It was battle royale on the first marathon stage of the 2014 Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek. There was no illusion of a more relaxed day to take in the scenery before tomorrow’s #swartbergshowdown. Speaking of scenery we passed the majestic Redstone Cliffs in the last quarter of the race in the dash towards Calitzdorp. They are really something quite special.
Behind the lead car, a relaxed neutral zone took the riders out of Oudtshoorn and as we turned off onto the first jeep track section it was game on. Racing in the Karoo means that you will be on technical rocky jeep track for significant sections of the race and today was no exception. At 40-50km/h in the dust, with limited vision and rocks frequently shooting up it requires a different kind of skills set, something which the South African marathon riders seemed to have developed and the European riders seem to lack somewhat.
Equipment choice for this race, with its relentlessly tough terrain on body and bike is vital. A hard tail may be faster on the climbs and play a key role on the Swartberg Pass tomorrow, but today I was very grateful to be on my Merida fully. Tyres no doubt are also exceptionally important and this was highlighted by the numerous teams that had punctures, ourselves unfortunately included. RECM were early victims, as was solo rider Konny Looser. EAI and Cannondale Blend also had their fair share of bad luck, perhaps the biggest losers on the day were the Fairview Elite team as Adriaan Louw snapped his crank.
At the front of affairs the Bulls and Scott factory Racing confirmed that yesterday was no fluke as the teams duelled it out to the line. The Bulls attacked on the last steep tar road climb through town to the line and took honours on the day. The Spanish duo from the ESMTB.com team rounded out the podium and the Asrin boys fought back to a solid 4th with Cannondale Blend in 5th.
Matthys Beukes of Scott factory Racing had this to say about the stage: “It was quite a fast open stage today and with tomorrow in mind we tried to save energy where we could, but we did go for it in the single track a bit to put the other teams under pressure. Eventually ourselves and the Bulls crested the last climb together and then worked well together over the last 15km, but they were just a bit stronger than us in the steep kick up to the line to take the stage.”
Hanco and I had a reasonable day besides as I mentioned a significantly cut tyre. A couple of plugs and a few old tricks taught to me by Hanco and we were on our way again to again finish in 12th. Dealing with mechanicals is part and parcel of mountain biking and tomorrow we live to fight another day.