For four consecutive years I’ve been fortunate enough to complete my racing season at the Omnicane Southern Tropical Challenge – a 4 day mountain bike stage race on the Tropical Island of Mauritius, traversing the southern part of the Island.
After a short flight across the Indian Ocean I arrived on the Island two days prior to event. With a late flight and a 2 hour time difference, I had just enough time to have dinner and assemble my bike before it was “bed time”. The following day was filled with a short mountain bike ride in and around Curepipe, a press conference in Port Louis and finally registration and race briefing at the Dodo Club back in Curepipe.
Since my maiden participation at the event I’ve been teaming up with local star and good friend Aurelie Halbwachs. This time would be no different and I was looking forward to the challenge ahead whilst racing alongside Aurelie.
Day one: 8, 2 km and 182 m of climbing
The prologue started and finished at the Dodo Club in Curepipe. Aurelie and I had strong competition in the pairing of Germany’s Nadine Reeder and Mauritian Kim Le Court. Nadine is well known for her podium places on the World Cup Eliminator circuit and Kim is currently riding for the South African VeloLife road team with a recent victory at the Amashova Classic.
In the prologue Aurelie and I set a good time despite my untimely detour in the Botanical Gardens close to the finish. We still managed to place 2nd on the day, only 2 seconds off stage winners Nadine Reeder and Kim Le Court.
Day two: 67 km and 1200m ascent.
Like the previous day, stage 1 started and finished at the Dodo Club in Curepipe. With rain falling throughout the night and intermittent showers during the stage, riders had to deal with a wet and muddy course.
The first section of the race consisted of jeep track littered with volcanic rocks. Last year on a similar trail I crashed quite badly and had to abandon the race with a heavy cut on my elbow which required stitching. While riding this particular section harsh memories came flooding back causing my body to tense up – exactly what you want to avoid!
On the newly built singletrack at Domaine De Lagrave something had to give and before I knew what happened, I was lying on the ground… The rain made the tracks at Lagrave especially slippery and most riders dismounted to walk the tricky sections. At that stage Aurelie and I were fighting for the lead position and pushed a little harder. I slipped on some tree roots and landed awkwardly on my shoulder. Although nothing was broken, I knew the damage was pretty severe forcing me to abandon the race. At the hospital in Curepipe it was confirmed that I had indeed torn some shoulder ligaments.
I couldn’t believe my ill luck. It was massively disappointing to abandon the race, but it hurt a lot more letting Aurelie down for a second time in a row.
Like someone once told me, it’s not what happens to you but what you make of it…. Despite it being emotionally hard to continue travelling with the event as a non-competitor, I decided to stay on and support those who could ride. In the end it turned out to be the best decision as the people on the island are very hospitable, caring and appreciative of my efforts to lend (1) helping hand. I would have missed out on a lot of good memories if I had left the race.
Day three took riders from the Dodo Club in Curepipe to finish at the famous tea plantation of Bois Chéri 65km later. Here riders camped for the night before departing for the final 60km stage which was set to finish on the beach at Point d’Esny. Waiting in anticipation at the finish line on the arrival of the first team home, I had plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere. I also had time to savour the detail organizers had thought of to make the finish special.
Once a rider crossed the finish line for the final time they received a true Island style straw hat and a freshly cut coconut , a glass filled with traditional spicy fruit salad, a chicken Kebab and finally a dip in the ocean if you were so inclined. One thing is for sure, you would be hard pushed to find such an exotic stage finish anywhere else.
Well done to the entire OSTC team for putting on a unique stage race, especially considering the limited resources available.
Juliette Halbwachs (Aurelie’s mother) had been my private ambulance for both incidents (2013&2014) and my private tour guide during this year’s event post injury. Juliette, thanks so much for making my OSTC experience truly special. Also a big thanks to the entire Halbwachs family and Yannick Lincoln for warmly hosting me during my time in Mauritius.
Obviously, it’s not the way I would have liked my 2014 racing season to end but I really can’t complain as I had a great year on and off the bike thanks to wonderful sponsors and an unwavering support team. Without you guys, I won’t be able to do what I love dong the most- so thank you so much!