Words by Andrew Hill
Its been a couple of weeks of wet and muddy racing in KZN but I’ve seemed to relish the conditions and had some really great results. This past weekend I went up to a New race on the calendar called the Vulintaba Extreme. The event was held over two days at the Vulintaba Hotel and golfing estate in mountains on the outskirts of Newcastle. The format involved a number of variations and there was racing for the 15km kids race through to a 75km MTB extreme event on the Saturday morning. The next day was one for the roadies who were up for a 108km race with 1900m of climbing. I entered both days and raced in some interesting conditions on Saturday and seriously crazy conditions on the skinny wheels on Sunday morning in the rain.
The MTB event had a number of top riders attending and i was up against the likes of Nico Bell and Garwie Combrink from team NAD, Shaun Nick Bester from Volvo Silverback, Calvin Beneke, Dean Wortman and David Low were also up for the challenge. The route was an interesting mix of cattle tracks, district roads and some rocky single tracks up into the misty hills above the hotel and golf track. The trails were largely dry but the heavy rain during the week had rutted a lot of the jeep tracks and exposed a lot of rock on the trails. Feeling confident after my ride the day before on dry roads I felt my legs were feeling good and I decided to set the pace from the gun and push up the climbs to slit the field early. After 15km of racing we had a group of 4 riders in contention with the NAD team having the upper hand in numbers, i picked the pace up on one of the longer climbs again and Nico Bell was the only one to follow my wheel. I could sense the others were slightly off the back and i continued to increase the tempo, just enough to make the pace uncomfortable. Unfortunately on a down hill through some rocks I hit a rock covered in the grass and I sliced my front tyre in two spots. The plugs I had didn’t fix the holes and after much frustration I was forced to put a tube into the wheel. I had wasted 12min trying to fix the wheel and thinking I was out of the race I started to roll again possibly looking to take it easy towards the finish line. I started to ride faster and faster in frustration at the puncture and I began to feel good and started to pass the field, each rider I passed gave me the motivation to go harder. The conditions weren’t ideal but I put them out of my head and continued to push harder on the pedals. Heading into the last 30km I was knew there was a large climb up on the trails around the golf course where I would make up some time. Amazingly enough I started to catch the top 7 riders 1 by 1 and with each rider notched off I knew the podium was still possible. Heading into the last 5km I caught 3rd place and passed him on a steep rocky descent putting caution to wind and everything on the line, I worked hard to stay away from him and crossed the finish line 2 minutes ahead of 4th to claim a podium finish. When I looked back at my race time and the time spent fixing my front wheel I was only a couple of seconds off the winning time of Nico Bell.
Day 2 was one for the roadies and my plan was to just stay upright in the wet and raining conditions and finish ahead of the next rider who was competing in the combination Road and MTB events. I was in a chasing group of 7 riders just off the 3 rider breakaway up the road and worked with them to finish in the bunch not taking any chances on the reduced distance due to dangerous racing conditions.
Having raced both days and chased very hard in the MTB event I could feel the fatigue affect in the road race but I was incredibly happy to claim the 3rd step of the podium with Team NAD and the first Vulintaba extreme.