Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Nedbank Cycle Tour (and a massive Temperature drop)

My time in Namibia was almost up after a good 3 and a half months I spent there, but one more event was still left to race. The Nedbank Cycle Challenge. It’s a special race, everyone knows it in Namibia and I have some fond memories of winning it for the first time when I was 15 years old.

Beforehand I had a good talk with Tokkie Bombosch about how Mannie Heymans used to make mincemeat of everyone up the Matchless road and that I should use the same tactics to win the race this year. It’s a ballsy tactic (“balls to the wall” as Mr. Bombosch calls it) but being tired of the “hiding and waiting for a sprint” tactics I was up for it. 
My points of attack would be the Daan Viljoen hill and the 2 climbs after, where I would launch an attack to string things out, keep the pressure on for a little, fall back and immediately attack again. Until I get a gap or we reach the top.

I was a man on a mission that day. Winning wasn’t the main objective, but breaking everyone up Matchless and showing what I’ve got under the bonnet. So up until the first climbs I didn’t show myself too much, but had a quick stab at the peloton up a small ride or around a corner occasionally.

Then Daan Viljoen came and the plan worked much better than expected. Costa piled on the pressure at the bottom of the first climb, I attacked over him and kept going over the flat part, drove into the next steeper section and then let someone else take over the pace-making to fall back a little. Then the attack came along with the surprise effect and I had a gap. Up until the sign at the Daan Viljoen turn off I kept going as hard as I could and then allowed myself to look back where the others were. Far behind, that’s where.

The bad thing about a moment like that is that you think: “Great I’ve got a gap.” but you still have to keep going to hold that gap. We weren’t even at the halfway point yet and I was going solo with 5 of the strongest guys in Namibia chasing me at around 50 seconds.
It was okay until the turn-around point at the end of the tar road because it was mostly uphill and I knew they wouldn’t be faster than me there. The problem was coming back we had to go down the same hills and they would have a big advantage over me as they were 5.

Then came a moment where I thought my effort was all wasted. Just at the turn-around point I saw my bottle cage was loose and threw out the bottle to reduce the weight. It made a lot of noise but I could live with that. Then unfortunately the screw at the top fell out, the bottle cage turned upside down and got stuck in my crank. I pulled it out and hoped I could just let it dangle there, but after a few pedal strokes it got stuck again. Fortunately for me this was on a small downhill and I didn’t lose too much time. Now however I had the problem of unscrewing the bottom screw only with my fingers and I had to do that before I had reached the bottom of the downhill otherwise my solo break would be over. Somehow I managed to do just that and could pedal freely again as the road started to rise.

Strangely the time gap almost stayed the same and also didn’t decrease on the downhills. However it didn’t increase either and the finish line was still far.

Coming onto the Western Bypass I turned up the speed, but regretted my decision dearly to have attacked so early by the time I reached the Elisenheim bridge. My back and arms were hurting from the aero position I tried to adopt, my lungs were screaming and my legs felt twice their size. As I came down the bridge my chain fell off and I had to pull it back on with my finger. Directly after that I was being told the gap had come down to 25 seconds and they were coming fast (it wasn’t because of the chain though). Not the thing you want to hear when you’re already in the hurt box.

Backing up and waiting wasn’t an option though. If they catch me I would’ve lost the race anyway. So I kept going, but in my mind I was just waiting for them to catch me any moment.  The headwind and slight uphill was against me too and my legs soon felt completely empty. The cadence dropped from around 90rpm to 75 and when I shifted to an easier gear I just kept the same cadence with lower speed. So I put in a big gear and started the grind towards the line.

The looooooong straight past the power station, the left hand corner followed by the traffic circle onto Simon de Wit bridge, the bridge itself and going down on the other side onto the Independence Avenue… They still haven’t caught me. Why have they not caught me yet? Looking back wasn’t an option though. I was committed to this move and looking back wasn’t going to help me at all.

Although the finish line was on the Independence Avenue, the finish never seemed to come closer. It’s an endless long drag and deadly for a tired mind like mine. So close but yet so far. Then the finish line banner came into sight. Were they really that cruel to leave me hanging out on my own for the entire race and catch me a few hundred meters before the line?
It came closer and closer and closer… 100m from the line I suddenly knew they wouldn’t come past me anymore. A quick glance back for the first time proved this to be true and I had time to think about my victory salute.

Winning when you don’t think you’ll win until the final 100m is one of the best feelings (I think). It makes you appreciate what you did so much more and you feel you definitely deserved it.

Turns out the others were at 10 seconds at one point, but no one wanted to make the final effort to close me down. Then the games of who was going to attack and who was just going to sit on started and they were all racing for second.

It was a perfect end to a great time at home. I’m already missing it.

A little lonely

Relieved. So relieved.

As I landed in Germany, a crisp 35 degrees drop in temperature, some ice had formed on the wing of the plane. The weather got colder the closer we got to Darmstadt and for the first time in my life I saw actual snow falling (strange I know). It turned into winter wonderland quickly and we took the opportunity to drive to a mountain and do some snowboarding. It wasn’t the perfect snow for boarding, or the perfect hill but it was a lot of fun for someone who has never really been in that kind of snow before.
In the late afternoon we decided to take our Mountainbikes/Crossbikes out for a spin in the woods and although I couldn’t feel my face, fingers and feet afterwards I don’t regret a second of it. From rocky dusty trails in Namibia to muddy, wet trails through the woods with the occasional patch of snow… That will still take some getting used to.

This weekend I’ll start my first European race in Lugano, Switzerland. Let’s hope the weather will be kind. 

Winter Wonderland

Almost like Duneboarding. Not really...

Seriously who even wants to leave their house behind in this weather? Most of the snow gone already though

Never had the problem of snowy tires before

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