Few places in South Africa, if not the world, match the Garden Route for its scenery, riding options, and friendly people. The 2016 edition of the Garden Route 300 saw some changes to the event, including a shortened route catering for those Epic riders looking for last minute training, a remote start and finish on day 2, as well as the race being changed completely to a solo race.
All of the changes suited me just perfectly. I was using this event to gather some much needed race fitness after being out of it for most of last season due to glandular fever, so the shortened distance offered a much less intimidating challenge of me to tackle.
The start of the race happened a little differently to most. We rolled over the bridge at Thesen Island on Friday morning, with perfect Knysna conditions accompanying us. It was a blue bird day, with the lagoon water like a mirror. What a perfect way to start a race! Things soon got messy though. We slowly rolled out of town and towards the base of the infamous Simola climb, a brutal 8% average gradient tar road climb that normally takes around 12 minutes. At the top awaited a R 4000 hotspot prize, and after all being stopped for a moment at the base of the climb to regroup, we were released like a pack of Greyhounds after that rabbit!
The idea of winning the hotspot seemed nice, but after a minute my optimism was denied by the firm hand of reality, I was not THAT fit! Instead I hung on for dear life, and by some miracle managed to make the front split as we crested the climb. For the next 50km I pretty much hung on for dear life, until a broken spoke and a wrong turn detached me from the back of the group.
My attempt at chasing back through the Harkeville forest ended up in me blowing catastrophically, with me limping home over the final 30km on my own, getting chicked right at the end by an on-fire Robyn de Groot. Welcome back to school Renay!
Bad luck and bad legs aside, I was really looking forward to day 2. Trail park day! The start and finish was at the Garden Route Trail Park between Knysna and Sedgefield, and is probably my favourite place to ride in South Africa. The park has 30km + of purpose built singletrack which feature, jumps, berms, rock-gardens, drop off’s, you name it!
We started off with more blue-bird weather. Blue skies, rolling green fields with glistening and slimy muddy trails awaited the riders after the previous night’s rainfall, which certainly put things even more in my favour. We had 30km to complete in the surrounding mountains before hitting the trail park for the final 30km. If I could hang on to the front group as I did the previous day on the hilly terrain, then maybe, just maybe I would have a chance of doing something in the trail park.
And hang on I did! I surprised myself on this day. This time I managed to hang on to the front group pretty comfortably, and as we gradually made our way skywards for the first 20km, the screw got tighter and tighter. Every time it turned I surprised myself more as I kept hanging on. Eventually only race leader Craig Boyes, 3rd placed Dylan Rebello, Rob Sim and myself were left. I counted down the km’s nervously till the trail park.
In my excitement leading into the trailpark, I played my cards well and snuck up on the inside just managing to get into the singletrack first. So far so good! Unfortunately though, it was eventually a case of too far, not so good. All good things come to an end, and so did that magnificent feeling in my legs. I had some school fees to pay, and ended up creeping home 3rd as I just could not keep up the intensity that the Trail Park demanded. At least day 2 of school was better than the first.
With lunch being served at the Trail Park, riders had the opportunity to sit down, grab a free beer, relax and eventually eat some amazing chow on a farm pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Garden Route events definitely got this one right, and as their events have evolved over the years, it’s clear to see that they favour quality over quantity. I think the riders do too.
Day 2 was like getting an A for your maths assignment. Day 3 was like getting detention. We started off with yet another blue bird day, but soon enough I was paying school fees like no tomorrow. Once again, I just managed to hang on to the front group as we headed up Phantom pass. I hung on for maybe another 30 minutes before getting dropped from the A team like the captain of the debate team. From there on it was all about enjoyment. I rode solo for the next hour, taking in the magical scenery that Homtini provides, while eventually being joined by the leading ladies for company over the second half of the race. Luckily I just managed to avoid getting chicked again when I made a dash for it down the Phantom pass singletrack using my knowledge of the local trails.
Up at the sharp end of the race, bad luck struck for race leader Craig Boyes as he punctured and lost his slim overall lead to a charging Knysna local, Dylan Rebello who ended up taking the overall win. It was tight racing the whole weekend!
Unfortunately, after lunch was served we had to face the long road back to Cape Town in order to tackle a busy pre CT Cycle Tour week. Spending an extra night or two in this idyllic town would have been the perfect end to the perfect race.
Until next time,
Keep it Rubber Side Down!