Friday, 30 March 2012

Stage 4...A Stage Win!!!!

Entry by Mark Hardy from Team Weatherzone

Slept well last night but still woke feeling terrible - dehydrated and weak. So Johnny and I decided the team plan today would be to nurse our sorry arses around the course and try and recover from yesterday. Our stay last night was at a nice B&B about 20km from the race centre at Caledon. We had a quick breakfast in the room then took off to the race. We decided on no warm up today and just jumped into the start chute.

Pretty soon we were racing around the streets of Caledon. Nice little town. Like many of these South African towns in the farming areas, the main street was lined with very nice historic buildings. But this went by in a flash and soon we were racing along dirt roads and heading towards the mountain range south of Caledon. Johnny and I soon found ourselves in the "bus" of the A/B 1st start group.

The first climb of the day was technical, rocky and not super steep. Certainly rideable but we were on and off the bike a lot as most of the other ridders struggled to ride it. We passed loads of riders on the descent down the other side. Certainly back this far in the field most of the riders do not really have genuine mountain bike skills. In fact, we are 5 from 5 on descending so far this event in that no one has ever overtaken us going downhill. Gotta look for something to brag about.

The first feed station was at the bottom of the descent and we filled and ate well. We decided that from now on we will not skip any feed stations and the repercussions of getting it wrong are pretty dire.

We were about 10 minutes past the feed station when we saw some poor bloke riding back towards us along the road. Then he rode over to us, it was Buzz. Fozz had broken his chain up the road. So we stopped with them to see if we could help out. I had a Shimano 10 speed chain link so we donated that. Then they needed a lesson in how to thread the chain through the rear mech. Finally after about 20 minutes of faffing about they were ready to go. So Johnny and I rolled off with the KMD Racing duo leaving just behind us. We expected them to catch and pass us any minute. This could be the first time we would ride with team KMD Racing all week.

We headed into very sandy 4WD trails and my Alice Springs sand experience certainly paid dividends. Not only can most of the riders here not descend or turn corners, most of them are clueless on how to ride sand. So we picked up lots of places here as riders would get their wheels caught in the sand then going spearing off the trail. Still no Buzz and Foz.

Then the 2nd major climb. This one was a monster, very exposed and barren. I think the worst part about it was you could see the trail winding up and up into the distance as far as you see. It was very steep and varied between rideable and walking. The view from the top was superb. We could see the crystal blue Atlantic Ocean in the distance to the south. Still no team KMD Racing. The wind up on these barren slopes was extremely strong. Fortunately it was mostly at our backs and it felt nice having it trying to push you up the hill.

We were about 700m above the sea and soon started the descent to the valley 500m below. We were with a group of about 5 riders and left them behind very quickly. About half way down Johnny got a puncture. It was a steep rocky descent so we moved our bikes well off the track as we were expecting a bunch of riders to come by any second. Johnny managed to fix the flat with sealant and I prepared CO2 canister to inflate it. Then two riders went past. We got our stuff reorganised, back packs on and as we were about to get going again we could see the rest of the group coming so slowly down the hill. We took off ahead of them and passed the other two before we got to the bottom. Johnny's tyre held up the rest of the way down the hill. We were amazed we managed to get a flat tyre and fix it and still get down the hill faster than the other guys who were riding around us! Our descending skills are not great, certainly not by local Sydney standards anyway. But the skill level of most of the high to mid field riders in this race (pros not included of course) is mostly woeful.

So at the bottom of the hill we rode into feed station number 2. Went through the routine, plenty of food, refill water and headed off again. Still no KMD Racing.

We now had one more range to cross to get back to Caledon. As we started to get into the climb we could see a bushfire burning out of control just over the ridge. We crossed the ridge and the course seemed to continue to head to the bushfire smoke. We were in sight of the flames and a course marshall continued to wave us along the course. We both agreed - this is not looking good. The wind was howling - gusts well over 40kts and the smoke was streaming parallel to the ground. The course then turned left and ran along side the fire. We could feel the heat and hear the crackling of the flames as it burned the grassy stubble, hay bails and fences. The organisers had a couple of 4WD vehicles following behind riders as they rode the closest points to the fire. Pretty soon we were upwind of it and winding through a nice little forest (a rarity around here).

We had about 20km to go and it was all upwind. This was very tough work. Definitely the strongest winds I have ever ridden in. At times we were doing 5 to 10 km/h on the flat heading into the wind. 2 or 3 times I was blown completely off the track. Johnny did not have this problem for obvious reasons. Instead of the last 20km taking a little under an hour, this was going to be much longer. After battling this wind for 90minutes we finally got into the last 5km - still no Buzz and Fozz. Now Johnny got a sniff…. We might actually beat them. He started putting on the pace and I struggled to keep up. After dodging a tortoise in the botanical gardens (the only wildlife we have seen in Africa so far), we crossed the finish line in 6hr 59 minutes. Again another long day on the bike. KMD Racing rolled in 45 minutes later giving us our 1st stage win of the Tour. We are now only 11minutes behind them, a margin that we have no chance of making up (barring mechanical issues of course).

Fozz described it as his worst day on a bike as they battled mechanical problems and worked extremely hard to try and overcome their deficit. It turned out that when we left them with chain supposedly fixed, it broke again instantly forcing them to walk back to the 1st feed station and getting a new chain.

Johnny and I both felt a lot better at the end of this stage than yesterday. I think if we ride to a similar plan to today then we should be able to finish the event and maybe improve slightly on where we are now.

But as I sit here now typing this up it is raining heavily outside. And the forecast for overnight and tomorrow morning is for a lot of rain. This will change things a lot for the race tomorrow. The stage is from Caledon to Elgin, 119km and 2300m of climbing. In the wet it will be very tough indeed.

We now over half way in this event. Surely the worst is behind us.

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