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My race report of the @gardenroute300 @GarminSA

This past weekend’s racing saw me travel to the sea side town of Knysna for the Garden Route 300. The 3 day mountain bike stage race traversed the beautiful Knysna forests covering just less than 300km, hence its name.  Although long in distance, the real challenge lay in the amount of climbing – 6200 m of ascent over the 3 stages.

Initially I was going to ride in the solo category, but after my positive experience in the mixed racing at Tankwa Trek it was an easy decision to accept Johan Labuschagne’s invitation to team up at the GR 300. The Labuschagne brothers are well known for their kind and gentle nature and this was confirmed during my three days of racing with Johan as partner. Thus far I’m really enjoying mixed racing and feel privileged to add another good experience to the list.

Stage one, 90km and 1950m of ascent

On day one we woke to falling rain which barely let up throughout the day. This made route conditions very tough, especially the last 30km when my brake pads were worn to the point of binding on my rear disc. Imagine pedalling your bike while pulling the brake lever…. not ideal!

It took a hard effort from both Johan and myself to reach the finish and we were proud to win the first stage and take the leaders jerseys.

With the extreme conditions and tough course there were three things which were obligatory to survive the day – Squirt lube on your chain which meant I never had to stop and re-apply lube, my Merida Big Ninety Nine Team Full Suspension that made riding over bumps and roots seem effortless and Continental tyres that always work come rain, shine or rocks.

Stage 2, 100km and 2400m of ascent

Our efforts from day one caught up to us on stage two and the 2 km portage section across the Homtini river/valley hallway through the stage was the final nail in our coffin as we settled for 2nd on the stage and relinquished our overall lead to Nizaam Esa and Catherine Williamson (Team Asirin).

Stage 3, 86km and 1800m of ascent

Our mechanical misfortunes resurfaced on the final day when Johan’s gears malfunctioned without warning. Although I wanted to race for first place, deep down a small part of me was slightly relieved with the ‘easier’ riding.  We finished 2nd on the stage again, securing our 2nd place overall behind Team Asirin. Piet Stopforth and his wife Ischen rounded out the podium in 3rd place.

Garden Route 300 is surely one of the more challenging 3 day stage races on the South African calendar. Every day’s hard work was rewarded with fine dining at the Quay Four Restaurant on Thesen Island, which also served as the home of the event. Thanks to Louise Wilson and her Garden Route Events team for hosting truly unique events in a beautiful part of our extraordinary country.

Next up is the Cape Cycle Tour (formerly ‘The Argus’) and a weekend where Garmin will be doing a lot as new fitness partner to Discovery Vitality. Come say hi if you are at the Cycle Tour Expo.

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Race Report -South African National Road Championships @GarminSA

The annual South African National Road, Time Trial and Para-cycling Championships were held around Mbombela stadium on the outskirts of Nelspruit. This prestigious event ran from the 2nd until the 8th of February and promised to showcase the top South African athletes battling for the coveted national titles.

After my performance at Meerendal I was a bit apprehensive about my participation at SA Champs, but every cloud has a silver lining and with the advice and unwavering support of my back-up team I regained the courage to start the elite ladies event.

The undulating 14km road race lap contained 3 hills followed by steep descents which we would cover 8 times for a total of 112km with 1896m of climbing. At the bottom of each descent a traffic circle would steer the course in a new direction and the sweeping bends were the highlight of my race. With full road closure, newly tarred roads and the accumulated speed from the descent, one could really dive into the corners without reservation.

The elite ladies set off at 1pm on Saturday afternoon and if the racing wasn’t going to be aggressive the route and soaring temperature would definitely make it a race of attrition.

The undisputed favourite in our race was world class cyclist Ashleigh Moolman Passio. The moment we left the start line she was marked so closely that some riders would literally be following her around in the bunch, pulling brakes to make sure they could stay behind her.

Despite this Ashleigh kept her head and actually lay her cards on the table every time we hit an incline. She would attack from the bottom of the steepest drag out on course and keep the pace high until reaching the summit. Doing this repeatedly, she sapped the field’s energy and on the final lap she put this blue print in ink by breaking clear from the field to solo in for a well-deserved victory.

I went into the race knowing that I’m not fully prepared for a road race. You can carry your fitness across from mountain biking, but the race intensity is quite different. In a mountain bike race you ride at a constant high tempo whereas in a road race there are a lot of surges. With this in mind I made my goal to go out, give my best and race positively. For this reason my emphasis wasn’t on Ashleigh but on the racing that lay ahead of us.

I tried to animate the race as best as I could and paid for it at times by getting dropped and having to chase back to the leaders. In contrast to the previous week, my body embraced the suffering this time around and I was able to get back to the front each time. On the final lap I was still in the front group of eight riders and by just being there, it meant I had exceeded all my expectations. I crossed the finish line in eighth place, while An-Li Kacheloffer went on the finish in 2nd place with Lynette Pieterse in 3rd.

I’ve been to a few South African National Road Championships albeit a couple of years ago and the 2015 edition was definitely one of the better ones. A big thanks to the organisers for doing an excellent job in hosting the event and even more so for having it in the beautiful Lowveld region.

SA Champs

Race Report – Ashburton Series #1, Meerendal @GarminSA

Over its 12 years of existence the National MTB series has grown into the biggest and most prestigious mountain bike race series in South Africa. In 2015 the series took on a new title sponsor with Ashburton Investments taking over from MTN in the 7 round series.

The first leg of this year’s National MTB series took place at Meerendal Wine Estate on the outskirts of Cape Town on Saturday the 31st of January. This event along with 2 others (round 2 in Sabie and round 3 in Clarens) are UCI sanctioned events, meaning there are valuable UCI points up for grabs.

With acclimatisation in mind I flew to Cape Town 3 days prior to the race, arriving just in time to experience a bout of the region’s searing heat and humidity which is the norm during the summer months. There is no denying that Cape Town and its surrounds are beautiful but the warm weather gave me an appreciation for the milder climates we have at home on the Highveld. Fortunately on race day fine rain during the early morning hours made for much cooler and enjoyable weather conditions.

At UCI sanctioned events there are a lot more rules and regulations that event organisers have to adhere to and one of them was calling out the licensed riders individually to line up for the start 15 minutes prior to departure. After a tense wait the gates finally opened and the girls set off like race horses to cover the 70km distance that lay ahead. If I had packed different legs for the race, the start might have felt more like the beginning of a mountain bike race rather than a never ending sprint. I pushed hard on the pedals in an attempt to stay with the leading ladies but my heavy legs would have nothing of it and I was dispatched from the lead group despite my best efforts.

I told myself it was only the opening kilometres and I just had to keep on riding so that my legs would loosen up and I could make up some lost ground. Unfurtuanelty my poor state only regressed and instead of improving I was left fighting a deep, inner battle. My heart wanted to put an end to it all by stopping but my head was telling me to continue and that learning the route and getting in the training hours will be beneficial sometime in the near future.

After a 4 hour slog I crossed the finish line relieved to get the race over and done with. If I managed to escape my predators at the USN Cup event the week before, this time around I was served on a platter.

We all have our good days and our bad days but what matters more is what we make of it so I am doing my best to see the positive lessons learned from a less than ideal outcome.

Swiss star Esther Süss went on the take victory at the first round of the Ashburton National MTB series while Ariane Kleinhans and Robyn de Groot completed the podium in 2nd and 3rd place respectively.

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Photo courtesy of SnapSport Media