Departing Cape Town on Tuesday bound for an 8 week/6 race international campaign with another incredible Stellenbosch summer behind me it seemed surreal that we are already in March! Where did all the time go and who has their finger on the fast forward button? A month on the islands of Philippines, Guam and Saipan should hopefully bring with it the calmness we have been searching for. After a fantastic start to my 2014 season (Xterra Grabouw race report to follow) I am excited to be on the road again and look forward to all the adventures and challenges 2014 will no doubt offer up.
From previous experience I was well aware of the chaos which lay ahead of us when landing in Cebu, Xterra Philippines is by far the most unique and diversely challenging course I will race all year. The race is held in the town of Liloan just 17km from our beach front resort, the Crimson hotel. Sunrise Events once again being very generous hosts to their professional field. One would presume a 17km trip from hotel to race venue should take no more than 20minute but in reality it is close on an hour due to the most radical traffic and road conditions I am ever likely to experience anywhere else in the world. Cats, dogs, chickens, goats, bicycles, cars, busses, trucks all seem to share the same small piece of unfinished road connecting our hotel and Liloan. Sitting up front during the commute was never a recommendation.
Race morning arrived sooner than we could prepare for, somehow Dan and I realised while standing on the sandy white start line that our previous swim was on the Monday prior to departure and we had managed to miss an entire week of swim training... not exactly the ideal preparation! Either way we were both thrilled to be back in the Philippines, with a 7am start time we had the rare opportunity to soak in the beautiful Cebu ocean sunrise, highly recommended. I will be searching for more of these moments in the coming weeks.
A two lap swim with plenty of running and dolphin diving due to the low tide gave me the unfair advantage to lead Dan (A slightly injured Dan I will add) out the water for the first time in my career but hell I will claim it! Not easy to get one over that boy so I will take all the hand outs I can get. Whatever the reasons I hopped onto my bike in second with Dan close behind. The fast swimming Aussie Ben Allen left T1 in the lead close on a minute up the road but with a long hot and humid bike-run still ahead the South African duo were not about to throw in the towel just yet.
The bike course included a few fun new sections and less tar road which we were all very happy to see, the most memorable of which was one of two river crossings where hundreds (I am serious HUNDREDS) of locals had gathered at the river exit as it was rather tricky and sure to provide plenty of entertainment all day. It is not often we in Xterra get this type of on course support, truly an awesome experience! To the Pilipino communities who embraced our intrusion of their small towns and villages we are extremely grateful. Dan is currently in a league of his own on the bike and yesterday was no different, once settled he began opening the gap and I couldn't do much besides watch him disappear up the road and take some tips on what calm steady powerful pedal strokes are meant to look like. Comforting to know I am truly learning from the best. Half way through the first of two 18km treacherous laps I found Ben repairing a flat, turns out he had taken a serious tumble minutes prior with Dan on his wheel. Tough day at the office for him as he went on to suffer two more punctures and falling out of contention. Goes that way sometimes in this game, he will be back to fight another day!
Relief is the best way to describe my emotions coming off the bike, 38km of near misses will have the most stern of men at their breaking point. While racing through small communities provides unparalleled support it also offers some serious challenges. Most are simply going about their Saturday morning business as per usual unaware of a race going on around them, rightfully so but when out of control cyclist meets wondering local it doesn't make for a pretty picture and never mind the hundreds of dogs, chickens, etc I even managed to clip a tiny piglet. As I say, relief describes it best.
Once running I took stock and noted my current position... still 2nd!? At this point we had been going well over 2hours and I was completely dehydrated, it is nearly impossible to drink enough fluids in those conditions to maintain an adequate level of hydration. I did my best to soldier on but truth be told I was feeling horrible and the sharp volcanic rock mixed with deathly still valleys had me near breaking point. 5km in I stopped at an aid station and emptied an entire 5L water bottle over my head, the heat had won! Some respite provided by the turn around and view of the finishing area had me moving again, Dan had built up an insurmountable lead and was well on his way to victory so maintaining my 2nd position was all I had in mind. Once back down into civilization I was able to enjoy the crowd support for one last time before finally crossing the finish line in 2nd place, my best result on the global tour in a time of 2:56.
With all the chaos leading into this race and such high risk and uncertainty out on the bike course Dan and I had made an agreement that simply getting to Sunday afternoon in Guam with no damage to body or bike would be considered a victory, taking 1-2 was never mentioned. It seems we got a whole lot more than we bargained for! Stoked!!!
Thanks to all who made such a unique event possible and a very special mention needs to go out to my boss, Co-owner of Faktory Bikes and Corse Components as well as close friend Philip Deetlefs who made the trip out to the Philippines to show his support. I couldn't be more grateful to have sponsors who are truly willing to go the extra mile!
On a plane headed for Guam as I type this, hopefully two calmer and more focused weeks lie ahead before a 3 race block including Xterra Guam, Xterra Saipan and the Xterra West Championships to be held in Las Vegas. Until then, thanks for following.