My report on @CapeEpic. @GarminSA

The Cape Epic is one of the biggest and most followed mountain bike stage races in the world. With the event taking place on home soil, it’s always great to be part of it.

This year I was back racing alongside Theresa Ralph thanks to sponsors Garmin, Galileo Risk and Gear Group who covered our costly entry and made it possible for us to be on the start line.

The 2017 route was set to consist of 691 kilometres and 15 400m of vertical gain but extreme heat saw the total distance shortened by 40km (and 850 m of vertical gain) for the first time in history on stage 2. In the bigger picture only a small chunk was removed, but it surely made for some big discussions afterwards. Personally, I took a beating from illness and was only too thankful for the discount on suffering.

The 26 km prologue on day one was again held at Meerendal Wine Estate. From there it was on to Hermanus for the opening 101km stage. The next day riders left the local high school to finish the shortened 62km stage at Caledon instead of Greyton.  Stage three’s 78km route started and finished in Greyton followed by the longest stage in the Epic which took riders from Greyton to the Oak Valley Wine Estate over 112km.  Stages 5 and 6 were laid out in the Elgin valley and surrounding area, with the latter forming the Queen stage – 103km with 2750 m of elevation gain. Stage 7 took riders to a new Grand Finale Venue at the Val de Vie Estate near Paarl.

On the morning of the prologue I woke up with some minor flu symptoms but wrote it off as pre-race nerves. If only it was the case… Racing a prologue mid-day in scorching temperatures didn’t help and by nightfall I couldn’t ignore the symptoms any longer and had to accept my fate.

The days that followed were a battle, not only against the challenges the course and weather conditions had thrown at us, but also against my own body. Mentally and physically it was just a tough week (and I’m sure I’m not the only one with war stories to tell) but having a supportive teammate and supporting crew is without a doubt what kept me in the race.

Theresa was and is an incredible partner. She always stayed positive and never made me feel like I was holding the team back despite it being blatantly obvious. She motivated me along and made me feel like a real trooper for hanging in despite my illness. She kept the built-up tears at bay with her charismatic humour before, during and after each stage.

Obviously every rider has his/her own ambitions for an event and makes plenty of sacrifices to be in good form at the Epic. Yet when I wasn’t up to the challenge Theresa pushed her own ambitions and disappointments aside and instead decided to focus on the positive – which was to get us to the finish line. Experiencing this team ethic firsthand from Theresa as well as the amazing support from our crew made the Epic worth all the sweat and tears.

After the completion of each stage we got transferred back to our accommodation where homemade sandwiches lay in wait.  All our home cooked meals were freshly prepared for us, our laundry was washed, we got treated to daily massages and the logistical arrangements were all sorted out. I felt like a VIP and have to admit I’ve never been so spoiled at any event in my life.

My Epic 2017 will always be remembered not for the racing but the camaraderie of Theresa and the unbelievable support I received from our Epic crew. Thanks Mr. Charmain and co for the wonderful opportunity and for sharing the experience with me!

#TeamGarminMTB report on the @PEPlett stage race. @GarminSA @benmelt

The PEPlett 4 day stage race is an event that we’ve become quite fond of, mostly because we’ve always come away from the event with a pleasant experience regardless of the end result or the weather conditions which have been quite challenging in recent years.  The 5th edition of the PEPlett proved no different especially as the organizers, Red Cherry Adventures, moved the race from September to February allowing for MUCH better weather in which to enjoy the event.

As the name suggest the event takes place between Port Elizabeth and Plettenberg Bay. Every year the event changes direction with the 2017 route leading us away from Woodridge Primary School just outside of Port Elizabeth to finish 4 days later at de Vasselot Rest Camp, east of Plettenberg Bay.

The 314km in-between was all but smooth ‘pedalling’ with the stages presenting a variety of challenges. We had sandy patches, rocky sections, singletrack, mountains, forests and farmland to negotiate, but no matter how sweet or sour the riding got, the ever changing scenery, rider camaraderie and race village atmosphere made the effort worthwhile. 

Between start and finish we stayed over at Zuurbron Village for some warm local farmer’s hospitality before moving on to the magical setting of the Assegaaibosch Country Lodge on the outskirts of Kareedouw. This was a particularly tough day as the testing route was exacerbated by a howling wind which seemed to do it’s best to blow us back to where we came from. From there we raced to the Tsitsikamma Falls Adventure Village which was our final race village.

Ben Melt and I had a consistent race placing 2nd on each stage to finish 2nd overall in the mixed category. A week prior to the event we were still unsure about our participation due to an injury that I sustained at Tankwa Trek, so finishing on the podium was truly a bonus as completing the race was our main priority.

With the field limited to 200 riders PEPlett creates a comfortable and friendly race village experience and with the organisers being so passionate and personal the event makes you feel like more than just a number. All this is sure to translate into success and we look forward to PEPlett becoming a firm fixture on the SA mountain biking calendar.

#TeamGarminMTB report on @tankwatrek. @GarminSA @benmelt

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

#TeamGarminMTB report on @attakwas. @GarminSA @benmelt

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.1

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 co2S6A0240me 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.

Despite the customary suffering that accompanies the opening race of the season we are happy to get one under the belt, along with some decent race intensity miles.16142739_1232567616830076_3645571980655099432_n

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

A ‘new’ Team Garmin to focus on Africa in 2017. @GarminSA

9 (2)Before looking to the year ahead it’s impossible not to reflect on the year gone by and what a year it was!

In 2016 I competed in numerous high level events both nationally and internationally thanks to the unwavering support of Garmin. Being able to travel and compete in these events all across our beautiful South Africa, raw Iceland, historic Europe and tropical Mauritius was rewarding on both a professional and a personal level.

[The gift of travel is that the experience gains value with time shaping one’s perspective with each passing day.]

Adding some spice to an unforgettable 2016 was being able to race alongside another Garmin Brand Ambassador and sharing these experiences with someone likeminded.

This ‘Team Garmin’ initiative was instigated when Walter Mech, Garmin MD for Sub-Saharan Africa had the vision of a mixed team representing Garmin at mountain bike events. I have been with Garmin since 2014 so all that was missing was a male partner to complete the mixed duo. Fortunately my partner in life happens to be a pretty handy mountain biker and with the blessing of his sponsors we competed as Team Garmin at 5 stage races in 2016. Being partners in life and cycling partners are two different things and we were obviously cautious of how this new dynamic would influence our lives both professionally and personally.

Needless to say, Walter’s idea was a success and the Garmin Mixed Team dynrr2amic of myself and Ben Melt Swanepoel turned out to be one that flourished. We make a great team on and off the bike which is evident looking at our results in 2016.

Building on our success from last year Ben Melt and I will officially form Team Garmin in 2017 with increased support from Garmin and an extended race program. To add to this exciting news we’ll be focusing on mountain bike stage racing and other Garmin cycling related events throughout Africa.

Garmin’s Sub-Saharan footprint includes 25 countries beyond the borders of South Africa. In light of Africa’s rapidly expanding fitness industry it only makes sense for us to compete in South Africa and Garmin’s other African markets where events exist.

In addition to the races in South Africa we as Team Garmin are currently scheduled to compete at African events such as the Namib Quest (Namibia), the FNB 1-Zambia (Zambia), the Rift Valley Odyssey (Kenya), the Kalahari Challenge (Botswana) and the Southern Tropical Challenge in Mauritius.

Join us and share in our exciting African adventures by following our facebook page – https://web.facebook.com/TeamGarminMTB/unnamed

We look forward to another bumper year in Garmin colours filled with experiences way beyond the ordinary making it a challenge to #BeatYesterday!

 

 

Team Garmin’s review of Garmin Connect. @GarminSA

Slice 3Owning a Garmin device is only half the story. Unlock its full potential by using the Garmin Connect Mobile App and/or Online software.

Garmin Connect offers a whole range of training tools to assist you in planning, tracking and reviewing your workouts. The software includes features such as joining team challenges, beating other cyclists’ best times on local routes and more to help you improve your fitness. It can help you become a better athlete or just improve your health in general whilst having fun.

We’ll be sharing the Garmin Connect App and software features in various posts, so make sure to keep following.

Let’s start off with the Garmin Connect Mobile App features before heading on to Garmin Connect Online software.

Snapshots

When you open the Mobile App Snapshots is the first data you will see. If you swipe across the screen you’ll be able to see a daily review of all your data such as steps, sleep, workouts to name but a few. In a word – a snapshot of your daily activity.

Sleep Tracking

Most Garmin devices include the sleep tracking feature. The unit will automatically track your sleep metrics, including the time you fall asleep and wake up.

What does a good night’s sleep look like? If you slept like a baby and wake up refreshed your chart will show a steady wave of peaks and troughs.

How do I benefit from sleep tracking?

When I haven’t recovered sufficiently from a training session (over tired) or ate something that didn’t agree with me or even if I went to bed late, the chart will show an unsteady or unfamiliar graph in the morning.  This indicates that I have to change something in my daily routine to return to normal sleeping patterns.

Next time we’ll have a look at the Step Count and Calendar features

Following on from last time we look at the Step Count and Calendar features.

Step Count

Garmin Connect works with your device to create a daily step goal that’s customized to you and your lifestyle. The goal adjusts up or down depending on your previous step totals, always keeping you challenged and encouraging you to be a bit more active than the day before. If you prefer, you can also set your own daily goal with the Garmin Connect App.

How I benefit from Step Count

The day before and of an important session or race, I will use the step tracking feature to make sure I don’t accumulate any unnecessary daily steps. A fresh pair of legs delivers a better session and subsequent recovery assures maximum benefit from the session.

Calendar

If you want to look at a specific training session or view any previous info or activities just head to the Calendar tab. Here you’ll be able to access and review all captured data for a specific date. The Garmin Connect App splits steps, sleep, heart rate, runs, cycles and golf data. You can tap a day and then the type of data you want to review.

Next time we’ll have a look at how to review your sessions and editing your data.

Following on from last time we look at reviewing your training sessions and editing your data on the Garmin Connect App.

Review your sessions

Any individual session is best found via the calendar. If you want to get more of an overview about your performance head to the Running or Cycling Snapshot. From there tap the graph at the bottom and you can then filter training sessions over 7-day, 4-week or 12-month time scales. You can then see averages and totals as well as personal records.

Another great place to find stats is in your profile. Head to Settings > Profile & Privacy and scroll to the bottom to see your activity class designated by Garmin and your average VO2 max score.

Edit the data

You can edit any activity by heading to the item in the Calendar, tapping the three dots in the top right and choosing Edit Activity. From here you can name the activity, add notes and even change the type of exercise, if it’s been mislabelled.

Next time we’ll have a look at uploading Garmin data to Strava and joining a cycling or running group via the Garmin Connect App

Following on from last time we look at uploading Garmin data to Strava and joining a cycling or running group via the Garmin Connect App

How to upload Garmin data to Strava

First, go to the Strava app on your phone (or strava.com/upload/device on your PC) and make sure the Garmin app is installed (Garmin Express for PC/Mac users). You can then choose Settings > Link Other Services, and choose Garmin from the list. Enter your details and as soon as you pair your Garmin unit with Connect, it will automatically send the workout data to Strava as well.

Join a cycling or running group via the Garmin Connect App

The Garmin Connect Mobile App works mainly as a tool for reviewing your activity, but it also lets you search for groups to join. The groups come in various flavours from clubs to distance challenges all over the world.

Once you’re in a group you can see how other members are tracking towards their goals, whether that’s in terms of kilometres run, calories burned or total steps taken. The info comes in the form of a league table for an added dose of motivating competition.

More about Garmin Connect Online and its features in the next post.

Team @GarminSA give their account of the @STCmauritius.

Southern Tropical Challenge presented by Lux Resorts

15We have given up on the idea of convincing people that the Southern Tropical Challenge is a tough race requiring the usual fitness, strength and focus to do well. One mention that the race takes place in Mauritius and images of white beaches, warm ocean swims and cocktail sundowners are evoked and no amount of evidence to the contrary will convince anyone otherwise.

Contrary to these romantic conjurations racing your mountain bike on a volcanic island comes with some distinct challenges. Insanely steep climbs, jagged rock surfaces and slippery downhills are all part and parcel of the event creating quite a unique test.

Now in its 8th year the Southern Tropical Challenge (STC) has developed into a well organised event centred on the Lux Resort Tamassa Hotel. Most participants stayed in the hotel and from there completed the prologue and 3 stages.

After staying with our friends Yannick and Aureliè Lincoln for 3 days, it was a shock to the system racing the 16km prologue around the historic Le Morne Brabant. We coped well enough to finish 2nd, 27seconds behind Yannick and Aureliè who were very motivated in front of their home crowd.

A bent derailleur hanger early during stage one forced us to stop and do some roadside repairs. It didn’t cost much time but we lost a lot of momentum and never really got going afterwards finishing the stage in 3rd place.3-2

Stage 2 was much better for us with only a steep, muddy downhill costing us some time. We started to find our race rhythm and got better as the day progressed finishing motivated for the final stage.

By stage 3 we finally found our groove and raced hard to finish the stage and the race in 2nd overall. It felt good to push so hard on our 67th and final day of racing for 2016.

It was also good to see Yannick and Aureliè win a race that means so much to them, especially after Yannick is making his comeback from serious injury sustained at the Olympics in Rio.

Now we have a few days to enjoy the island and live up to the idea everyone has of this place. We will do our best to meet those lofty expectations!

My race report of the #Wines2Whales MTB Stage Race. @GarminSA

img-20161110-wa0005  Being one of the biggest 3 day mountain bike stage races in South Africa, the FNB Wines2Whales needs no introduction. Commencing in 2009 the event has grown massively and currently hosts a limited field of around 4,500 participants over the Trail, the Adventure and the Race editions of the event.

The event kicks off at the elegant Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West and finishes in Onrus on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean 3 days later. In between the event stops over at Oak Valley in Grabouw for two nights and here riders get treated to scenic, fun trail riding whilst traversing the beautiful Elgin Valley.img-20161114-wa0001

My Mauritian friend Aurelie Lincoln invited me to join her on her inaugural Wines2Whales experience and who can say no to sharing fun trails in a beautiful part of the country alongside good company.

Aurelie has been battling with her health since the Cape Pioneer Trek and my training has been haphazard due to the passing of a close family member. Knowing we showed up with less than ideal form we decided to just make the best of the situation we were in.

We raced as hard as we could trying to enjoy every moment to the full. Finally we finished in 7th place overall, but more importantly – we made some good memories along the way.

With the rac15078899_1542886919060596_4897809012214629721_ne season winding down, we leave tomorrow for our customary season ending race at the Southern Tropical Challenge where Ben Melt Swanepoel and I will be attempting to defend our title in the mixed category as Team Garmin.

My view on the @GarminSA Vivo Move Activity Tracker.

A Garmin Brand Ambassador get-together is always a highlight as the Garmin crew go out of their way to make it a special occasion. One of the surprises at the last meeting was that each Brand Ambassador got spoiled with a Garmin Vivo Move activity tracker.

20161104_120112For me personally the Vivo Move is currently one of the most stylish time pieces in the Garmin range, largely because of its friendly, analogue watch face. Apart from the Vivo Move’s elegant looks, it plays an essential role in my daily training and activity analyses.

Being the proud owner of a Forerunner 235 you might think why the need for an additional activity tracker. Well, sometimes you have to dress up a little and when that sporty looking watch doesn’t go with the outfit, you might miss out on tracking your daily activity. With the Garmin Vivo Move, your entire wardrobe is covered leaving no excuse to miss out on capturing your daily activity.

What I like about the Garmin Vivo Move:

  • It’s a great-looking watch!
  • It’s simple. It has an accelerometer inside for counting steps and sleep, and two bar dials behind the watch hands that give a rough idea of how far you’ve walked each day and how long since you last moved.
  • It has a one-year battery life so you don’t have to worry about charging the device.

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More on the technical side:

The bar dials on the watch face is for a quick glance at how you’re doing. You’ll have to head into the Garmin Connect app to see exactly how many steps you’ve taken, and roughly how many calories they’ve burned off.

The good news is that the app is pretty comprehensive, building a profile based on your body metrics and tying in with other apps such as Strava and MyFitnessPal. Everything syncs between services automatically, which saves a lot of hassle.

In the Garmin Connect app you can also see your sleep breakdown. Tracking sleep is a great way for people (active and sedentary) to realize how important shut-eye is and how it affects everything from work to appetite to training.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Garmin’s more serious fitness trackers and exercise watches are mostly a case of function before form, but the opposite is true here. The Vivo Move is a great-looking watch that doesn’t try to squeeze in too many features, instead it just focuses on the basics.

Follow this link to find out more about the Garmin Vivo Move:

http://www.garmin.co.za/fitness_products_vivomove.php

My race report of the @CapePioneerTrek. @GarminSA

These days the race calendar is jam-packed with events, making it physically impossible to participate in all of them. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is up for debate, but it does make for selective racing and sometimes you end up missing out on some good events.

This was t14650097_1240391526002287_5827217020826398191_nhe case with last year’s Cape Pioneer Trek where I ended up as spect ator rather than participant. This year I was excited to make amends as I toed the start line in Mossel Bay alongside good friend (and racer) Aurelie Lincoln.

Aurelie and I have done a few stage races together including the 2015 Cape Pioneer and it was reassuring to know that at the very least we had experience counting in our favour.

The Cape Pioneer Trek starts with a 13 km urban prologue on the coast of Mossel Bay and finishes 7 days later in Oudtshoorn, the Ostrich Capital of South Africa.  In between lay 503 kilometres which included some 9720m of climbing as riders set out to traverse the beautiful landscapes of the Garden Route and Klein Karoo.

Two days were spent racing in Mossel Bay with the prologue and stage 1 utilising Milkwood Primary school as the venue before the whole show moved on to George during stage two.

Stage three was spent racing on the local trails of George whereas stage four took riders from George over the Montagu Pass to finish in Oudtshoorn. Stage 5 and 6 was laid out on the surrounding trails of Oudtshoorn making for some proper Klein Karoo riding to finish the race off.

No (ad) venture is without its challenges and unfortunately Aurelie pulled out of the race during stage 3 due to illness. It was a disappointing day for both of us, especially because we were up to 2nd place overall at the time but we also understand that illness and injury are part of the sport.

I continued ra4cing the Cape Pioneer Trek albeit as an unofficial finisher while Aurelie flew back home to rest and recover. Obviously it wasn’t the same riding without Aurelie by my side, but if you aren’t having fun at the Cape Pioneer Trek it’s really your own fault as the event itself has so much to offer.

The hospitality of the Klein Karoo & Garden Route is outstanding and the Dryland Team manages to put a challenging yet fun route together to make it enjoyable for everyone. The ever changing landscape of the route also makes for spectacular views with endemic game such as giraffe, antelope, ostrich and even the odd tortoise often spotted along the way.

The Cape Pioneer Trek’s slogan is pretty accurate as it is a #RaceWithSoul and this makes it a pure pleasure to be part of the event!