Waking up on the morning of my first race in over 2 months to say I was excited is a serious understatement. I have never been so well rested and so ready for a race in my entire life. Base work over the past few months has been steady and consistent, just how you want it to be but the lack of race intensity begins to wear on you. Day in and day out the work is being put in but with no real reference point (i.e RACING!!!) it becomes a real mental challenge to convince yourself that you are in fact improving. Base training is a very funny animal and every athlete has a different coping mechanism, thankfully I have managed to surround myself with not only very talented but also very wise fellow PRO athletes. 2012 was my first full season as a professional athlete and therefore this was my first opportunity to complete a proper base training phase of my program. I am no longer in my teens but 23 is a far cry from calling myself a well matured athlete, base training requires a lot of maturity and that is why I am so thankful to be surrounded by such professional people.
So now that you understand my state of mind entering this race let's move on to the race itself. The Totalsports Terra Firma event is made up of 4 disciplines, to start with there is a 50km road ride from Gordon's Bay to Kleinmond followed by a 13km road run from Kleinmond to Arabella dam and then onto a 26km Mountain bike and finally a soul destroying 9km beach run. During my warm up I bumped into fellow Xterra athlete Conrad "The Caveman" Stoltz. Conrad was competing in the Terra Firma event as Team Stoltz with his wife Liezel. Pretty much an unbeatable duo in the mixed team category. During the 2012 Terra Firma event Conrad was again competing as a team with his wife, however, at the time he was preparing for the SA National TT Championships. He was under strict instructions from his coach to sit in-front of the bunch and maintain a certain level of power output (watts). For this reason it was really just a free ride for the rest of us just sitting in Conrad's slip all the way to Kleinmond. In 2013 I was expecting much of the same and as I was competing as an individual for the first time and a free ride to Kleinmond to start the race sounded great, how wrong was I...
To start the race there was a compulsory soft pedal section through Gordon's Bay town in remembrance of the great Burry Stander. I was not privileged to know Burry on a personal level but many of my peers were and seeing the suffering most of them are having to endure just proves to me not only what a great athlete and fighter Burry was but also what a good friend he was to so many. Each and every person I reach out to who knew Burry cannot help but smile when they begin speaking of the great man, so many great hidden or lost stories have been brought back to the memory of so many. This is the legacy we all should wish to leave behind when we too pass on. Burry left us far too soon and nothing can ever change that, but he was able to fit 80 years of living into the short 25 he had. I am left truly inspired by his life story, he is a man who will never be forgotten. His legacy will live on forever. Burry we salute you...
Exiting Gordon's Bay town there was a massive group of cyclists all fighting to get to the front, trying their best to claim their 5 seconds of fame, but Conrad was having none of this. Into the big blade down into our TT positions and we were off. Pretty quickly the men were separated from the boys and soon there was a bunch of no more than 15 athletes, although I cannot really be sure as looking behind was not an option at this stage. Conrad was throwing plenty of attacks and guys were dropping like flies all around us. Between Gordon's Bay and Rooi Els there are a few short, yet testing climbs and Conrad ensured that each and every athlete left in the now, very small a select bunch, were well and truly tested. Nico Phitzenmaier has won the Individual Terra Firma event for the past 2 years running, and he was back going for number 3. Towards the end of 2012 I had competed with Nico teaming up for the Wines 2 Whales MTB stage race, so I was well aware of the mountain biking capabilities of the man and knew that if I wanted to beat him, I needed a lead going into the MTB leg of the race. After yet more attacking from the Caveman there were now just 4 athletes remaining up front, Conrad (obviously), Louis Bresler Knipe, Nico Phitzenmaier and myself. Exiting Rooi Els there is one last testing climb known as "heart break hill" and if a decisive move was going to work this was the place to do it! Around 100m from the top of the climb Conrad put a massive attack in, only Louis was able to respond to this move and get onto the Caveman's wheel but myself and Nico were now left in no man's land. I was certain that Conrad and Louis had gotten away now for good and with a very strong SE wind blowing it would be a very tall order riding across the gap and getting back on. I pulled in front for another minute or so and then with a flick of my elbow allowed Nico to take up the pace making. We seemed to be holding the gap to the two up front at about 100-150m, so I began strategizing how I wanted the last 25km of this bike leg to go. I was pretty sure that with a good TT effort I would now be able to bridge the gap to Conrad and Louis but I did not want to drag Nico back to the front with me, so I left Nico to do a bit more of the pace making until I felt he was beginning to tire, and then I made my move. Out the saddle and with everything I had, I attacked, way too scared to look back, I just settled back down into my TT position and began grinding out the watts. After about 2minutes I got up the courage to look back and Nico was nowhere to be seen. This gave me a real boost and I knew that if I just put my head down and worked hard for the next few minutes, this could be the decisive move of the day. In hind sight this move won the race for me. Bridging the gap back to Conrad I could see the surprise in his face. It takes a lot to impress the Caveman but I think I may have just cracked the nod of approval from him.
Before I knew it we were almost in Kleinmond, Conrad, Louis and myself had worked well together bar a couple of sneaky attacks from the Cavemen towards the final stages of the road bike leg of the race. I began assessing the damage and realized that I had definitely been working harder than I would have liked over the first hour of a 4hour race, but hopefully the time I had made on the rest of my competitors would prove significant, and indeed it was. As previously mentioned, Conrad and Louis were both competing in the team categories, so exciting T1 I was now all alone up front and onto the 13km road run. My strategy was pretty simple at this stage, my dad had given me the split back to Nico and I had managed to put 5 minutes into him coming off the road bike. All I needed to do now was to consolidate my lead and try to find a good rhythm on the run. My legs were really feeling great coming off the TT bike and I settled into a pace of around 3:50min/km. The monotonous nature of the run coupled with a gradual incline and strong head wind was not doing wonders for average speed but the splits back to my nearest competitor were growing so I was in a good mental space.
Entering T2 I was feeling awesome and ready to tackle what I was expecting to be the hardest discipline of this race, the MTB leg. My seconding team (all family) were doing a phenomenal job, everything I needed was laid out as requested, allowing for a smooth transition. I took in a little more nutrition as well as fluids, hopped onto my Giant XTC mountain bike and began the long climb. Just prior to exiting T2 I got a split of 6 minutes back to 2nd place. My goal at this stage of the race was to have around 5 minutes on Nico, so I was ahead of schedule and feeling in great shape to bring it home. After a good 5-7km's of climbing, my legs had warmed up well and I was feeling really smooth on my bike, even cocky enough to shift into my big blade towards the end of the climb. In hind sight this may have been a mistake, from feeling so smooth and steady on the bike next minute I was clutching at my hammies. Both had given up the ghost and were in a severe state of cramp. Usually I am well aware of a cramp setting in because the process is generally pretty slow, you can feel the muscle twitching and I can normally just shift my weight on the bike and avoid any serious cramp. This time I was not so lucky, from feeling very smooth on the long climb, suddenly I was nearly in the ditch on the side of the gravel road. Unable to complete a pedal stroke I was fighting to maintain my balance, thankfully I snuck my left cleat out and narrowly avoided an embarrassing fall. As luck would have it, the lead camera crew were right behind me filming every second of this not so glamorous stage of my race. All I could do was stand next to my bike and do my best to stretch out the cramping muscles, I downed a few gulps of fluid and attempted to throw my leg over the saddle again. Bang! the muscle cramped up again. I was now looking down the road very nervously wondering just how close 2nd place was getting to me, to my surprise there was the distinctive silhouette of a lone rider in the distance. My heart sunk, had I made the incredibly rookie error of going far too hard at the beginning stages of a long race and now was about to pay the price for and give up the overall lead. I was determined to push on, if I could just crest the top of this long climb I would have enough time on the descent to allow my muscles time to recover and have a chance at holding off the chasing field. Without risking another cramp I decided to run next to my bike for a short while just to try and allow my tight muscles to ease a bit. This worked very well and soon I was able to jump back onto my bike and get back to my job at hand.
To my great relief the lone rider in the distance was a part of a team so when he did finally bridge the gap up to me, I had a fellow athlete I could work with and try to find some consistency in my pedal stroke again. If I am honest, I was not able to hang onto the team rider for very long, but the 10 minutes or so which I did spend with him really settled me down, and I was back into a good pace and ready to tackle the final leg of the race, the dreaded beach run. Exiting the final transition I was very unsure about how much damage had been done to my lead. I knew it was Nico in 2nd position but without any time gaps out on the course it was impossible to know just how close he was. During my pre-race strategizing I had predicted that I would be in 2nd position at this stage but be close enough to Nico that I would have a chance at running him in. So to my great satisfaction entering the beach I was very happy to be leading and very confident that none of the chasing athletes would be able to close the gap. Running on a beach is something I doubt I will ever come to enjoy, I am definitely someone who thrives on finding a good steady rhythm/tempo during a run but trying to attain this on sand is nearly impossible. Running on sand is a fight every step of the way, and while I am normally always up for a good fight after more than 3hours of hard racing, I really needed to find that elusive rhythm. To my astonishment the tide was pretty low and on the water's edge the sand was hard and provided a stable platform for running. The final run leg is 4.5km out along Kleinmond beach to the turn point and 4.5km back to the finish line. It is extremely difficult trying to spot any land marks out on the beach, so I just put my head down and grafted away. When the turnaround point finally came into view I knew this race was now mine to lose. I had managed to find a steady tempo and with only 4.5km to go and not a competitor in sight it was impossible for anyone to catch me. After a minute or 2 of running back in the direction of the finish line I passed Nico and he didn't seem to be moving any better than myself which gave me another boost of confidence. On the final stages of the run I was lucky enough to witness the grueling battle taking place in the TSC race between Dan Hugo and Stuart Marais, both very good friends of mine. Shouted a few words of encouragement but they were both well into the "hurt box" and fighting with everything they had, such a raw, beautiful thing to bear witness to.
Entering the finishing shoot in first position for my opening race of 2013 I simply couldn't ask for a better start to my year. It fills me with great hope for the season ahead knowing that all the base miles I put in are beginning to pay off. A big thank you to everyone involved in hosting such a world class event, it's very easy to overlook any mistakes by the organisers of a race when you win it, but after careful consideration of the entire race, there is really nothing I can fault from an organisational point of view. To Totalsports for being the title sponsor of this event, as well as all the Xterra events I compete in within SA, I simply cannot thank you enough. Without such fantastic support from quality brands such as Totalsports, races such as this one simply would not be able to take place. To my awesome sponsors who continue to support me, Giant Bicycles SA(Dragon Sports), Puma and Orca (Fluidlines Group) I am eternally grateful! It's not often I get to use both of my Giant racing bikes (Trinity Adv SL TT bike and XTC 29er) in one event, so this was such an awesome opportunity and one I thoroughly enjoyed.
And Finally to my family who made my job of racing this year so much easier, thank you. As anyone who has competed in this event as an individual will know, a seconding team is vital to your success. Through every transition, I had everything which was requested and really didn't have much to think about as all of the thinking was being done for me, guys you did a stellar job, will have to start paying you in 2014 ;-)
Here's to an epic 2013 ahead, thanks so much for popping in and showing your support towards me. Hopefully this is the first of many victorious race reports not only in 2013, but for many years to come. Until then, train safe and I will see you out there at the next one!