Rockman 2013

ROCKMAN Ultra X Triathlon was the first ultra (long distance) off road triathlon in South Africa from my understanding. It consisted of a 2km swim in the Vaal Dam, 70 km mountain biking (the mtb route was shortened on race day due to the heavy rain the previous night) and 18 km trail run. With 600 odd entries for its first attempt I believe this event has huge potential to grow.
I was excited when I heard the news confirming the launch of this event. It was beginning of May 2013 and I had just recently finished 3rd solo overall in the JoBerg2C 9 day stage race and 2nd overall at Magalies Monster MTB race. I believed then that I will be able to challenge any athlete for the win at ROCKMAN. Unfortunately for me, like with so many things in life, good times come and go. I picked up a stress fracture in my right patella and femur. This left me out until late August. I struggled to find form at Tri Rock Half Ironman in September, finishing in a dismal 9th overall position. A week later I finished in a disappointing 2nd overall position in a small off road triathlon. Since then I took part in Sun City and Gauteng North Triathlon events. I used both events as training platforms for ROCKMAN.

This meant I placed a lot of pressure on myself for ROCKMAN. To only focus on one major event since Buffelspoort Xterra in January meant that I had to deliver the goods or else this whole year from a triathlon perspective would have been a failed attempt. I have been investing a lot of time in the past 12 months on my swimming ability, mountain biking skills, racing experience and equipment.

The week leading up to ROCKMAN I was more relaxed than ever before. I did not stress like I normally do for major events. I think this is a sign of maturing as an athlete. I am not as worried about things I cannot control as in the past. My big turning point came this year at JoBerg2C concerning my racing approach, confidence and mentality. This meant I was calm and collected with my race strategy and final preparation for ROCKMAN.

The swim start for me was relatively clean and I managed to swim next to Terence Parking (silver Olympic medalist) and Markus van Niekerk for some parts of the first of the 2 laps. The 2km swim took me just over 30 min to complete. I came out of the water in 4th overall position, trailing Rudolf Naude by 2 minutes and seconds behind Terence and Markus. (Rudolf was my biggest competition for the day – he was 15th at Ishigaki World Cup Triathlon in April this year).

I made up some time during transition, going into the bike leg chasing Rudolf. The mountain bike leg for this race on paper looked easy, but with all the rain during the week leading up to the event, some skill was required to overcome the mud prospect. It did not take me long to see Rudolf in the distance and over the first 10km I slowly caught up to him. I passed him while he was standing in the jeep track cleaning the mud of his bike that have piled up between the tire and frame. I have huge respect for the likes of Rudolf and the other ITU specialist triathletes in SA. We are blessed with some very exciting talent in South Africa. But when I saw him struggling in the mud I knew that I need to capitalize and made sure I cycled as hard as I could for the next 30 min. I had to get out of his sight. I believe that for an athlete of his stature, as long as your are in his sight, he will be able to catch up or hold onto the gap. He was not the only one to struggle in the mud, everyone did. Some just cleaned their bikes more than others...

I have really put in a lot of effort into my mountain biking ability and power on the bike. Something I lacked in the past when racing in Xterra events against Conrad Stoltz, Dan Hugo and other top Xterra athletes. For me to realistically challenge these guys I know I have to be as good as any elite national level mountain bike athlete in SA. My skills need to be up there with the best and my power to watt ratio needs to be super high. Also just as important is my equipment.  It needs to be the best in the field I race against otherwise I can forget about winning. Unfortunately that is a sad reality in off road mountain bike/triathlon racing.

For someone like me sitting without a bike sponsor it means spending over R 100 000 on just one bike. Just to be able to compete on level playing fields with the top men in Xterra. I must thank Mike Fraser for letting me use his bike (wish I can promote this bike as it is the fastest bike out there for most conditions).

I managed to open up a 29 min lead over second place. Something I wasn’t aware off. The reason I guess why I cycled myself to the limit was because some seasoned athletes took a wrong path unknowingly. They missed a turn off on the 1st lap and it meant they cycled 7 km less than everyone else on the first lap. Luckily the organizers realized what went wrong and identified those athletes. I unfortunately thought at a time that no one will believe me that I was leading the race and these guys in front of me all went wrong. Luckily for me the lead bike started with Rudolf and when I passed him the quad bike stayed with me. The TV camera crew men were also following me. They were the ones to inform the organizers what happened. I managed to catch (some of them for the second time) who cut 7 km out of the first lap except for one athlete - Daniel Carleton (a seasoned Xterra athlete with lots of experience). He came off the bike a minute or two in front of me. He ran 18 km seemingly leading the race not realizing that he had actually gone wrong on the cycle route. I were the one to break the bad news to him when I finished a minute behind him. I can confess it wasn’t nice to do it, but I felt it necessary to do so. I believe with his performance on the day he would have finished on the podium if he went the right way on the bike in any way. Furthermore I need highlight that there was nothing wrong with the route marking on race day. This mistake by more or less 10 athletes came about by one guy taking the wrong path and all of them merely following him. Poor Terrance Parking tried his best on the race when I passed him for the second time to explain to me that he went wrong and that I am leading the race. Terrence is a one in a million athlete. Winning silver at Olympics as an deaf athlete, later on winning gold for cycling at the disabled world championships in time trailing and racing in multi sports events always smiling...

The run was still tough for me as I knew regardless of the lead I had in the race. There were no guarantees. Lindsey could have made an error with the time slits and missed someone else chasing me. Thus I ran at a steady pace ticking each kilometer off in my head. I had to concentrate hard in run leg as the uneven surface drained the power from my legs. I was satisfied with my performance on the day and happy to know all the effort and time I invested is paying off slowly.

Next race for me will be Xterra Buffelspoort. This year I finished 4th overall. I would like to improve on that result.

Slowly I am mastering the art of Xterra and the technical preparation behind the scenes required to win these type of events.

Safe Training,
Nico Sterk

1st Overall

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