Words: Tim Dunford/Team Mountain Trax/Vauxhall Motors
Day 2 catch up - 27 April 2013
After a neutralised first stage, day two would see the first proper racing stage. Before that we were treated to an amazing steak meal courtesy of Karan Beef who had provided 1,400 steaks to the racers and supporters. There was a great atmosphere in the dinner tent and we were shown an amazing selection of shots from the race photographer. The helicopter shots of a single rider on a seemingly endless track gave a sense of scale to the enormous landscape we were covering.
Today though was a mere 92km with around 1000m of climbing from Frankfort to Reitz. After yesterday’s relaxed 8am start, today started at 7, which meant a 5.15 alarm. And to think I call this a holiday! The frosted grass outside the campervan suggested it might not yet be that warm, which it wasn’t, and we were well wrapped up before the start. With no racing on the first day we weren’t gridded so there was more of a bun fight to be near the front, despite the commentator’s assurances that the start behind the Massey Ferguson tractor was neutralised for the first couple of kilometres. Formula One may have a lead super car but the lead tractor maintained an impressive pace through downtown Frankfort. As he pulled over the pack sped off and we tried to maintain our position near the front.
The start was mainly on double track along the banks of a river. Maybe we’re more used to it but the occasional muddy puddle caused the group to slam on the brakes before tentatively creeping through. It’s only mud! As we turned off the double track onto a lumpy, grassy singletrack climb the front of the race was still in sight with Ben around 10 places in front of me. Around five places in front of me an Avis rider slowed, letting a gap grow to the riders in front. There was only one line and no way past. Frustratingly I had to wait for the trail to widen to get past. The gap to the front group was only around 30 seconds so we set off in pursuit. Cresting the top of a rocky escarpment the lead group was nearing the bottom of the short, rocky descent. We flew down when half way down I smacked my rear tyre on a large and fairly hard rock. In the battle of rock versus tyre the rock won… We quickly re-inflated with a gas canister but the riders we’d just worked so hard to get past caught back up. Fortunately a quick change meant we soon re-joined them but the lead group were now out of sight.
The route was now mainly on flat unsealed roads and I was keen to get the group working. After a little gentle persuasion we were swapping turns roadie style and making good progress. After a while a couple of Avis riders caught us. These guys were super strong and we gladly accepted a tow for a while. We could now see a group in front of us and were slowly clawing our way up to them. Just as we were making contact one of the Avis riders clipped the wheel in front and went down. I was just behind and managed to escape a nasty slide on gravel by hopping over his rear wheel. With the two strongest riders now delayed our group momentarily lost momentum before Ben and I decided it was now or never and put in a big dig to get across which we did after a few minutes of flat out fire road bashing.
After a quick breather we reached the day’s final feed zone at around the 70km mark. No time for pancakes today although I did see Ben steal a sneaky pastry twist. It’s been noted! We then hit some great dusty singletrack, which twisted and turned through enormous fields of tall grass. The going was fairly bumpy and I wasn’t loving my rock hard rear tyre at all. Still, better too hard than no air at all. We turned back onto unsealed road for the final time. I was starting to feel the pace now and hung on to the back of the group. I wasn’t the only one suffering though as we hit a small drag the group splintered with just the two Avis riders in front. After a herculean effort I dragged myself up to them.
Fifteen kilometres from the end we hit the Red Bull timed enduro section where there are daily prizes for the fastest riders over a short, technical section. There would be no prizes for us today, the Avis riders may have been super strong but they weren’t the best downhill, though running a fully rigid bike couldn’t have helped. You’d think 900 kilometres off-road would be enough of a challenge without making it any harder. The final kilometres were on superb flat singletrack and we ripped along with the (now visible) tented race village giving us a massive boost. Just outside the village we passed a centre where neglected wolves are cared for. They seemed quite excitable and I was glad there was a sturdy fence between them and me!
The 92 kilometres had taken us three hours, 16 of which was good enough for eighth overall and sixth in our category; a fantastic first day. More importantly we were allowed cake based on the Ben Thomas “only top ten get cake” rule! First were the Fed Group-Itec team of Brandon Stewart and Neil Macdonald who led home a group of five within 17 seconds of each other, around five minutes in front of us. With our racing finished by 10.30 we had plenty of time to chill in the afternoon with the only chores being to refill the water in the camper and empty the chemical toilet. Ah, the joys of camping! Tomorrow’s stage is a monster 132 kilometres so there will be a fair amount of eating involved as well. Check our report tomorrow to see how we get on!