The Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek is organized by Dryland and they are Kate Slegrova’s favourite race organisers. They work hard on making everyone happy – not only the pro cyclists but the normal riders too. Everyone feels like they are part of Dryland’s big family. But just because they’re like family it doesn’t mean they’re going to make things easy…
The race started with a prologue in Buffelsdrift, a beautiful private game farm. The course was lots of fun, almost XC with lots of switch backs, drop offs and bridges which combined to make you feel like you’re riding in middle of the bush in Kruger Park.
I had a sneaky practice on the route beforehand, so I knew the course well and it paid off with a second place on the day, only 20 seconds behind the German pro Bettina Uhlig. Lara Woolley, who’s well known for her great MTB skills, came in third.
The capital of the Klein Karoo, and ostrich capital of the world, Oudtshoorn, was the obvious venue to start this journey. Monday morning dawned with light rain at the start, but there was talk of mud on the course… And the talk wasn’t wrong! After five kays of maintaining a good speed we found ourselves in a clay mud bath. It felt like it was never going to end. The bike soon doubled in weight and became impossible to ride and very, very, heavy to carry.
It took me an hour and forty five minutes to complete the first fifteen kays! From there on out the rain and continued (but less clay based) mud was mostly ride-able. The new singletrack around the Red Stones was awesome, even in the difficult conditions.
I got to the finish after six hours, covered in mud from head to toe, and to my surprise finished first in the solo ladies category with a good lead. Many riders weren’t as lucky though, with major mechanical issues causing havoc. Broken hangers, derailleurs, chains and chain suck were the order of the day. The mechanics worked overnight and some bike shops were opened at three am for emergency spares.
Having not booked upfront for a service (don’t make the same mistake), I arrived at the start of stage two to find my bike had not yet been serviced. The clogged up cables had to be replaced in a rush to get my gears changing again, but the mechanics only had time to set the cassette before it was time to head into the start shoot. Wearing the ladies leader’s jersey I was thrilled to start upfront with the pros like Erik and Arienne Kleinhans. It was nice but I knew I wouldn’t see them for long after the start.
Leaving the village of Calitzdorp, we travelled north, hoping to spot some wildlife before the climbing got really tough.
My gears were playing up a bit and I knew that Bettina Uhlig would be pushing hard to get the leaders jersey back so I wasn’t surprised when she raced off at the front of the bunch. I rode with Delene van der Leek for a while and just before the first water point we got passed by Aileen Anderson. Soon after I realised that I couldn’t change down from my big blade, which left me unable to keep up with Delene on the steep climbs. Luckily on the Pioneer help is always nearby and my friends from the Namaqua Wine Estate helped me sort it out on the fly.
The real climbing started on Swartberg Pass. I was rather envious of Anriette Schoeman, riding with John Lee Augustyn, she’s tiny and easy to push, which is quite an advantage when you’re riding with a climber like John Lee. Despite knowing the pass pretty well and climbing as hard as I could, fourth was all I could manage on the day.
Stage three marked a change of philosophy – instead of heading back to the mountains, riders enters the southern section of the Great Karoo. A beautiful sunrise awaited me as I got out of the tent after a good night’s sleep. Roland Nel of team Cannondale Blend had fixed my bike (I can’t thank him enough!) and I was still in the leader’s jersey for solo ladies, so things couldn’t have been better.
But after a crash in front of me, on a sandy patch, separated me from the leaders, I was quickly reminded of how tough the Pioneer is. From there on out, little groups formed and split, with the cross winds playing havoc on the flatter sections, I rode with Ashley Shaw for much of the latter stages of the day, including the Meiringspoort tarmac section through the amazing red stone canyons.
The gem of the Klein Karoo awaited riders on stage four with 25km of steady ascent into the most scenic section of the 2013 ride. I remembered the day as being very tough in 2012 and I could still feel the previous day’s sprint finish in my legs. With 231km still to go I decided to take it easy and hoped that I’d be able to get my legs going later in the day.
I was quite chuffed with myself as the day progressed, there were quite a few river crossings I could ride this year that I couldn’t last. It’s always great to notice when your technical skills have improved. I did take a tumble trying to pass a lady who’d fallen on one of the river crossings though – as I tried to go around her, my front wheel slipped and down I went, into the refreshingly cool water.
I also have to admit that the big climb of the day had me pushing for a good 30 minutes, but all the way up there was a beautiful view. It is not open to ride during the year so it was a privilege to be there. After a rocky downhill it was rolling hills towards the finish at Louvain. The last five kays of the day featured rocky single track, as route guru Henco Rademeyer had promised, and once again I was off the bike and pushing. The stage finish saw me lose the leader’s jersey – but I was just happy to be finished for the day.
The previous year stage five had been one of my favourites, but it’d been raining almost all night and it was truly pouring on the start line.
The rain had obviously helped my sleep the night before and I was feeling strong again. The climbing up to the top of the aptly named Devil’s Descent went well bar the chain suck, but the torrential rain and steep descent soon had my brake pads screaming. A cut sidewall on my rear tyre, running completely out of brakes and more gear issues cost me more time. But I wasn’t the only one – almost everyone had mechanical issues.
The singletrack into George that I’d loved last year became a horror movie. Glide and slide, I dubbed the gearless, brakeless technique for hobbling to the finish. By that point George was flooded, I was emotional, my blood sugar had crashed and my bike was a mess. I then had to organise a service for my shattered bike (always pre-book for services!) before enjoying a great meal and heading back to the comfort of the in-laws in Oudtshoorn.
Far from being an easy last day, the route on stage six knows only one way – up. There was relief for the tired legs though; the rain had forced the organisers to cut out the singletrack linking the start and the pass, so we headed off on the tar to the foot of the old and beautiful Montagu Pass.
The rain and the mist spoiled the view somewhat, but around the 50km mark the sun came out to bake the caked mud onto our bodies and faces. Free Pioneer beauty therapy. After losing my group at a water point I rode alone to Oudtshoorn, where I was caught by Thea-Mari Van Der Sandt. Despite beating Aileen Anderson by a couple of minutes on the day she hung on and beat me to third overall.
After a shower and rest it was off to the prize giving and finisher’s dinner to marvel at the great race photos and videos. The leader’s jerseys were auctioned off for charity and then it was time for the after party…
I ninja bombed (Ed. It’s the same as a French exit) just after midnight, but the party continued until the early hours of the morning and there were lots of cyclists feeling tired, and not from cycling, the next day.
I’d like to thank my great sponsors, my husband, Jean Marais and everybody from Dryland who did a great job staging another amazing Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek.
Kate’s Bridge Cape Pioneer Tips:
- Make sure to eat and hydrate well on any stage race, especially if it’s raining.
- It’s hard to eat on muddy and rainy days, but you’re working harder so you have to force yourself.
- Try to eat as much natural food as you can, energy gels get hard to stomach after four days.
- Eat and hydrate as soon as possible after the finish.
- Eat fruit and vegies too, don’t just bulk up with carbs and protein.
- Wash and sanitise your hands often and take probiotics to avoid getting a runny tummy.