In one of the most hard fought battles I have ever been lucky enough to be a part of I sadly had to settle for second place against one of the sports best athletes in Richard Murray. Richard needs no introduction and since learning that he would be on the start line in Grabouw this year we all knew we had an incredibly tough task on our hands trying to match him. There is nothing I love more than a challenge and going into the race I was quietly confident that I could give Mr Murray a true run for his money.
The swim seemed to fly by and exiting the water I got a split of 48seconds to Richard. This was a little more time than I had expected to lose but heading into the mountain biking leg he was now in my back yard and I was determined for this not to be a one horse race. Back in 2013 when Richard won his first Xterra SA Championships he went up against the sports greats of Conrad Stoltz and Dan Hugo but somehow seemed to have all the answers even against the likes of these big names! Luckily for me this years course out in Grabouw started with a pretty brutal and unrelenting climb, half way up I got my first visual of Richard and by the top the 48second gap had all but disappeared. I entered the first descent in the lead and lent back to let the bike do the work. By the bottom I knew I had a problem... Richard was sitting comfortably on my wheel but I was having to nurse the bike around each corner. Looking down confirmed my suspicions, I had somehow managed to get a slow puncture on my rear tyre. Thankfully the tyre sealed itself so I decided to just keep pushing until I had to stop and inflate. On a steep climb I put in a big effort and finally got away from Richard. You have to give him massive credit for his ability to ride an MTB so well even with spending so little time each year on his Specialized Epic.
At about the 12km mark I looked back and Richard was out of sight. I figured I had built up roughly a 40second lead but I was now really struggling in the sandy single track with such a soft rear tyre. In hind sight I probably should have just kept riding as the gap was still opening but at the time I was convinced that I would be riding so much faster with a properly inflated tyre. I hoped off and filled the both tyres as my front had also seemed to lose some pressure. While inflating Richard blew by and got about 20seconds on me before I got going again. I got to work and felt a lot more confident on hard tyres. It took me a few kilometres to close the gap again and luckily I was able to regain the lead just before dropping into the infamous Rock Garden. I had a lot of confidence on this section as I have raced here so many times and exciting out the bottom Richard was once again out of sight. I put my head down and with only a few kilometres remaining did all I could to open the gap as much as possible before starting the run. I think we are all well aware of Richards running abilities and before the race I had said I would need at least 2minutes lead starting the run if I wanted a chance of beating him. As I left T2 I could hear the announcer welcoming him and the splits I was receiving didn't leave me warm and fuzzy inside. I had about a 30second lead and knew I was now in a world of hurt. Either way I was set on making him work for this title if he really wanted it as much as I did so I got to work and found my running legs pretty early on. The support out on course was awesome with many close friends and loved once screaming support and begging me to dig a little deeper, this always makes the suffering more bearable so thanks to all of those pulling for me out there.
It took Richard a lot longer than I had expected to catch me and once he did at about the 5km mark he didn't blow by me as expected. I got a lift from this and knew he must be hurting as much as I was. We started the long climb which comes midway in the run and by the top I could no longer hear his footsteps but did not dare look back. The decent from there is steep and loose and soon that famous Murray stride came up along side me. Physically my legs could not move any faster and by the bottom he had 10seconds over me. I will admit that my spirits were a little broken at this point and I realised for the first time that day that it may not be the fairy tail I had dreamed about. Richard still looked smooth and I was feeling rather wrecked, after a minute or two on the flats I found my rhythm again and Richard was still in sight. We only had 2km left to run so I dug deep and at one point was within 5seconds but never completely closed the gap again. Crossing the line i believe the final gap was 19seconds, probably the closest Xterra SA finish in history. I was and still am proud of my fight on the day despite coming so desperately close to defending my title. I loved having the opportunity of racing against Richard and I hope I get another shot in future! He certainly lifted my game and forced many around us to do the same. A shout out to Stuart Marais for being oh so close all day finishing up 3rd with a sub standard swim costing him the chances of joining the battle up front, although I am rather glad I only had one lunatic to deal with.
Now its time for a short rest before my international calendar begins next month with the Asia Pacific Tour kicking off in March. Thanks to all for supporting and following my journey! Much love. Brad
Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg
After a slightly delayed start to the 2017 Xterra season due to a late injury in 2016 from a mountain biking accident leaving me with a broken wrist I was very excited heading up to PE even with doubts about my current fitness levels. Training has been going well but with an extended rest period and not much high intensity work it was always going to be a little hit or miss on whether the body would respond well to the racing environment. Either way I was just happy to be back on a start line and content not to worry too much about the outcome.
The Xterra course in PE known best for its urban setting offers one of the most exciting bike courses I can remember racing on. The local mountain biking community has clearly invested in their local trails and we were lucky enough to be able to take advantage of their hard work. Xterra PE takes place in the heart of the city and the race kicks off with a 1500m swim off of Kings beach with perfect water temperatures and a steady swell testing even the most experienced athletes on their ability to deal with a few shore breaks.
With a somewhat average start I looked up and guessed I was in about 15th position but my swimming stroke felt good and soon I moved up through the pack into 4th position onto Stuart Marais toes. Stuart had recently raced the Ironman 70.3 in East London so I knew he was in good form and would provide my biggest competition on the day. Exiting the water, Theo Blignaut, Stuart and myself headed into T1 together about a minute behind the leader Keegan Cooke. Onto the bike I was now in my comfort zone and excited to make the most of this technical route. About 3km into the bike there was a small technical river crossing, Stuart dismounted but I was able to get over and made a small gap. We climbed up through the Baarkens Valley on twisty smooth flowing single track with small punchy climbs. I dug deep to the top end of the bike route knowing that once the course flattened out and got less technical Stuart would be able to begin closing the gap to me. As the leader its always difficult to know what’s happening behind you as no one can give you accurate splits on your competitors. The media crew was doing an awesome job capturing the race and they were able to feed me a few splits as and when they could but ultimately I just put my head down and kept pushing. On the last flat stretch along the railway lines of PE I got a split of 1 minute back to Stuart but once I exited T2 and saw Stu already racking his bike I knew the race was far from over. He is known for his running abilities and I am well aware that he is a more talented runner than myself. My hope was that the tough punchy ride had taken the sting out of his legs, which would allow me to hang on to the slender lead.
The run route took us back along Kings beach and then up into Happy Valley for two loops with a mixture of sandy climbs, loose descents and some flat fast running on tar roads. Having broken my wrist back in December running was the least effected element of my training so I had a fair amount of confidence that I would be able to run well. Onto the second loop in Happy Valley I could tell Stu was not closing the gap and if anything I had gained a few more seconds on him. Still I didn’t want to leave anything to chance so I kept digging until the final kilometer which took us back onto Kings Beach to enjoy the cool ocean breeze one last time before heading down my first finishing shoot of 2017 and to my surprise still in first position.
I really could not have asked for a better start to the season and I am incredibly excited for what is to come. The next big challenge is Xterra Grabouw, which is the South African National Championships where I will be attempting to defend my 2016 title. I have no illusions that its going to be war out there with so many talented South African triathletes vying for that top spot as well as a fair share of international professionals who have made the long trip out to take part in the biggest Xterra on the planet. No need to say the motivation levels are pretty high!