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October 21, 2014

The Solo Effect

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SOLO: noun; a thing done by one person unaccompanied, in particular. Cards; of any certain games in which one person plays alone against others. A person who works, acts or performs alone. Adjective & adverb: for or done by one person alone; unaccompanied.

These are some of the definitions of the word SOLO, and for the last 7 days this was me on my bike.

Heading into the Bridge Cape Pioneer Trek for the second time, I found myself on the start line this year without a partner. In the months leading up I had made some attempts to get a riding partner, but most options having good reasons not to ride, I decided to embrace the challenge and tackle the 7 day, 580km, and 12000m vertical ascent race alone. Having never done something like this before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

So, fast forward a week, and I am sitting here in Cape Town in a slight haze of fatigue having completed the gruelling challenge, limbs and sanity in tact, a few scratches, some fond memories, as well as some pretty painful ones. Racing solo was an experience for sure, so I thought it would be appropriate to list what I did, and didn’t like about racing solo should you ever find yourself contemplating the solo option.

This is what I liked:

Do what you want, when you want. Being in a team can be cool initially, but sometimes having someone telling you what to do day in and day out can be a hack. I really enjoyed making my own schedule, stopping at the water points I wanted to, or just chatting and socialising with other riders post race and sharing a beer.

Ride how you like. Everyone has rubbish days on a bike. I had a couple. Exploding monumentally up the Swartberg Pass was no joke, and I shudder thinking of trying to ride(and walk) any faster than I could at that point. Sometimes you just want to kick back and admire the scenery, but if you partner has their game face on there may be war if you don’t match up!

This is what I didn’t like:

You really are alone. Stage 1, I was riding comfortably in the lead group 40km into the stage, when CLANG! My chain slipped into my wheel which broke a spoke and broke the rim tape from the inside giving me a flat tyre. I eventually fixed it, but had the remaining 70km to ride all on my own. Fun times!  When I flatted again I thankfully had a spare plug, but when that plug fell out I had nothing left. Then, out of the dust appeared another solo rider, Francois Theron came to the rescue and helped a brother out. Lifesaver!

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When the lights go out, and the other teams ride away from you, your partner is there to give you a helping push, words of motivation, and that extra energy gel. Racing up the Swartberg pass on stage 2, I monumentally stuffed up, and did not bring enough nutrition. Halfway up the climb I was in one of the deepest holes I had ever been in. No water, no gels, nada. At moments I was standing next to my bike with wobbly legs and my head in my arms leaning over my bike. To this moment I can’t remember how on earth I got to the top of that pass. All I know is that it wasn’t pretty, and that a team mate would have been pretty grand.

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Apart from mushroom clouds up Swartberg and flats tyres in the middle of nowhere, we all have our days when we just aren’t at our best, or moments in a stage when we need that extra motivation to hang on to the back of that bunch going faster than is comfortable. A team mate can be the difference between make or break in a race, and in this year’s Pioneer there were definitely a few moments that broke me, and a team mate would have made all the difference.

Would I race Pioneer again? Definitely. It is an fantastic race, with an amazing route run by incredible people over stunning terrain. Would I race solo again? Probably not. The essence of stage racing is is by design in a team format. You have highs and lows in multi day racing, and the experience is made so much more by experiencing it with someone, especially crossing that finish line at the end of the last day. So here’s to the Cape Pioneer Trek 2015, wheel by wheel, side by side!

Keep it rubber side down.

 

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