Stefan Garlicki is finally home and enjoying a little bit of downtime before jetting off to Mont Saint Anne. He came home to race national champs and here is how it went…
I had been feeling good on the bike in Europe coming into national champs so I felt confident, however the local guys are fast plus it was a new track which is always an unknown. I flew in to Pietermaritzburg the Wednesday prior to the race and just chilled out for a day before practice started. I had decided to use my first practice run as a “track walk” run and just cruise down to check it all out which is usually no problem at an SA race. However not this time, the track was gnarly to say the least! It is without doubt the most technical and challenging track I have ever raced in SA.
It was super steep with not much pedalling plus some gnarly features. The conditions were also really tough being super dry, loose and dusty. This made the track quite unpredictable and the margin for error so fine, which always makes racing harder. The track had a lot of input by the riders and it was clear to see but not what I expected at all. Racing is SA is usually a bit easier track-wise but not this time; I needed to be on my A game just to ride the track, never mind race!
My approach was to take it easy to start with and build up slowly as a crash could happen so easily. I was getting faster each run but after day one I knew I had to step it up if I wanted to be up there. On day two I really pushed hard and it showed as I hit the deck twice. However on my timed run I was getting closer to the fastest times, clocking a 2:40. Local rider and ex-World Cup racer Tim Bentley set the benchmark with 2:37. So I knew I still had to find some more time come race day.
Going into race day I felt surprisingly good, I just had a good feeling for some reason but after the seeding run I had a bit of a shock. I put in a solid run without pushing it too hard to do a 2:40 but Tiaan Odendaal smashed it with a 2:34 and I ended up 4th with Tim Bentley and Jono Philogene getting ahead of me too. This was a surprise as I did not expect to be so far back in seeding as my run was not bad at all. This gave me a kick up the backside and I knew I would have to lay it all on the line in the finals. I had nothing to lose. Again even after being 6 seconds back I had a really good feeling and was in a very good mind space going into my run. I knew I had not pushed as hard as I could and my seeding was a good run but a “safe” run, however none of that in the final!
In the gate I started humming the song, Highway to Hell (AC/DC) right before I set off to try and keep my mind clear and not to let myself start to overthink. I set off out of the gate and in the first rock garden almost through it away by coming in too hot, after losing about a second I knew I had to regroup and charge! I did just that and focused all the way down just to let off the brakes a tad more in every section. The rest of my run was on the edge but pretty much perfect and I carried really good exit speed out of each section. I crossed the line to hear I had done a 2:33 and moved into the lead.
I was so stoked with my run that it was almost a shock that I had gone 7 seconds faster, however I knew I had given my all and my run was the best that I could give on that day which meant I was happy regardless of the outcome. I honestly did not think the time would hold but somehow it did and I managed to take the win! I’m so unbelievably happy to win back to back national titles and really just want to keep the ball rolling. To pull back a time gap of 7 seconds showed me that no matter what the odds, if you get your mind into the right place, anything is possible!