Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Stage 1...What have we got ourselves into???

Riders head out in some spectacular scenery.......We went half way up that damn mountain!!
Everything up until this point has been preparation for the challenge. Even the prologue wasnt anything out of the ordinary.  The next 7 days are full on racing in harsh terrain, with over 100k of mountainbike riding each day.  The alarm went off at 4.45 in the little room in the Childrens Orphanage we are staying in (dont worry, the kids arent here!).

Here is Johnny, Buzz and Mark
in our tidy room at the orphanage
Four full grown men staying in a little room with bags and bike kit is pretty tight.  We headed over at 5am to the ride village which is over the road from where we are staying for breakfast. As we walked through the rider village, we could hear the piper playing his bagpipes and the sound drifted across the valley. He plays in the village at 5am sharp every morning as the alarm for the riders.

To give you some idea of the scale of this event, the dining tent is 160m long by 50m wide. It seats 600 people comfortably.  Breakfast is anything you want.  Porridge, Bacon, Eggs, Cereal, Toast, Juice, Coffee Tea etc. 
The Dining Hall

It all went down well, washed down with tea. Breakfast done, we headed back to the rooms to kit up. We then collected our bikes from our mechanics ( I must admit it is cool having our own mechanic who does anything we need on our rigs!) and went to the start chute.

The atmosphere is full on. 1200 riders all in groups, music blaring, people taking photos, last minute trips to the toilet....and it was still dark. Facing us was 112k of hurt on narrow rocky trails with huge hills, thorns, and drops to catch the unwary rider. It was overcast as the gun went off and the pace was on. Buzz and I being predominately road riders had no problems taking off as the peleton weaved its way out of the streets of Robertson. All the roads are closed while the race whizzes through, and the locals are out in force while we go by. It is actually one of the highlights of the race. As we race through winerys and workers villages, all the locals are out by the road(track)side yelling and beating bits of tin as drums and screaming out to the riders. It must be quite surreal to these poor farmhands as people from 50 countries from around the world come tearing past their front door.
My b ike at the Mechanics
After 10k or so, we went off the unmade roads onto rocky single trail.  It was bedlam as teams fought for position, and many were taking risks. To both sides of the trail was thick thorny bushes that would tear your skin or your tyre if you went off course.  Teams were puncturing everywhere.  Buzz and I were riding reasonably conservatively as we knew this was only day 1.  After 20k the race settled down and the field stretched out.  I felt pretty strong and Buzz was riding well, the bikes were performing as per spec, so we settled in for the long haul.  We knew some teams had started too fast and would come back to us.

Then we hit the first hill of the day. By hill, I mean over 300m of vertical climbing.  You couldnt ride up it, so you had to push or carry your bike up 1000ft of rock, sand and foliage.  My feet in my riding shoes were killing me and I could feel the blisters forming on the back of each heel.  It was unbelievably difficult and our heartrate went off the scale. Riders heartrate monitors were beeping as riders went over their threshold.

 After we hit the top, I realized I had made a big error in not using contacts. My sunnys that have a script in them were fogged up. I had sweat pouring off me and couldnt see through them. We had a dangerous technical descent and I couldnt see!!  Shortly after we got to the first food station and I got a tissue and managed to clean them, but from now on it is contacts!!!

The food stations are crazy! Teams come tearing in to the allocated area, grabbing muffins, bananas, coke, water, gatorade in a frenzy as no one want to loose time by stopping.  We fuelled up and headed up the second climb of the day. It was steeper and longer than the first. It was also unrideable. The rear of my feet are now raw blisters and I will have to be careful over the next few days. Finally we reached the top and we thought most of the climbing was over. We were wrong.  We zig-zagged our way around farms, winery's fields, little villages. It all went past in a flash. 

Buzz after the finish

Me at the finish looking fresh as a daisy!!!
After the 3rd feed station at 70k, the terrain flattened out. Buzz and I were pretty much on our own. I had my nose pointed for home and wanted to get there. We latched onto a little group of a Danish team and a team from South Africa, and for 25k or so we went tearing along as a little group. Not a word was said between the teams the whole time, riders working silently as the collective group  moves. We made good time and the k's flew by. After 112 dusty, hot and hilly k's we came back into town. Buzz and I didnt have any other teams with us and we flew along the streets of Robertson cutting corners as the officals had closed all the roads. After 6hrs and 6 minutes of riding, we entered the finish shute, hands off the handlebars arms linked in what we hope will be our finish salute for another 6 times this week.

We finished in 90th place out of 601 teams, and are in 89th place overall when you add yesterdays and todays time together. Considering the size and quality of this field, with world and Olympic champs as well as National Champs, we think it is a pretty respectable result. I take a little pride in also being the oldest rider out of the top 100 teams - looking down the list all you  see are Date of births like 1985, 1987 etc.

Team Weatherzone are also doing well at 122nd place and they had a good day today. They will get stronger as the week goes on.
As soon as we crossed the line, we began to get ready for stage 2. 119k of the same. The alarm goes off at 4.45 tomorrow morning.......


  1. great blog mate, really enjoying it. Keep them legs pumping. bender.

  2. Sounds like you need to rest for a week after that. Good luck for tomorrow.

  3. Brilliant reading Mike. Looking forward to daily installments...hoping you find the energy to post them! Ride strong both of you and team Weatherzone. Becks

  4. Mike, what great reading. What an epic adventure. Happy Birthday!