Graskop is a small forestry town perched on the edge of the Drakensberg escarpment. Besides forestry, it also attracts tourists to share in a few scenic wonders such as Gods Window, the Blyderivier Canyon and several picturesque waterfalls. This time around the main attraction was bicycles as riders showed up to participate in the 5th edition of the Clover Lowveld Tour.
The tour is one of the few remaining major road stage races in SA and welcomes all age categories, and genders to take part in the event. The elite men competed in a 5 day tour while the rest of us had 4 consecutive days of racing to look forward to.
Stage 1- 27km time trail with 246m of climbing (Graskop – Hazyview)
The elite ladies started off with a 27km time trail from Graskop to Hazyview. With the starting point of the time trail lying at 1012m above sea level and the finishing point at 670m above sea level the route profile was only heading one way and that was gradually downhill. Although this may sound like fun, believe me it’s quite the opposite. I finished the first stage in 5th place which I was more than satisfied with considering that I was on a normal road bike instead of a time trial specific bike. Juanita Venter put in a brilliant performance to take the stage win and her victory bodes well for the World Veteran Time Trial Championships which she will contest at the end of this month.
Stage 2 – 108km and 2144m of climbing (Graskop–Hazyview-Sabie-Graskop)
Day two started in the main street of Graskop, taking us on a circular route through Hazyview and Sabie to finish back in Graskop after a tough 108km.
This stage also proved to be the ‘queen stage’ (hardest stage) of the tour and included a total of 2144m of climbing. Everything was going well for me until we reached the final climb back into Graskop. At that stage Dalene van Der Leck and I were on our own in 2nd and 3rd position in the ladies field. We had only 5km remaining when my body decided no more. I ‘blew’ so badly that it became an effort just to stay upright on my bike and I actually considered walking back to Graskop. I lost a fair amount of time and had to settle for 4th on the day. Luckily in a tour you get to fight another day, except if it’s the last stage J
Stage 3A – 7.3km Hill Climb with 493m of climbing (Kowyn’s pass)
On the Saturday we had two stages to complete and the morning stage started off with a hill climb time trail up Kowyn’s pass. By definition time trailing is always hard, but I actually enjoyed the stage. I really like the solitude of an individual time trial and it’s also one of the reasons why I enjoy mountain biking so much.
Stage 3B – 85km and 1533m of climbing (God’s Window laps)
The afternoon stage consisted out of 4 laps of the well-known God’s window viewing point loop. I went into the stage sitting in 4th place and really wanted to make up some of the time I lost on the previous day.
In mountain bike races you rarely attack as it’s more a race of attrition so I decided to replicate this, going flat out up the final climb to the God’s window’s viewpoint. I managed to split the ladies field into a leading group of four riders, but ended up paying for my efforts in the final kilometres as I got dropped 2km from the finish line. Despite having to settle for 4th place on the day, my effort wasn’t all in vain as I moved up to 3rd place in the overall standings.
Stage 4 – 96km with 1629m of climbing (Graskop – Blyderiver road – Graskop)
The final stage of this year’s tour took us out and back on the Blyderiver road. Lesson learned from the previous day I decided to race smart instead of racing with my heart (although I prefer the latterJ). This helped me to save a lot of energy to win the stage in an uphill dash to the finish line. I can’t remember when last I sprinted for a victory and I was very happy to finish the tour on such a high note.
The Clover road tour is a wonderful initiative from H&A tours to improve road cycling in South Africa. All that’s needed is for the ladies to take full advantage of this opportunity and race positively and unrestrained, and it would definitely help lift the level of the sport.
I’m glad I decided to take part in this year’s edition of the Clover Lowveld tour. As with every event or opportunity, there is always something to be learned and I hope the fitness I gained bodes well for my goal mountain bike races later in the year.
1st Lise Olivier
2nd Dalene van der Leck
3rd Yolandi du Toit
4th Carmen Buchacher
5th Candice Neethling