Bela Bela 5150 was supposed to be my return to triathlon after recovering from a major op in Jan. The limited local racing calendar ruled out anything before June/July and I was in no shape to be considering Durban 70.3. Unfortunately, the Bela Bela date then clashed with a family commitment and race 1 now became The Cape Ultra. With flights, accommodation, bike transport and the likes all organised, I was going.
The trip was planned with the regular military precision that comes with Ty (brother-in-law and fellow Trifactri athlete) and I going away. The flights and car hire sorted months in advance, house booked in Theewaterskloof Golf Estate 10kms from the venue, we had it all covered. Travelling down on the Friday gave us plenty of time to travel through the Cape winelands into Franschoek and over the pass where you then see the vast Theewaterskloof dam for the first time, all the while being distracted by the postcard views left, right, behind and in front of us. It was a tough drive to the house, Africa tough, the tough where you feel the need to stop every 5mins to appreciate the beauty Africa has to offer but we resisted and soldiered on.
Saturday started with a 7am run in the estate. The road in the estate is 1.5km from end to end and great for my scheduled 20mins. Temperature on that first morning was concerning, the weather report never mentioned that the day’s high was going be obtained from a bloody freezing starting temperature. Bad enough listening to my heavy breathing on a run without having watch it too. With the run done, it was time to head into Franschoek for a late breakfast. The drive is 30/35mins from the estate over the pass and into the town, you cannot help but look in awe each time you make this trip. At the same time, athletes are counting their blessings the Pass isn’t on the bike route.
After a morning of taking in the offerings of Franschoek town, we headed back to the race venue for registration and to collect our bikes from the transport guys. Registration was done in minutes, now to check the bikes and head out for a quick 20min ride to make sure all was in working order (legs included). A few brave souls had been out to check out the swim, this brave soul rather opted for the message to Lucie to respectfully decline the option of a “warm up” swim and would rather face the music in the morning when the swim became “compulsory”.
Race day at the venue started as most do with the hustle and bustle of nervous energy. The sprint field was bigger than the Ultra field until such time that they announced the compulsory wet-suit swim with the water temp at 13°. So with race briefing done – off to the water we headed for the start. Now I was the only Trifactri athlete doing the sprint, Andre, Jeanne, Magda and Ty were all entered for the Ultra.
Part 1 – The Sprint
Stood in the water, there was no tri-snobbery about the first timers in their 9mm Reef diving wetsuits – just envy. Who measured 13°? Go check your machine, I think it’s faulty!! At this point in do my mandatory wet suit “fill” down the front and yes, instant regret “ #$@% me ” that was cold. Now I’m ready, the water intake has had the same effect as 3 double espressos and I’m wide awake and focussed. There goes the horn and let the chaos begin. I loved the swim, I started on the right of the field and didn’t make contact with another swimmer until we rounded the final bouy and the chap to my left got considerably lost heading 90° off course. Over him I went and kicked on for the exit. 600m swim, swam 606m - I’ll take it, chuffed with that.
Then the “run” to T1. I only use the inverted comma’s as this in no way can be called a run. For those parents out there that have kids with LEGO, you will understand my, and everyone else’s pain here. The “run” from the water to T1 can only be described as a 300m LEGO run, it really did feel like you were running the entire way on LEGO (on cold feet but not cold enough to be numb), the change tent could not come quick enough for everyone.
Onto the bike for a 10km out and back. This was on the same road that we travelled each to the house so I knew what to expect terrain wise. What was unexpected was the road surface, what a pleasure to ride on after hours of having my undercarriage beaten up in the Cradle back home. The bike route is over rolling hills with a couple climbs thrown in for good measure. Luc and I had spoken about realistic expectations being my first event for the year and not do something silly. I listened and had a great bike. On the way to the event, I had said to Ty I wanted to get back to T2 as he was leaving for his bike in the Ultra (the times worked if I was going really well). Into T2 I headed, still no sign of Ty, grabbed my run bag and into the changed tent for the second time. There was Ty and eventual overall winner Travis Johnston (no relation) getting ready to hit the bike course, Ty as those who know him has gills and swims like a fish.
Now I’m buzzing and going better than expected.
The run course was an off-road run on Jeep track, I would rather call it a trail run through one of the local wine farms. Sounds pretty doesn’t it, running through vineyards? It was, but in no way did the scenery make it any easier. Let’s call a spade a spade here - I suck on the run and it is the one area I need to improve drastically to move up in distances. With Lucie’s coaching, I’m confident I will eventually get there. Right now though, me and my sucky run has 5km of beautiful trail running through Cape vineyards to deal with. I did what I could run wise and just enjoyed doing what I was doing. Local kids were scattered along the run course cheering on all the athletes offering high five’s and encouragement, they were great, I felt obligated to be running each time a I saw them. With the vineyards now at my back, off to the finish I headed to finish my first event for the year – sure it was a sprint but I thoroughly loved every minute of it (Ok, maybe not the LEGO run – that sucked).
Part 2 – The Ultra
After a quick change and bite to eat, it was time to head out to the bike course and see how the Ultra guys were doing. It didn’t take too long before the Ultra leaders were coming down to their turn for their final lap of 3. With no pro field, the age groupers have a mammoth task to make those podium spots. The likes of Travis Johnston and Clinton Gravett came through and made the turn followed by a couple of others when here comes Andre Piehl flying down the hill to the turn. As you make the turn, the course immediately goes back up hill. Andre made every effort after turning to bend his pedals, any wine farmers that needed grapes crushing watching Andre stomp on those pedals would have been signing him up for the grape crushing season for sure.
Not long after Andre turned, here came Ty. Not to be outdone by Andre, Ty jumped up on the pedals and disappeared as quickly as he appeared, the boys were flying. Not to be outdone by the boys, Trifactri’s newest coach Magda Nieuwoudt was hot on their heels. Lying in second place overall in the ladies race, Magda was looking strong as she turned for her final lap.
At this point, I needed to leave the bike course and unfortunately missed Jeanne turning but would catch her on the run.
The run course was a lot tougher for the Ultra athletes, the heat was now showing its teeth and the course was dry as a bone. Positions had pretty much stayed the same through the final lap of the bike and the first lap of the run. However, there must have been a sniper out on course as Magda turned with the after effects of a tumble evident on her kit. Still, she was closing on first place and we now had a 10km wait to see if she could pull it off. Once all the Trifactri guys had all made the turn – off to the finish line I went.
First, second, third, fourth, where’s Andre? I wondered, fifth, here he comes… sixth overall and first in Age Group (podium #1). Ty turned in and around the top 20 on the run, he should be in shortly after and true to form, seventh in Age Group (an age group which included overall winner TJ).
For me, what a great weekend. Was awesome to spend it with family and friends, with a little Tri thrown in for good measure. So until the next one, I better get some running in.
Where Trifactri athletes get to tell their side of the Swim, Bike and Run