I was nervous and excited for SA Champs which was held at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg. I am familiar with the World Cup XCO course which is technical and demands respect! Upon examining the race profile, I could see we would either be riding UP or DOWN. If trail builder Nick Flores’ reputation is anything to go by, the downs would be super technical, challenging and FUN!
As expected, on the start line were all the best mountain biking ladies in the country. It was daunting but the training with my coach Bosseau had been paying off and I am confident in my technical skills. I would just have to keep a level head and do the best I could.
The race immediately started with a big climb – or more accurately a series of nasty kickers with the relief of some single track in between. Robyn de Groot set a crazy pace from the gun, putting us in the hurt-box from the beginning.
We climbed up the back of Cascades for 7km where we reached water point 1, I was now lying 10th, just behind my teammate Samantha Sanders. As luck would have it, a few hundred meters later down the first section of single track I heard the dreaded hissing sound of a deflating tyre. I hoped that it would seal but the puncture was too big. I was forced to stop. I saw it was a sidewall puncture which often don’t seal and need to be plugged, or worse, a gator and tube put in. I decided to bomb it and try to get it to seal, but it didn’t work and to add insult to injury I pulled out the valve in my hurry to get going again. My tyre was now completely deflated along with my spirit, almost the entire field had over taken me. Luckily I had packed another bomb, I screwed the valve back in, used the entire bomb and bounced the wheel making sure sealant got into the hole. It worked thank goodness.
I was now lying in about 25th position, I started reeling my competitors in, quickly at first which lifted my spirits. I found that it didn’t take me long to pass girls who usually beat me even after my puncture; this was encouraging and made me chase harder. 14km in at the 2nd Water Point, I was almost out of energy drink but I skipped my bottle as I knew there would be another one at the 21km mark. Which there wasn’t. The route was changed and the next tech zone would only be at 40km. In the distance, to my surprize, I spotted Yolandi Du Toit and Leana de Jaager. I kept them in my sights gaining slowly on them. We reached a long stretch of awesome foresty single track riddled with rocks and other fun surprises. I passed the Yolandi and Leana in the single track and had pulled a good gap on them by the time I got to the water point.
I was super grateful to see my coach, Bosseau, holding my bottle. I was parched; 40km with only one bottle is not ideal! While I savagely downed some juice Boss expertly lubed my chain and changed my bottles. We then began the next massive climb. It had varying levels of steepness and felt like it would never end. I was now ‘man aleen’ There was no one catching me and no one in the distance. It was hot and I was hurting, I took yet another life-saving PowerBar gel and forced myself to the top. The reward: more amazing single track! The last 15km was undulating with some enjoyable single track but I was ready for the finish. I crossed the main tar road back into Cascades up a rather unnecessary (I thought) final climb and back into the race village. I was quite happy to hear that I had finished 5th Elite. Although I was disappointed to have lost time with my puncture, I surprised myself with the number of positions I managed to take back. I was really happy to hear that Sam had come 3rd, an awesome achievement!
I absolutely loved the course and I am looking forward to Worlds! I have just been informed that I made the South African team, super stoked!
A big thanks to my sponsors ADIDAS, Continental Tyres, PowerBar, Bicicletta, and especially Naeem from Valencia for the amazing sponsorship and support, making my racing around the country possible. Also to coach Bosseau Boshoff for being so encouraging and making me fast.
Next up, MTN National XCM, Hilton.