’s stage. It was hiking at its best. Over 1 hour of pushing the bike up a steep incline in fact so steep that my lower back muscles started cramping from the rather awkward movements. But I am getting ahead of myself, let me tell you how the day started.
Woken up by the chatter of riders in my neighboring tents at about 5h30 I made my way to the delicious breakfast that’s been offered each morning by the Dryland Crew. After some oats, fruit and tea it was time to pack up and head to the start. We started off with a 9 kilometer neutral zone through Oudtshoorn which turned into a high speed grind once we hit gravel. I saw my two contenders sitting in the front bunch and so I tried to hang in there with my heart rate rising well above 90% max effort. I could feel that my legs were not quite with me at that point and so I had to drop back hoping to catch up at a later point. Being caught by the the second bunch just a minute or so later I felt far more comfortable and able to hold the pace. We rode on this open rode for at least another 10 kilometers before we turned into jeep track towards the Kapteinskloof farm. We passed the Kammanassie dam indicating that we about to make our way into the nature reserve. Welcomed by the first few technical and steep climbs, we were rewarded with fast and challenging descents. It was at about that point and 30 kilometers into the race that my legs came to live. What a great feeling. I popped a gel and sipped on the Perpetuem before I started my mission to hunt down my two contenders. Racing through the Kammanassie valley surrounded by beautiful vegetation and the mountain range in sight was accelerating. I passed a few teams on the rather steep but short climbs and tried to tug in a bunch on the flat and wind exposed tracks. I felt great and was ready to tackle the Kammanassie when the hiking started. At first it was still ridable, loose and rocky but still able to keep balance to push up in granny gear while kissing the stem to keep the front wheel down. But the gradient became steeper and steeper until we were faced with a wall of a climb, totally unridable. The mountain was covered in mist and so one was not able to gauge how long this is going to carry on. I could not remember the distance or ascent to the top, and was walking and swearing my way up. Over an hour later we had reached the top. What came then let everything quickly evaporate. A beautiful 20 km technical and a bit nerve racking descent was ahead allowing me to make up valuable time. I flew pass a few teams and had a blast and hoped that I would catch Carmen and Ann-Mari, knowing that they do not enjoy the descents as much. But no such luck, I did not see them until the finish, once again Carmen 5 and Ann-Mari 10 minutes ahead of me. Hopefully my legs are strong from the start for the next stages and can attack earlier in the race.
It’s interesting how rituals become quickly part of the daily routine once a stage is completed. A day is packed with admin that one does not find much time to rest until 20h00. On average I arrive around 13h00 in the finish, which is followed by extensive discussions and evaluation of the day’s stage. This is then followed by a shower and lunch. Laundry follows and sorting out the charging of Garmin and phone. By then it is about 15h00 or later, pending how much chatting has happened between each activity. It is amazing the number of interesting people one meets at the Pioneer. They are coming from all over the world with different backgrounds, everyone with a unique story to tell. Pioneer being a somewhat smaller event in terms of entries this year, it has a lovely personal feel to it. After a few days one gets to know many of the riders as one eats together and celebrates the day’s achievement.
Back to the routine, by the time lunch is done, it is time to inspect the bike and sort out any technical hiccups. The massage is happening at about 17h00 for me and then off straight to dinner and race briefing. If there is a bit of time in between I respond to important emails or write the race report. Quite a busy schedule.
Tomorrow we head to Prince Alfred over the Swartberg Pass. I am now hitting unknown territory and will be interesting to find out how my body responds to the fourth day of hard riding.
So far I am still holding 2nd position in GC but Carmen is getting closer with only 7 minutes time difference.