After a crazy early 4am wake-up, I was standing on the start line thinking more about napping than racing but with 125km crosswinds ahead, I knew napping wasn’t really an option. “Bunch position,” I kept repeating to myself as we raced towards the only climb of the day. My lack of bunch confidence kept me sliding backwards but I didn’t give up on trying to move as far forward as I could. I used each downhill to move up, each rise to sneak a few wheels, and my smaller size to squeeze into small gaps.
Naturally, the split happened when I was toward the back of the peloton at about 20km. Since the front wasn’t so far away anymore, I quickly moved forward to help chase. The bunch had splintered into several small groups and, although we caught some groups, the leaders had disappeared out of sight. With a sizeable group, the pace slowed down and I realized the focused had shifted from chasing to the upcoming climb: Botmaskloof.
From racing the course in the past, I knew the 5km before the climb was where the action would actually start and I was right. As we turned towards the climb, the fight for the front was on. I managed to get a decent wheel, 10 riders or so back, just before the start of the 4km climb. As we accelerated over the first rise, I gained a few more spots and felt my legs answering the call for more power.
As we started the main ascent, one rider forced the tempo and I jumped to follow. I was sitting in the top 4 wheels and noticed the pace beginning to slow and, almost without thinking, I attacked!
Having never attacked before, I almost couldn’t believe I had done it! I immediately felt my legs tighten from the instant demand for more power. I felt adrenaline prickle down to my fingertips. With the next group seemingly in reach, I gave everything I had to close the gap.
Only a few hundred meters to the top, I surged again but realized I was going to fall short. Since no one had followed me on my suicidal/brave mission, I powered over the top and then assessed it would be better to wait for the bunch given the long descent ahead in the wind. It may not have been the smartest attack and I may have burnt some extra energy, but I was just so excited I had attacked for the first time.
10 or 15 kilometres later the race was back together and, with nothing but flat road and crosswinds until the finish, it stayed that way. It wasn’t until the last 5km when a hard left and a hard acceleration strung out the remaining bunch. I managed to hold my own in the acceleration and before I knew it we were approaching the sprint. My shameful cornering skills put me at the back of the front group as we rounded the last corner but I was just able to keep contact on the downhill drag to the line. My legs had never felt so tight but I sprinted as hard as I could and managed to get 3rd.
As the first full race of my season, a podium was a great way start. Add to that my first attack ever and the amazing positive vibe of the ladies bunch and it was the best bike race I had in a long time, if not ever.