As always, I spent almost the entire winter in Stellenbosch South Africa. However, I also enjoyed some of the Swiss winter in February.
I get asked a lot why I go home and leave the African summer, but I love winter, too, and there is nothing cooler then a backcountry ski trip in combination with a ride home, or night riding through fresh snow. Although fresh snow was pretty rare this winter, it was still like Disney Land. I had a "door" into spring when I went riding at the low elevations or winter when I climbed mountains. The snow was sometimes so hard-packed that I could ride my bike for hours on it.
I started racing at the beginning of March with Grape-Escape, a three-day stage race in Cape Town, South Africa, where a 70km bed of thorns awaited us on the first day. I never ever had to fix so many flat tires! I was very thankful to all the tube donors plus Bobby Behan's big pump and support.
That was a slow start into my racing season, but the Tour de Boland and Cape Argus (biggest timed road race in the world with 35,000 riders) went really well, and I was always racing in the mix at the front.
From there, it was onto the ABSA Cape Epic which is like the Tour de France for mountain bikers. It was a huge goal for (teammate) Burry (Stander) and myself to finally win it, since we have been trying for the last three years.
As you might know, we are riding for charity Songo.info which I started four years ago. We have now established a BMX and MTB program in the township of Stellenbosch. The two weeks leading up to The Cape Epic were some of my busiest ever, especially with 36ONE, an asset management company, signed up as title sponsor for the next three years. During that period my phone was glued to my head and the computer to my hands...
I was so happy once the race started and we could take off. It was a huge success for us! Winning five out of eight stages plus the overall was just unbelievable, but almost more important we got so much coverage for Songo.info. A big thanks goes out to Specialized who is fully behind us, and allows us to ride in the special gear of 36ONE Songo Specialized.
We also had six Songo riders who took part of the race and put in strong rides. Azukile, 18 years old, was the youngest rider in the field, and together with his partner Sivuyile, they were the youngest team of all. They finished in 235th position with 52 hours of saddle time.
Here are a few 36ONE Songo Specialized insider tidbits from the Cape Epic:
* My best working breakfast is porridge boiled with water. I eat it with Nutella, and have an espresso one hour before breakfast.
* Wake up is 5:00 am for 7:00 am start, with the Grace Jones' song, "Walking in the Rain"
* I brought my big speakers which I connected to my Ipod. After two or three days, we find your Cape Epic song. Last year, it was "Imma Be" from Black Eyed Peas this year "Born Free" from Kid Rock.
* Burry got a mouth infection for the last three days. His temperature was a little higher then normal and his tongue turned into a blister plantation. His teeth hurt, especially the gums and all the different mouth washes he used burned off his whole mouth and he also started to smell like a hospital! His final evening celebration after winning was going to bed after taking painkillers.
* After we started Pieter, our soigneur, cleaned the whole camper inside out with the loud tunes of Beastie Boys, while mechanic Dylan had a much quicker, but dirtier job to do. He had to dump the camper toilet. After the first time, Dylan always wore gloves.
* We had a chef for lunch. Helene lives close to all stage towns and made us an incredible lunch buffet every day. Sure we would like to have her on the team again next year.
* Two punctures, one for Burry, one for me - that was it over a total distance of 1400km. We only had to re-inflate both tires. Our tire sealant "NoZisch" works wonders, plus our Specialized Renegade Control tires have some extra puncture protection, but are still light and super fast rolling.
* After crossing the finish line, things went absolutely crazy. Burry needed a time out and went to hide himself in the company of Pieter under two big trucks and ate soft cheese with soft bread. Whatever was soft was easy on his gums.
Following the Cape Epic, I took one week super easy, and after a few days back on the bike, I started to feel like all the hard racing with the break afterward had kicked in. The first World Cup in Pietermaritzburg was waiting, and I was looking forward to it.
Unfortunately, I had a super bad start off the line at the World Cup and ended up back in the 50th going into the first trail. After three laps into the race, things calmed down and I started passing which brought me up to 13th place. At least, I'll get a second row start for Dalby World Cup, the next round of the World Cup.
I definitely had to get used to my 26-inch Specialized Epic for the World Cup again. I had only been riding and racing the Epic 29er for the last two months. Cross country is such a racing-specific discipline, which basically is 1.5 hours on and off sprinting. For that, I need the most responsive and light bike and not the 29er, which is much more forgiving, stable, comfortable and better rolling. Overall, the 29er is just easier to ride. In my opinion, you can compare a 26er vs. a 29er to a racing car vs. a Mercedes S Class.
By the way, we also invited Theo, a Songo.info kid, to the World Cup. He is the biggest downhill fan, and it was the weekend of his life to meet the whole Monster-Specialized Team. He watched the downhill and got to ride around on some cool bikes of his heros!
Check out the pictures in this diary and find more on www.songo.info.