The half-way point of our 2017 season’s here, and before we tackle this weekend’s Nissan TrailSeeker GP Lionman we thought to take a look back at the first half of the year.
Our focus at the outset of this year was to prepare for the 2017 Absa Cape Epic. Our racers Nico Bell and Gawie Combrinck intensified their training and picked races to best boost their performance for this world-acclaimed, 8-day-long race as support for Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized Racing). These international MTB stars were on a mission for victory, and selecting Nico and Gawie as their racing support team motivated was added pressure. Challenge accepted.
After adedicated training block in December and January, February’s three-day Tankwa Trek in the beautiful Koue Bokkeveld in the Western Cape saw a number of international teams line up to also test their mettle ahead of May’s Cape Epic. After 270-odd km of racing, our racers Nico and Gawie stood proudly on the third step of the podium. Of course, our rivals had also increased and sharpened their training to make the racing flat-out from start to end of each stage. We needed to take our speed and training up a gear to stay ahead.
And they did just that a few short weeks later when they took on the opening round of the Nissan TrailSeeker GP series in Pretoria against a 7,000-strong field. Nico outpaced all comers to win, opening his 2017 TrailSeeker account with Gold. The pace was there. The support was there. The BIG race was looming large.
Just a few short weeks later, and we were in the Cape Epic race village with the world looking in. No more waiting. No more nervous energy. It was time to race the world’s biggest MTB event. On the Prologue stage, Nico and Gawie tested their legs. And they won the Absa African leaders’
Red jersey with a 40-second stage victory. However, that also painted a bright red target on their backs… Challenge accepted.
The 2017 Cape Epic was one of the shorter editions, but 691km with 15,000m of vertical ascent’s never easy. An unfortunate crash two weeks before the race start put Gawie on the back foot and he took some heavy punches on Stage 1. Covering just over 100km and climbing more than 2,000m was a tough task on a day where the temperatures reached 40 degrees. Many riders didn’t reach the finish line, with a larger number of competitors in the medical tent with heat stroke.The terrain and Mother Nature played an integral part in the story that was to become 2017’s history.
Gawie and Nico held forth, bravely fighting for every second on each stage. They lost the lead of the Absa African Jersery category (for African-based competitors) and challenged for a top ten overall position on the General Classification. Anything can happen in a race, and it usually does.
For Team NAD Pro MTB the best stage came on the 6th day of racing. This 84km stage provided an opportunity for Nico to drive the pace on the front of the race and made it hard for the rest of the teams to follow.
Christoph and Jaroslav were on the back foot and it was up to our riders to assess the strength of the field and exploit their weaknesses. Nico and Gawie would finish the stage in seventh place overall and made major inroads in the Red jersey category lead to cement their second place in the category and put more time into their rivals behind.
The margin between first and second in this category was just too wide for Nico and Gawie to close. With aching legs and bruised muscles, the finish line of the last stage was a welcome sight for all riders. Our riders proudly reached the finish second place in the Absa African Jersey category and an outstanding eleventh place overall.
“The Epic changes every year. One year it is long and wide open roads, the next it is short with tons of single track and loads of climbing.
You have to prepare differently for each one and we have learnt a massive amount from this year’s experience and have taken away positives and we know what we need to work on to make the next one even more successful” – Nico Bell
New Africa Developments’ director Robin Houghton – “In mountain biking one never knows what’s around the next corner and regardless of how tough the conditions you can never give up. Much the same is true when it comes to the business of property development, and that is why New Africa Developments has such a great synergy with mountain biking and has committed itself to Team NAD Pro MTB.”
With that energy, support and motivation, we tackled the tough Joberg2c.
This race, with its famous nine days of racing on Africa’s most revered singletracks, didn’t go according to plan for these defending champions.
In the mix for the overall victory until day five, Nico and Gawie showed the form and flash for the top step of the podium until they struck a series of small mechanicals that undid all their hard work to drop them over 14 minutes off the lead. Their Joberg2C race for the win was over.
We turned our attention to preserving the podium and used the final three days of the route to learn for the upcoming Sani2C that uses the same route. Steadily they reached the finish line to claim second place overall. A great result with great promise for the next event.
And Mother Nature once more ruled. First, the Cape Town Cycle Tour had to be cancelled due to storm winds. Second, the Cape Epic had to reduce stage distances due to severe heat. And thirdly, the Sani2c had to neutralize Stage 2 for rider safety after two consecutive days of heavy rainfall. With two days’ stages counting, and a handful number of teams all within touch of each other, the race was decided only at the very end in a sprint finish. Gawie and Nico crossed the line fourth overall, disappointed with the end result but pleased with their speed.
The bad luck aside, the weather now playing along, the Cycling SA Marathon MTB Championships in Pietermaritzburg in May was a whos-who of MTB professional racers. The route was fast, steep and 80km-long.
Halfway through, Nico moved to the front and powered hard to race to the finish line. He kept his head down to win by more than 2 minutes. A true display of the pace and promise Nico showed all season, and he was further rewarded with the Champions jersey.
This weekend is a new battle. The Nissan Trailseeker GP Lionman is the third round of the series, raced over 70km of farmlands with 1,301m of vertical ascent. We’ll be aiming for the top spots of the podium after a short break and an intense training block. Watch this space.