With Attakwas looming on Saturday, this wasn’t going to be a big week of riding. However, the training has to happen regardless of weather. I had arranged for my car to go in for service on Monday morning, with the idea that I would take my bike along, and then ride from the Foreshore. The part I didn’t plan is that Monday was a day of gale force south-easter, which made for ‘interesting’ riding until I got across to Pat’s Track on the Sea Point side of Signal Hill.
Monday was also the day of the fire above Deer Park (i.e. very close to our house), with the wind causing it to spread rapidly, although not in our direction.
A gentle spin on Tuesday was the final preparation for Attakwas, and as a result of Piet’s illness I made the trip to Oudtshoorn alone.
At this point in the report, I found that the appropriately descriptive words resisted my best efforts at retrieval from whatever part of the brain generates them. Attakwas is no ordinary mountain bike race. Yesterday’s is the furthest distance I’ve ridden a bike, with the most climbing, and the longest time in the saddle. The terrain – very steep climbs, often with loose rocks and gravel, and ending with a sustained head wind – adds another dimension to the data (120km with 2700m of climbing).
It’s also bigger than any single day of Cape Epic, which makes it an important race to cross off the to-do list.
The first quarter of the race can be ridden at pace. There aren’t any major climbs, so it’s easy to get sucked into going too fast. I’d been warned about the toughness of the final third of the race, so I let my heart rate determine my pace, rather than get tempted to follow the other riders flashing past me. The climbing got a bit more serious after the first water point, with a tester that had most riders pushing from the bottom. I was riding it until someone fell in front of me, but the rocks higher up would have caused me to walk for a bit anyway.
The really big climbs are between water points two and three. Once again, there were steep, loose sections that turned parts of the field into hikers. The descent into water point three took forever, with some mini climbs that caught me by surprise. At least I didn’t get surprised by any of the tricky sections, because this part of the race has a reputation as being bit of a graveyard. Many Epic dreams have been shattered on Attakwas.
After this it was district roads all the way, with more big rolling hills than I care to remember. While getting to water point three had involved some tough climbs, the theoretically easier climbs leading up to water point four were turned into a dismal slog by my depleted physical state. I must have taken at least 30 minutes longer on this section, compared with the rest of the route.
When I was passed by a sweep vehicle carrying a couple of riders and their bikes, it seemed as if my body was shouting, “Pick me! Pick me!” It would have been so easy to abort at this point.
At water point four I shoved as much food and drink down my throat as I could. Thankfully, they had loads of ice, so I pushed a good handful up each leg of my shorts. My quads felt a lot more energetic after this.
The final 40km had many more rolling hills, except that this was directly into the wind. For the final 10 km I managed to hook onto a ‘bus’ that was travelling at pace. I just focused on the wheel ahead and forced my legs to pedal at the speed required. It was an exhilarating way to end a race that had such a flat middle section.
I would have preferred to finish somewhere in the middle of the field, rather than about 70% of the way down it. However, considering that in April last year I couldn’t have ridden to the first water point, I take this as a win. Most importantly, it extends the horizons of my physical endurance (note that I declined to refer to this as “comfort zone”).
It’s perhaps also a reflection of the difficulty of this event that I had very few comments about my breathing (in other words, everyone around me was in a bubble of pain).
Other than finishing, a further positive is that I felt energetic enough to drive the nearly four hours back to Cape Town afterwards (very little traffic on the N2 at this time on a Saturday, by the way). I’m not rushing to get involved in anything physical right now, but I could ride again today if necessary.
Eight weeks to the start…