XTERRA GRABOUW.... What more needs to be said? Anyone who has ever had the privilege of competing at this prestigious event will know what I am on about. In my three years of racing here I have yet to step off the course without multiple war stories! The weather is HOT, terrain extremely unforgiving and organizers determined on out-doing their previous year's performance.
Xterra Grabouw is the only race in my calendar year where I don't have the stresses of travel, accommodation, food requirements etc on me because my house is just a 30min drive from the course. Having the opportunity to go out and view the course weeks prior to the event and refresh the memory on just how tough the terrain is out there is a massive advantage and one I take full advantage of. Come race day I know the course backwards and this year specifically I was convinced I was ready to put up a good fight and do my best to sneak onto the podium against such a quality SA field with so much depth. Xterra Grabouw always attracts the best of the best and this year was no different. Stoltz, Hugo, Murray, Marais, Phitzenmaier the list goes on! if you are planning on doing well here you sure as hell better bring your A game.
Swim start was chaotic at best, with strong team swimmers starting only meters behind our Pro field we were soon in a real battle for position. Swim direction heading straight for the rising African sun caused a few splits up front. Chose poorly when it came to feet/group selection and at the first buoy was already off pace. Bad start but much racing still ahead to make up for it. At swim exit I saw Mr Hugo (travel buddy for the next month) leaving T1 which gave some much needed motivation, a minute back was not bad and a base I could work off.
Onto the bike I felt great, smooth pedal strokes, focused mind and controlled breathing even I was impressed with my composure. The long first climb and natural slow pace allows for a brief assessment of current position and how fellow competitors are moving. Stuart was just ahead in 4th position and didn't seem to be climbing as well as I know he is capable of. Being the first individual competitor to get over the final very steep loose rocky climb without dismounting gave me even more confidence. I even said to myself 'brad you are on a ride here boy!' DONT MESS IT UP! Nico Phitzenmaier however was on a whole different sort of ride, the first long rocky descent he closed the gap to me using his superb technical skills. I held on for awhile but the pace was just too high for me to maintain. I backed off it and he disappeared into the distance setting the fastest bike split of the day by over a minute.
Sadly this was the least of my worries because soon the current monkey on my back (mechanical issues) raised its ugly unwanted miserable head! A section of trail just before the infamous rock garden trail had caught me off guard and I cut the side wall of my brand new front tyre. Frustration and anger levels were off the charts, something I need to learn to control in the future. Tyre off, valve out, tube in, bomb and I was up and going again. With the current depth of Xterra athletes in SA a stop of 5minutes costs one dearly. I was now outside the top 10 and in a slight panic needing to make up for lost time. I rode the last section of trail very well and hit all of the lines I had planned on, into T2 I was back inside the top10 but not ready to give up just yet.
With the amount of climbing in the middle of the run I had planned on taking advantage of the fast flatter sections in the beginning stages, I was moving well and determined to make back as many positions as possible. Caught training buddy and superb runner Antoine Van Heerden as we crested the final climb and took back 7th, legs were still moving well and I had high hopes of a top5 overall. Found 6th place in all sorts of discomfort within the last few kilometers but unfortunately that is where my progress ended, Stuart may have had a tough day at the office but he was still well ahead of where I finished and I was content with 6th position overall.
The more mathematically inclined reader would have noticed at the beginning of this blog post I claimed 5th as my finishing position but actually crossed the line in 6th. This was due to an unfortunate DQ of Conrad Stoltz who had a great day himself finishing 2nd to Richard Murray but unfortunately took a wrong turn out on course.
A final big shout out must go to a classy win by my good mate Richard Murray. We pre rode the course together on the Tuesday leading up to the event and by the way he was wheelying his new 29er around I could tell he was already totally at home on it. Congrats buddy, big things to come in 2013 for Mr Murray.
I leave SA for a month now competing in the Asia Pacific Xterra Tour including Xterra Philippines, Xterra Saipan as well as Xterra Guam. Keep an eye out for future blog posts, expected to be a very colourful journey!
Carla VH (Pro Woman's Champion) and I hosting a couching clinic for the up and coming young triathletes of Grabouw.