As most know I attempted my 5th Wines2Whales Adventure this weekend and to ensure it was a real challenge numerous obstacles were thrown my way, some self-inflicted and others from the Loving Mother Nature. Now for protection from my numerous fans rooting for my athletic success I won’t mention the names of my friends that forced alcohol down my throat in the lead up week to the event. Yes, there was Tequila involved when I found myself out on a great evening Tuesday night and then the next day there was some more of the beautiful gold coloured liquid from Mexico, which brings us to Thursday and race registration and one cannot be unsociable and must enjoy a few beers with your mates and friends you haven’t seen in ages.
So Friday arrived and up the mountain we went (400m climbing in the 1st 5km, which is “moerse baie”!) on what would turn out to be a memorable adventure. Myself and riding partner Thinus Crafford had a social bet in racing against Rob Kucera and Marius Hurter (Rocking the orange of KTM Bicycles), the prize a 2l tub of ice cream to each member of the winning team. Now with both of them 100kg or slightly above we thought we were really in with a shot of tasting that sweet ice cream of success. But that was not to be. Rob and Marius rode a tactical superb race as they gunned it from the start, exploiting my climbing weakness and conquering the hill and leaving us behind eating dust, literally and figuratively. Now not making excuses at all but around 40km into the race I hit a solid brick wall so to speak, no energy and nowhere to plug in to recharge, coupled with that a stomach that wasn’t appreciative of my lifestyle choices earlier in the weak, my fastest gear on the day was granny gear and that was just to keep forward motion in trying to reach the finish line on day 1. So day 1 was not pretty as I had to tough it out through keeping a stomach in check and to make it even more challenging a back that decided pain in the lower back at every little incline is what you will experience. Any hopes of catching the ice cream leaders were ripped from my mind as I struggled up the Gantouw pass step by step with no energy and having to rest to stretch an aching back every few steps. A BIG thank you to Thinus who came down to fetch my bike and pushed both bikes up the pass resulting in hamstring cramps for him a bit later as we started on the single track stretch. I say thank you, but I missed my bike to lean on whenever the pain got too much. Thanks TC, we might still have been on the mountain if you did not come down to help. We limbered to the finish at granny pace, knowing that the next day could only be better. But enough about me on day 1, Thinus decided to fall like three times, mostly in sandy patches and for no reason at all. It did pay off at the end as the photo we posted of him in his natural state resulting in him winning a new Suunto Traverse watch and head lights. Worth the pain I would say.
Having had a proper meal and big meal on Friday night in the Food Lovers riders tent and cleansed the body of all the poison’s elements in the system, I was ready for day 2 which was evident on the climb out of the race village as my partner thought he was still going to wait for me as I sped past him to continue the drive to make up time in the ice cream challenge. Now Marius prior to the race told us to make sure we have our gum guards for the ice cream challenge as it will be tough out there and we should be ready. We pushed ourselves in trying to make up time as we both are pretty good technical riders and today was a single track play day. The previous evening rain fell and at some stage I found myself sliding sideways though mud on approach to a single track entrance, I knew this was going to be a fun day. Having gotten control back of the bike I dually got off and walk the remainder until we could ride again. We did really well and after the 3 falls on day one, Thinus managed to fall only once today and that in a switchback with a spectator crowd from opposite the gorge letting him know that they saw him fall. In fairness, it wasn’t quite his fault as the rider in front of him stopped in the middle of the switchback. Hampering our progress that dreaded lower back pain attacked again which made climbing tedious and painful with me having to get off the bike at times to stretch out my back in the hope it will become better. It did not, but on we went and we would have made my brother-in-law Johan Labuschagne proud as we even skipped two water points in our quest to taste that ice cream. It did not quite work as we were 3 minutes slower than the pair from Team Westin, Rob and Marius but it was a much closer day after the 30min we lost on day 1.
We all stayed at the lover Arabella Hotel and Spa during the event which resulted in some quality time spent with great people at an awesome venue. Thanks to Wayne and his staff for looking after us and to the support team of Marilize, Hannetjie and the Hurter kids. Over the weekend we have been watching the weather closely, even closer than most farmers would do, and heavy rain was predicted. To our surprise on Sunday the weather seemed cleared and we were distrustful of the weather man and his predictions. How wrong were we, with word of approaching rain we stood in the start chute (with just a cycling jersey on me) hoping it would stay away. Then after racing to position ourselves over the first kilometre the rain started to come down and wind picked up. Did someone say summer (Southern Hemisphere) and it is 1 November! Where the freaking heck did that storm come from, gale force winds with rain pelting into the exposed parts of your body (which in Lycra is a lot) with slippery mud forming with every drop of rain. Now Mr. Ride-and-Fall apparently had a fall at the Houw Hoek switchbacks which I did not see, but the next fall was the worst of all. Importantly he did not wear his mouth guard for the challenge and as I came up the trail being naturally slower I saw his bike in the bushes and no rider and then him lying on the ground, knocked out cold. Yes it is serious as it could have been worse, fortunately Thinus was okay and we moved him out of the way to the side of the trail to find himself after he has been very groggy. After a couple of
minutes we decided to move on the next water point as it did not make sense to sit around in the pouring freezing rain. We moved on at my pace, which is very slow for him and once we fought off the elements we approached the doctor at the next water point with Thinus disappearing into the ambulance for a private interview from the doc to make sure he weren’t concussed. Fortunately all was good and he could actually remember his partners’ name. Thanks for the help Alexa Cunningham to get the doc to look at Thinus. Off we went from there to slip slide our way through numerous muddy trails with me tucking and rolling to avoid a tree stump a slid onwards toward the finish line. For good measure Thinus took his 3rd tumble on the day as we rode over the waterfall section, fortunately that was that for the day as we made it to the finish matching the time of Team Westin on the day but still having the day 1 gap separating us as we ended and adventure full of character testing challenges and fighting the extremes of the weather in the Cape.
Lessons learned from this experience is that when you are an athlete in training, try and avoid Tequila in the lead up to your event as it comes back to haunt you, make sure you wear a gum guard if you are a serial faller off your mountain bike and mud sliding can be fun but also dangerous and make sure I have a gas mask ready for sharing a room with my riding partner at the 2016 Absa Cape Epic (You all know who I am talking about)
The FNB Wines2Whales is an awesome 3 day stage race and I have been privileged enough to know have completed five of these. Thank Michael Meyer and the Stillwater team for your support and putting together such a world class event.
PS: Don’t tell my pharmacist sister I rode the last day on pain pills to get to the end also bad luck to Andrew Norman who had to pull out on day 2. I know you were really looking forward to doing the event. Next time. To Ashleigh Haigh-Smith good luck in doing all 3 events, you will be super fit come this Sunday and lastly, do you think Marius and Rob would mind if I courier the ice cream to them…