Photo by Kevin Evans
Columbia Grape Escape, Day 1, Durbanville-Wellington 75km, 1330m
The Columbia Grape Escape was the first race win for myself last year, however this year the race format was changed to accommodate individual riders and teams, with the focus being on teams. The race attracted all the biggest teams, and would be a real tough and closely contested race.
The first stage saw most of the individual riders set the early hard tempos, and after the big climb up to the top of Cotermanskloof, there were only three teams, and three individual riders. The Bulls1 Team of Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm were the only guys missing, but after 30km, they joined us with Shan Wilson.
There was not a lot in the stage to try and force any moves, and the fast pace saw us rapidly approaching the finish in Wellington. It came down to a sprint, but after a few hundred meters through some of the worst thorns imaginable, it was Songo who won just ahead of Dave and myself, followed shortly a few seconds back by the Bulls2 team.
Stage 2, Wellington to Diemersfontein, 70km, 1550m
Stage 2 on paper looked like a tough day, with most of the climbing coming in the last 20-30km. We also decided to change bikes back to our Scott Sparks, which was the right choice, as the route was getting rougher. The group rolled together nicely and without too much action. This was about to change in a matter of minutes as we hit the steep and rough singletracks of the Welgevan Pass. About 5km before this tough piece, I had swerved around some of the tail enders of the group and in the space of 50m, had gone through a bad patch of ‘devil’ thorns. One by one, as they came out the tire, I would loose sealant, until there was none left in my front tire. This went flat just as we were near the top of the tough section and the split was happening. Dave and I stopped twice to sort it out, then jumped back on and started our frantic chase to get back to the group.
We were going well, and as the climb continued I had to stop to inflate my rear tire which had also gone down. After this there was not much we would be able to do to catch the front guys. We merely enjoyed the fantastic route that the organizers had set out for us, and the beautiful scenery in which we were surrounded. We managed to hold onto a fourth position, about 90seconds behind the third placed Bulls2 team. Songo won the stage ahead of Bulls1.
Stage 3, Diemersfontein-Boschendal, 70km, 2050m
This stage suited us perfectly, and with a few minutes to make up to get back onto the podium, we were ready to give our all. Except those plans were derailed in the early evening of the previous night, when Dave caught a tummy bug of note. This kept him up the whole night, and he was very ill. We decided to start the stage, and just see how he felt along the way.
Again the pace was being turned on by mostly Ralph Naef, the world class cross-country rider training for the Pietermaritzburg world cup. The group was thinned out quickly with the route going mostly straight up from the start. After about 15km, I looked back and saw Dave had dropped off the back of the group. I waited for him, and it was evident then that we were not going to see the end of the stage. He was completely dehydrated from the previous evening, with no energy in the tank. We decided to ride until the tech zone where Swen was waiting for us, and from there, excuse ourselves from the race and head home.
There was no point in heading to the finish with Dave needing some good rest and down time. I also decided it would be a good idea to conserve as much energy as possible to give the Mountain Bike Argus a good go the following morning.
The final results were as follows:
1st Songo Sauser/Stander
2nd Bulls 1 Platt/Sahm
3rd Bulls 2 Dietch/Boehme
Next race, tomorrow morning, the off road Argus at Boschedal. I have won the race before, and on the short fast and technical course, its always a challenge. Here’s hoping for some good legs!
Till then, cheers.