This past weekend Team Garmin MTB headed to the Tankwa Trek where Yolandi teamed up with Theresa Ralph and I partnered with Hannes Hanekom for the event.
Hannes is a farmer in the Witzenberg Valley which we traverse on stage 1 of the Tankwa Trek. In fact Hannes and his brother are responsible for most of the track we followed on day 1, so my partner had some intimate local knowledge. Hannes invited me to ride the Cape Epic with him this year, so this would also be a dry run for us as team mates.
Theresa and Yolandi have raced together quite often so their partnership is well established. Good thing too as they would need every possible advantage to be competitive in the small but strong ladies field.
The Tankwa Trek is known for its beautiful setting at Kaleo Guest Farm situated at the top of the Gydo Pass a few kilometres outside of Ceres. The rugged terrain of the ‘Koue Bokkeveld’ creates a dramatic backdrop to what has become one of the most competitive and international stage races in South Africa. Little wonder as the race is organized by Dryland who are known for their professional organization and friendly, hospitable attitude.
Stage 1 is arguably the hardest of the event with almost 2000m of climbing crammed into 89 very harsh kilometres. Yolandi and Theresa deliberately started slow and paced themselves well to finish strongly in 5th place amongst the UCI ladies teams. Hannes and I did the same, albeit somewhat more unintentionally, leaving some gas in the tank for the next 2 days.
Stage 2 is similar in length and ascent to day 1 but it is characterized by the Du Toit Drop – a 3km singletrack drop with 10% gradient and the Merino Monster – a 10km climb with pitches as steep as 20%. In between is some tough riding ranging from rocky singletrack to windswept farm roads.
Yolandi and Theresa were going well when for some unexplained reason an amateur rider tried to embrace Theresa in the passing, sending a bunch of riders to taste some Tankwa dust. Bottom of the pile was Yolandi who was forced to nurse a sore knee and shoulder to the finish. Understandably she was NOT happy.
Hannes and I played our usual waiting game finishing strong after suffering through the middle section of the stage. After the leaders in our category succumbed to a bee sting which forced them to abandon, Hannes and I also took over the green jersey. It’s not the way either of us would like to take a leader’s jersey, but our consistent performance and hard fought placing afforded us the opportunity to capitalize on the situation. Besides, we would have our own drama soon enough…
Stage 3 is also around 90km but with a lot less climbing it is always a super quick stage. Yolandi was struggling on the opening district roads where her swollen knee made it hard to keep up on the fast pedalling sections. Theresa was her usual loyal team mate self pacing Yolandi where she could. Once into the singletrack Yolandi channelled her inner sand beetle and the girls finished in 5th place on the stage and 5th overall for a solid result.
Barely out of the start gate Hannes and I decided to make the final day tough for ourselves by crashing into each other. With the leaders speeding away in a cloud of dust, we settled down to a lonely chase. When your closest competitors have Tour de France legend Udo Bolts in their ranks you know you are up for a fight, but we kept our heads and did what we do best – plug away. We caught and passed them at the final waterpoint riding steady to the finish to claim a category win.
It was hard to say goodbye to the Witzenberg Valley and our friends who hosted us over the weekend, but it helped knowing that we would be back soon enough!
Until next time, happy trails!
Melt and Yolandi