We were lucky enough to be seeded in A batch. This, combined with a few tweaks to the route by the organisers, meant that we had almost no congestion on the trails. The single track starts after a fast and flat 14 kilometres, and continues nearly uninterrupted for over twenty kilometres.
This is some of the best riding in any race I have done. The trails are rocky and raw: challenging both up and down, so that you have to concentrate constantly, and forget all about sore legs. There are multiple line options and rocks to pop off or weave through at your discretion, all made more entertaining by loose, sandy corners due to the dry conditions.
The trails took us all the way to the second waterpoint, after which the route really gets down to business with a mammoth 12 kilometer climb up the Witzenberg range. The climb has at least five false summits, you think you are at the top, only to turn a corner and see another steep, loose and rocky incline to tackle. My legs happened to have taken the day off, and I was going nowhere, painfully slowly. Luckily the view was spectacular and Nick had something to look at while he waited for me. At the summit, we were rewarded with views of Tulbagh to the right and the Witzenberg Valley spread out to the left, making a fair amount of the vasbyt worthwhile.
The trail down served as further reward. A white-knuckle affair on loose rocks. It had us laughing and sliding all the way down to the very welcome third waterpoint.
Here Nick spent some time getting to know the Klein Karoo ostrich steaks a little better, while I took advantage of the head start and trudged on. An open road descent took us to the base of the final big climb: an old ox wagon track out of the valley. By now I was in pieces and the pace was anything but brisk. We crawled upwards until I took a timeout next to the trail to contemplate the meaning of life more deeply.
Luckily the meaning of life is easy to find when you are out on a bike on a perfect Friday morning in the Koue Bokkeveld, and we were soon trundling onwards and onto another stoke-inducing descent.
After the final waterpoint, we were back on flat farm roads and Nick’s pocket came in handy as he towed me for much of the last 14 kilometres. Weirdly, despite my total lack of legs, this was one of the most fun days I have had on the bike in a long time. I cannot wait for tomorrow When we’ll be tackling the famed Merino Monster in an 87 kilometre stage with 2,200 metres of climbing.