For those of you that missed the good news, Yolandi du Toit and I are now Team Garmin MTB full time in 2017 after a successful 5-race partnership last year. Despite being very unplanned we had our first race this past weekend and it’s my privilege to write our team’s opening race report for the year.
In a country as endurance sports mad as South Africa, any event with the word ‘Extreme’ in its title is sure to live up to its billing. The Attakwas aka ‘The Hell of the South’ is a prime example.
Named after the Attakwas kloof (gorge) which is the signature section of the race course, the 121km journey from Oudtshoorn to Groot Brak can be divided into 3 distinct segments. The race starts on the Chandelier Game and Ostrich Show Farm where jeep track cuts through Karoo Fynbos making for some high speed riding. The first waterpoint 25km into the race signals the start of the second phase with tough riding on unspoilt tracks through the Doringrivier Nature Reserve and finally the Attakwas kloof.
A technical descent to the 3rd waterpoint marks the final part of the race with wide open and wind exposed district roads taking riders to the finish on the coast.
It is a tough race and not for the fainthearted, especially as it comes so early in the year when race fitness is an unknown to most. As much as Yolandi and I wanted to do this race the travel and logistics meant it was a tough ask for us.
Cue a last minute invitation from race organisers, Dryland, to come and do their race along with the help of some friends who could offer us a lift and help with the logistics of a race which starts and finishes in 2 places, and we were on our way! (It obviously doesn’t take much to lure us into adventure!)
Being so last minute and with no specific preparation Yolandi and I decided to be conservative and view the race as a long training ride. Obviously it had the added benefit of deflecting any pressure so we could focus on the basics. Our game plan was to start slow and ride stronger towards the end of the race when start-of-the-season nerves and first-race-of-the-year adrenalin can easily entice one into spending way too much energy early on.
Of course these best laid plans went to hell as soon as the starter’s pistol fired and the wheel
s rolled in anger. Both of us had a strong race up until the 70km mark, after which we basically hung on and made sure we finished the race. I was fortunate to maintain most of the gains I had made through the Attakwas finishing in 6th while Yolandi was caught by some groups on the windswept roads towards the finish, dropping down from 6th to 8th. It just goes to show how fragile any lead was going into that final sector and how much experience counts in this event.
Travelling with friends and seeing the weekend and the event through their eyes was also very rewarding and made us realize why we started racing our bikes in the first place. One of our companions’ mother was the last competitor to finish the Attakwas inside the time cut, crossing the line with a mere 3 minutes to spare after suffering several mechanical issues and walking some of the technical downhills. Witnessing her tenacity and the joy of her friends and family when she beat the time cut was worth all the effort!
Photo Credit www.oakpics.com