Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Changing the scenery

A week has passed after the National Road Championships and I was back at the start line for another National Championships. The XC Marathon Champs.
Not having raced on fat wheels for about 5 years I didn't put ant pressure on myself. The aim was to have fun. I was still going to race, but it didn't matter if I finished first or last, as long as I enjoyed the ride. At least that's what I told myself. My race number 007 made me hope that I would be as successful in this event as James Bond is in his movies (maybe end up with a Bond-girl in my arms too).

Luckily the start wasn't as hectic as expected and I was in second position coming into the first singletrail behind my MTB training partner Norbert. He set a good pace and cleared the trail of cattle that still didn't know a race was going on.
Coming to the first real climb Costa passed us and ripped the race apart. I wasn't willing to spend that much energy that early in the race so he got a gap, which never went over 40 seconds though (I think... counting down the seconds in my head until I reach the same spot on the trail is probably not the most reliable way to do it). Xavier stuck to my wheel for about a km, then he dropped and that was the last time I saw another rider from the 68km bunch.

Coming to the conclusion of lap one, we caught many backmarkers of the 15km distance. They probably had a very traumatizing experience almost getting run over by us at 3 times the speed they were riding. Luckily they all cleared the trail quite fast (in my case at least). Poor lads, I hope they do decide to get back on their MTB again one day.

2km before the first run through the finish I caught back up with Costa. He led me through the finish and then it was my turn to be on the front again. Lap 2 had many steep climbs towards the beginning and I had to get rid of Costa somehow. So I kept the pressure on each climb we went up, but he kept his poker-face and stuck to my wheel.

We had a headwind too, which didn't make it easier to get rid of him and he refused to take turns at the front (the wind seems to dislike me these days, first the road nationals, now even on the MTB). So I reminded myself that I was in it for the fun, tried a cheeky move at the waterpoint and just kept riding a good pace after that failed too.

Once I had to stop because it looked like my rear quick-release was open but it was just the lever itself that was loose. Costa dropped his chain on the next downhill, so I was back with him in no time.
Then suddenly he was gone. I hadn't realized when but while scrambling up a very rocky, loose uphill I didn't hear any noise behind me and as I looked I saw no one.

From there on it was head down, sprint the uphills and ride the downhills as fast as I could without risking to crash.
Coming back onto the rocky part of the singletrail that we had already covered on lap one, I hit about every rock that I could possibly hit and lost momentum so often that it seemed like a series of sprint intervals I was doing, but the finish was near and I could almost smell the victory already.

Then disaster struck. A puncture. I could already see a few riders sail by me as I fiddled with my backpack, trying to get my CO2 bombs out. Hastily the bomb was screwed onto the head, put onto the valve and... Nothing. I tried to screw the CO2 bomb tighter but it didn't work. A backmarker who I had overtaken earlier stopped and asked if he could help as surely he could see the frustration and disappointment on my face. In my head I had lost the race already, but strangely there was still no rider from the 68km distance that had passed me.

The data from my Garmin showed me that it took me 4 and a half minutes before I had finally managed to pump the tire and get going again. I didn't even take time to try and locate the spot where it was leaking and maybe fix it. Just pumped it up and hoped it would hold the last 5km till the finish.

It did and I celebrated my first Elite Cross Country Marathon title. An unexpected win, which made it even better. Had to be the 007 number. Costa came in second, 7 minutes down. Turns out he broke his chain and had to fix it. Unfortunate, but that's Mountainbiking. It's not like I had the perfect run. Xavier had a brilliant ride to finish 3rd.

The name's Bond. James Bond.

Winners are grinners
Media crowd

The top 3

Alongside Michelle Vorster who took top honors in the women's event

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