It’s been a busy couple of weeks for us traveling from city to city with the bikes and settling down for a couple of days and then racing again.
First up was the Isuzu Three Towers stage race at Mankele in Nelspruit. Knowing the terrain, we knew it was going to be a hard couple of days of racing coming up. The first stage was 66km with 1450m of climbing. Starting off with quite a big climb, the front group was split quite early on in the race. Johann and I managed to stick to the front. We tried to stay safe and out of trouble and with lots of rocks and single track there was plenty of opportunity to make mistakes.
We managed not to lose any time and finished second on the stage, just behind Erik Kleinhans and Matt Beers who rode together.
The second stage was the queen stage and was where the splits would happen. The start of the stage would be a bit easier but we gradually climbed up and up and up. We would ascend 1650 meters in the 66km that we would cover, with the first 30km being mostly uphill. We were positioned perfectly up the climbs and with the front selection of teams when Johann hit a rock and cut his wheel quite badly, we plugged it quickly but when we bombed the wheel the cut just expanded from the pressure and we had to put in a tube in the wheel to finish the stage. We lost a big chunk of time and rode easy for the rest of the stage trying to save the legs.
The third and final stage was 48km with 1170m of climbing. We were quite motivated to finish the race strong and get something out of the race. We were caught out a bit and chased back for the first 25km. We caught the front group and focused fully on getting the stage win. Trying to stay upright and also not puncturing again, we stayed out of trouble. Coming into the final kilometers it was quite a tussle between us,Team NAD and Topeak Red-E. We managed to get the better of them and get the victory on the stage in front of team NAD.
We had a couple of relaxed days after the race staying in Tsogo Sun Garden Court Hatfield. It was a couple of days of recovering and relaxing before we were off for the next stage race.
Day 1 of Berg & Bush started at Windmill farm in the Drakensberg region with 99km of racing, 1106m of climbing and 1804m of descending in store for us. With a really good field of competitors starting the race, we knew it was going to be a hard three days of racing coming up.
With the first 20km or so being the same as what we raced in the Joberg2C, we were familiar with what was coming up. We were positioned quite well and stayed close to the front not to be caught out. After 30km we were four leading teams in front working quite well together, NAD , Topeak Red-E, Scott LCB and us (Telkom). At the 70km mark Johann punctured again, he hit a rock in the road and punctured on the bead of the tyre. We plugged and bombed it and were off quite quickly but the plug didn't seal the hole properly and we had to stop again to sort it out. We finally got going again and caught up with the second group on the route and finished with them as well. We ended the day with a disappointing fifth, but stayed positive.
Stage 2 was short and fast with 60km and 900m of climbing. There was a lot of single track and proper bushveld trails coming up in the stage. With a couple of cross country riders racing, they were keen to split the race up and try get away on the single track trails. Positioning would play a big part in this stage and not to get stuck behind someone if you were feeling good on the tracks. A couple of the cross country teams put some pressure on the field and split the race up. We were caught out a bit and chasing back hard to stay in contention. We managed to catch the third team from behind and was in the sprint for third place but finished the day in 5th again.
That afternoon we had the Volvo Spioenkop Hill summit. Johann opted not to do it as some other teams also did not. I went on to see how the legs were and started the short punchy hill. It was only 1,3km long but the gradient would be the challenge facing the riders. It was a mass start at the bottom of the hill to the top. I managed to get fifth place to the top. The hill climb was won by Gert Heyns from Scott LCB.
The last day would be another fast day and difficult to split the field. With only 48km being covered and only 930m of climbing. We were six teams riding together most of the day splitting up and coming back together every now and then. Coming into the last 15km over Spioenkop climb, all the race leaders were in contention for the stage win. It was really gnarly coming into the finish and we almost got our position right but Scott LCB just managed to get one up on us into the last turn towards the finish and we had to settle for second place on the stage.We finished fifth overall after three days of tight racing. It was my first time racing Berg & Bush this year and it was quite a good experience overall with great trails and an awesome vibe after the stages in the race village. I would love to be back in 2017.
We had great support from our team which takes a lot of pressure off of us knowing our Merida Ninety-Six Team bikes are race ready before each stage. Our staff at Team Telkom had their A-game there looking after us like true pro's.
This weekend we will be tackling the Amashova road race to keep the title in the team. It's a race that Johann has won in the past and Nolan has won multiple times in the past years. It will be a tough battle on the skinny wheels but, a challenge we are up to!