Photo by Zoon Cronje: Kevin Evans
6Day Mountain Bike Stage Race, 659km, 13500m
Stage1, Oudtshoorn-Calitzdorp, 107km, 2161m
The first stage of a tour is always the most nervous and potentially most important in the race. You also never sure what the legs will do and how the body will react. The route for the day was fairly easy to begin with, besides the rough Karoo jeep tracks with many thorns to get through.
The racing began in earnest after the first water point when we headed into the ‘Red Stone Hills’ and old Cape Epic trails of past. Dave and I turned up the pace, the temperature turned itself up, and soon the splits had formed. Up the long steep climb before the final climb, we had our gap, and put in a big effort to capitalize on our lead and make the most of what we could.
We came in around 5min ahead of Melt Swanepoel and Nico Bell, Adrien Niyonshuti and Jacques Janse van Rensburg finished in third place. Sauser and Knox had a series of errors, to cut a long story short, which cost them 30minutes plus, a one-hour penalty.
Stage2, Calitzdorp-Riversdale, 128km, 2756m
This stage was reminiscent of the old Epic stage from 2008, and started with the infamous Rooiberg Pass climb. The Contego King of the Mountain prizes each day really spiced up the racing and made the big climbs of the day that little extra harder as riders raced for the R2500 up for grabs. Once over the climb, the front group, consisting of the four main teams, rolled through until we hit some more rough and tough ‘Katot’ jeep track through one of the beautiful reserves. It was in this section, trying to show the boys how to ride a river crossing, that I got stuck in a really deep section, couldn’t unclip, and completely submerged myself to the point of near drowning.
Past the last water point, altogether and aiming for a gentle final 40km to this long stage, we were thrown a major curve ball where we hit the roughest 4x4track of the race. Forced to run and scramble, Sauser and Knox got a gap as Dave and I gave chase to no avail, but we did manage to distance ourselves from our rival teams of the previous day. After some sense of humor loss, we eventually rolled down the Garcia pass and finished second, but put in some really big time gaps to Melt/Bell and MTN/Quhbeka. RE:CM not too far behind having a really tough day out there, learning some real Karoo mountain bike lessons at its best. (respect!)
Stage3, Riversdale-Albertinia, 106km, 2379m
Today’s stage, the weather decided to up the game a bit for all the riders out there. Gusts of wind at 90km/hr were blowing, fortunately Westerly though, meaning tailwind, however, ‘Katot’ managed to wind the route that in some way, we had block headwinds and mean gutter sections. Just as the race was splitting up going into the mountain reserve, we had to stop to fix a flat rear wheel on Dave’s bike. Unfortunately the front guys continued to race on, leaving us with around a 60km chase to the finish. Melt/Bell were trying to catch Sauser/Knox, around a 1minute gap, we were trying to catch Melt/Bell, another 1minute gap, but for 60km, the gaps stayed the same and all of us made a meal out of this stage, with no real gains other than Sauser/Knox taking the stage in torrential rain. Not a pleasant day out on the bike, and even harder for the back markers, coming into a non-existent race village due to the weather. The school would host the riders in the classrooms, and plan B turned out to work well for the organizers and tired riders..
Stage4, Albertinia-Mossel Bay, 98km, 1579m
Riders set off in much better weather, and with the winds on our backs, we were off on a beautiful days racing through to Mossel Bay. The highlight for the day, well there was two, was one: crossing the ‘Island’ in the Gouritz river. This section had the most thorns I’ve ever seen besides the first day of the Grape Escape. This took Sauser/Knox out of the days racing, and gave Dave and I a few problems ourselves, but nothing that we weren’t able to solve on the go. We had to chase a few times to catch up to the same front teams, we were pretty much all content to roll through to the end, and let the other teams battle out a stage win. Highlight two was going through Gondwana Reserve, with its 7Kalahari wild lions. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we never saw any, but they did do a compulsory roll call through this section!
The most scenic section was the final 15km along the coast at Pinnacle Point, and I must say the Golf Course was looking in great nick! But the racing was on as RE:CM had put the hammer down with Melt/Bell in pursuit. We were following wheels, MTN/Qhubeka just off the pace, and for a change, the front two teams, or should I say, Dave spotted a tricky left/right sign board, and we actually went the right way, so before we knew it, with no intentions of winning the stage, we had. Unfortunately for the other guys, they did a small detour, but made their way to the finish although somewhat disappointed. Don’t worry; we know the feeling, well.
Stage5, Mossel Bay-George, 127km, 3046m
10km on Dias beach to start the queen stage of the tour, I seem to remember last year being low tide, and high tide this year really took its toll on the legs, not to mention what the poor riders at the back would be going through!
Again the racing split, but the pace was really turned up after the KOM where Sauser decided he would like to try win another stage. This time Dave and I followed and from here on, the racing was fairly flat-out. On numerous occasions they tried to drop us, but we were determined to take this stage and not disappoint our supporters at the finish.
After 120km of tough riding, we were still neck and neck, and we knew that a sprint finish would have to decide the outcome of a five and half hour day!
Knowing Dave’s sprinting ability, or lack thereof (joke), I told him to attack with 5km to go. As he did, Max followed and Sauser and I watched them ride ahead. Its always easier sprinting one on one, and it’s the second rider over the line that counts for the stage win, so I left myself up the ‘creek’ to sprint against the World Champion, but for the record, he beat me by half a tire! (damn)
Stage6, George- Oudtshoorn, 93km, 1594m
The last day will never be an easy day in the Pioneer, from my experience, and starting with the Montagu Pass, I’m sure the back riders were thrilled: a 12% 7km climb, before ‘Katot’ sent us into some more ruthless jeep tracks with the final 30km going through the rough Chandelier reserve. Again Sauser/Knox decided to try for another stage win, but the rest of us, RE:CM, Melt/Bell and ourselves were content to just roll trough to the end of a tough tour.
All was going well for me, not the best legs on the day, but up one of the rocky climbs, the camera man (BigShot Media) was trying to get me to ride up an almost impossible section, when I came to a stop, couldn’t unclip, fell over on the high side (yes its all on camera) and just about broke three ribs. I won’t lie, I didn’t have a fun ride for the remaining 50km, and I wasn’t getting much sympathy from my teammate either.
But the race was in the bag, and we had turned our stage race luck around to win the 2011 Cape Pioneer Trek.
Henco and Carel, plus all the crew, too many to mention, put on another amazing event, and really kept the riders interests first. Dryland is fast becoming a world-class events company, and Nedbank 360Life are proud to have been invited to their race and hope to be back to defend our title next year.
And to all the ‘die hard’ riders who make up the field, you have our utmost respect for completing this grueling event. I suppose it’s the toughness that makes you guys come back, however I’m amazed at how well prepared you all are! Best of luck with the recovery!
1st Evans/George (Nedbank 360Life) 26hrs53min
2nd Melt-Swanepoel/Bell (Specialized/Bell Cycles) 27hrs25min
3rd Nyionshuti/Jvan Rensburg (MTN/Qhubeka) 27hrs51min
4th Woolcock/Macdonald (RE:CM) 27hrs57
5th Sauser/Knox (Songo36one) 29hrs23min
Next race, that’s a wrap folks, season 2011 done for Team Nedbank 360Life. In the end of a dreadful start, what a finish, and with the support and like-mindedness of our sponsors, all we can say is, ‘roll on 2012’!
Thank you and proudly Nedbank ambassadors!
Till then, cheers.