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