Cape Pioneer Trek is organized by Dryland. They are my favorite race organizers as they are very good and work hard on making everyone happy not only the pro cyclists but the normal people too. Also they make everyone feel like they are part of their big family.
The start at the lodge take riders through the beautiful and unspoilt Buffelsdrift Reserve .
Start & Finish: Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, Oudtshoorn.
Distance: 15 km
Total vertical ascent: 310m
Sunday 15km, 48min, 2nd Solo women
The start was in Buffelsdrift, beautiful private game farm. The course was lot of fun XC type with lots of switch backs and drop offs, bridges and made one feel like you are riding in middle of bush in Kruger park. It was quite dry and loose, rocky so one had to run the tires quite low.I had the privilege of practicing the route before so I knew the course well and it paid off with 2nd place only 20 seconds behind the German pro Bettina Uhlig. My friend Lara Woolley well known for her great mtb skills came 3rd. I pushed to the max and only had few sips of water and energy gel at the start as there isn’t much time to drink or eat.
The capital of the Klein Karoo, and ostrich capital of the world, Oudtshoorn, was the obvious venue to start this journey.
Start: Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, Oudtshoorn.
Finish: Calitzdorp High School, Calitzdorp.
Distance: 103 km
Total vertical ascent: 1720m
Monday, 6:17, 1st Solo Women
Monday morning was a light rain at the start. There was a bit of a talk of maybe mud on course. We hit in a good speed in a bunch for about 5 km. We found ourselves very quickly on a mud clay bath that felt like was never ending and it stick so well to the bike that doubled in weight and was impossible to ride and very heavy to carry.Somehow I got through it and it took me 1h:45mins to get past first 15kms! From there on it was still raining and muddy some places but ride able mostly. I stopped few times to unmud my bike and clean a bit and then pushed hard all the way to the finish.
The course had some new single track around the Red Stones which was awesome even in the conditions.
I got to the finish after 6 hours covered in mud from head to toe and to my surprise finished 1st Solo Woman with good lead.Lot of people had major mechanical issues this day like broken hangers and derailers or chain and chain suck and the bike shops were full and mechanics worked overnight. I got the leaders jersey to wear the next day.
Stage 2, 5:03, 4th Solo women
We leave the village of Calitzdorp, in a northerly direction – hopefully the wildlife will be around for this spectacle.
Start: Calitzdorp High School, Calitzdorp.
Finish: Zwartberg High School, Prince Albert.
Distance: 85 km
Total vertical ascent: 2760m
I slept in a nearby cottage with my friends as they had an extra bed. We got to the start a bit late and I found out my bike has not been touched yet. Despite it worked the day before it needed to have cables changed for the gears to work again. I regretted not booking upfront the service as they had time to fix only my back gears. I had the privilege to start at the front as I was now leading in my category. Standing with the pros like Erik and Arienne Kleinhans was nice but I knew I won’t see them for long. We got going in a big bunch on gravel road and I tried to stay in the bunch. My gears were playing up a bit. I knew the German pro will be pushing hard to get her position back so she was gone in the front of the bunch. I rode with Delene van der Leek who came 2nd on stage 1. I have only met her as she is from Neilspruit. She seem to be a strong rider. Just before first water point we got passed by Aileen Anderson from Cape Town. She hasn’t been doing any races and I have not yet known her strength.
We had pass the water point 1 without stopping. I had my front on the big blade but later found out it doesn’t want to change back down.So that was a major turn down as there were steep climbs and one needed a granny gear and not a big blade. I went as far as I could but had to push and lost the 2 ladies. Luckily I found my friends from Namaqua wine estate and they helped me changed it. I then went with them and enjoyed some fun single track towards the water point 2.
From there we went on gravel road all the way towards 3rd water point under the famous Swartberg mountain. I was going with 2 mix teams including famous Anriette Schoeman and John Lee Augustyn. They got away from me on the climb as Anriette is tiny and easy to push. I have done the climb many times so I knew what was coming and tried to push to catch the other ladies. But not luck. I got to the top 4th only. I waited for a bit and got some friends to ride down to Princ Albert and enjoyed the beautiful scenic downhill. The weather was warm and I had my recovery shake followed by pancakes made by the locals and headed for well deserved massage to hear stories of my fellows. Dinner was delicious and lots of vegetables which we cyclist like to have.
Stage 3, 5:00, 3rd Solo Women
A change of philosophy – instead of heading back to the mountains, riders enters the southern sections of the Great Karoo.
Start: Zwartberg High School, Prince Albert.
Finish: NG Church grounds, De Rust.
Distance: 109 km
Total vertical ascent: 1555m
Beautiful sunrise awaits me as I get out of the tent after good sleep in early hours and head off for big breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs and porridge. I had my bike fixed by Roland Nel from the Canondale Blend team( big thank you) so im happy its working again. Im still in the leaders Solo Women jersey as I got a big gap on Stage 1. The start is fast and we are in big bunch on flat dusty gravel road. Unfortunately there were few sandy patches and someone infront of me fell and I got dropped by the main bunch. Smaller bunch formed and I was next to the German Pro Bettina Uhlig. She is smart though and her friend cuts me off as the wind is coming sideways and I lost the bunch. I pushed hard to try to catch them but no luck and ended up going for a while on my own while other small bunch caught me and we take turns in the wind. I hate this as guys are usually stronger and I prefer climbing and downhills to the flat. Aileen and Delene catch me just before water point 1 and we head off together to the first steep rocky climb. I leave Delene behind me. Rocky but fun descent follows and takes us all the way to water point 2. Where I quickly fill up bottles and get going on flatish section on tar and later gravel into the wind. I ride with Ashley Shaw who seems to have the same pace as me so we take turns in the wind. We get caught by Nic Lamond who gives us a ride for a good few kays. He is super strong and leaves us behind when other guys come. Me and Ashley motivate each other through the section to 3rd water point that we pass as we know its not too far. There is some fun single track up and then down awaiting us. Im loving the down hill where I catch Aileen and get out onto flat tar road that takes us to the finish with beautiful red stones around us.
Me and Delene now behind me we push hard with few boys to the finish. She start sprinting and I trail behind her but don’t have the legs. I end few seconds behind her on 3rd place but happy. From there on it’s the usual story of shower, eating, massage.
Stage 4, 4:51, 5th Solo women
The gem of the Klein Karoo awaits Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek riders with a 25 km steady ascent into the most scenic section of this years’ ride.
Start: NG Church grounds, De Rust.
Finish: Louvain guest farm, Herold.
Distance: 63 km
Total vertical ascent: 1894 m
I remember this day from last year being tough. As we get going in a bunch from start I can feel my legs can feel yesterdays sprint to finish. They are bit sore and no power. I don’t feel like being in pain after 3,5 days of hard racing so I take it easy and drop the bunch and go my own pace getting passed by lot of people and hoping that my legs will get going at later stage at least. The route goes up steady climb to water point 1 where I get some juice and banana and head down a steep descent into the Kamanaas valley. There are few river crossings that I can ride this year and I happily note that my technical riding improved. We start climbing steep hill and soon we are pushing for good 30 minutes all the way up where is a beautiful view. This section is not open to ride during the year so it’s a privilege to be there. Another rocky downhill and we are at water point too. From there it’s a bit of rolling hills towards Louvain. I ride a bit with a mixed team from Fundamental team. She falls into the brown water under the bridge and as I try to pass her my wheel slips and I take a dive in too. I laugh and found the water actually refreshingly cool. Its hot by now in Karroo! I dragged myself up the steep rocky single track that Henco promised and quietly swear as I was hoping for smooth fun single track and not pushing up hill in the last 5km. I managed to ride down the rocky section and dragged myself into the finish knowing I had lost my leading jersey today but happy to be there.
I rest well in afternoon, push some food in and go to bed in my tent early as I feel bit nausea and want to sleep it off and hope to feel strong again the next day.
Stage 5, 5:07, 7th Solo women
Instead of starting the stage towards the coast, riders take off in a northerly direction through the farmlands.
Start: Louvain guest farm, Herold.
Finish: Van Kervel High School, George.
Distance: 75 km
Total vertical ascent: 1693 m
I really enjoyed last years day 5 so im hoping for a good day again. However it was raining most night and starts pouring again right on start. Henco doesn’t spare us and let us go into the rain. That means its probably predicted rain for whole day. We head straight up a steep climb technical single track climb. I feel strong and keep passing people. Once on top I enjoy the downhill even though its wet and it keeps raining. My chain is sucking in on the next climb and I have to push few sections. We pass 1st water point and in 2nd steep rocky descent I can hear my brakes scream which is a sign of worn pads. I pray but doesn’t help and also my back wheel is getting soft. I stop to bomb it and just get to second water point. Where I get someone to help me but unfortunately have to put tube and gator in as it’s a side wall cut and plugs wont help. I loose a lot of time there and I see lot of people stop there as they have other mechanical issues but mostly gear problems and brakes. I don’t consider giving up so I jump on my bike and get going. By then I have no brake pads front or back and my shifter is not working so have mostly only 2 gears. Gravel or tar road is ok but before we get to finish we still have to get through a single track. What was lots of fun last year feels more like a horror movie today. As I glide and slide and no brakes. Somehow I got through it and finish in proper down pour in then flooded finish in George.
I’m quite emotional at the finish as im cold, wet, low blood sugar and my bike is a complete mess. But after warm shower and great food I feel like human again and I am busy making plans how to get my bike ready for next day. As all the bike shops are full with prebooked bikes. I have lost even more time today but will fight towards the finish. Delicious dinner of great salads and ostrich meat makes me feel good and I head off to sleep in Oudshorn at my husbands parents place.
Stage 6, 5th Solo women, Overall 4th
The route back to Oudtshoorn knows only one way, and that is up, the first 18 km is right along these lines.
Start: Van Kervel School, George.
Finish: Oudtshoorn High School, Oudtshoorn.
Distance: 84 km
Total vertical ascent: 1584 m.
The organizers had to change the route to shorter 68km and cut off single track. We head off on the tar in big bunch on to the old beautiful Montagu pass. Its raining again but not bucketing like yesterday and we are climbing for about an hour to the saddle where is usually beautiful view but we cant see it through the mist and rain. I pass the first water point and get going with few friends again pushing hard all the way to 2nd water point. By then its stops raining and sun start shining! The mud is drying on our faces and legs and we are getting free mud mask. I stop at the water point and loose the group and then go all the way alone to Oudshorn where I get caught by Thea Mari van der Sandt and Theresa Horn from Khombisa who donated prize money for Swartberg first lady. We sprint to the finish but im tired from going on my own. Thea Mari wins a 3rd place on that stage. Few mins later arrives my friend Lara Woolley with Aileen Anderson. Aileen had also mechanical issues but she still beats me and get 3rd place on overall position by 2 minutes.
I’m happy we are done and can go shower and rest in my husband’s parents place. We still go to prize giving and finishers dinner where we have good food and at last bit of red wine. We watch great shots and video from the race and are happy to take part in such an awesome event. At the end the leaders jerseys are auctioned for charity. But that’s not the end yet! There is an after party that takes place in local bar. One would think that people would be tired but no! These guys dance and drink till late hours. I am tired and scared of having a bad hangover so I ninja bomb after 12 for well deserved sleep. I hear the next day that the party continued till early morning and there are lots of cyclists feeling tired today and not from cycling!
Nutrition notes: One has to really make sure to eat and hydrate well on a stage race especially if it raining. People tend to stop drinking and eating on a muddy rainy day. While your body works even harder and needs more food. I had quite a few energy gels in the first few days as I was trying to race and took the water points quickly. But after 4 days the gels just get too much. So I recommend to eat as much natural food as you can like bananas, raisins, dates, natural energy bar, sandwich, etc. Once you are in the finish try to have your recovery shake and eat straight after shower. Try to have enough vegetables and also protein not only carbohydrates. Don’t skimp on your food while racing. Also sometime people get a runny tummy or nausea so it’s good to take probiotics with you and wash your hands and sanitise them often.
Thank you Dryland for another amazing race! Thank you Itec Cape Town for their support and Trek, Nakd energy bars, GU energy South Africa, Barrebody nutrition and Squirtlube SA. And also thank you to my amazing husband for supporting me!