The stakes were high with the 2nd race for the year at Buffelsdrift with many top athletes like Thabang Madiba (2 x SA trail running champ), Conrad Stoltz, Theo Blignaut and none more impressive than Brand du Plessis who is almost undefeated in his duathlon career (he has only a few handful 2nd overall places in his lifetime, otherwise he wins every duathlon he enters). Brand recently also managed to surprise the Mtb community by winning the Marathon Mountain Bike World Title for Sub-Vets in 2014...
The morning of the race I could see in Brand’s eyes he wanted to prove his dominance over the rest of the field. He lost the first race in February to Conrad Stoltz (winning by a comfortable 2 min). Conrad in contrast lacked the confidence and aura I always remember him by since the first time I started racing against him. Instead Conrad presented himself more calmly and with a hint of doubt when we made some small talk on the start line.
All hell broke loose when the gun went off - Brand ran the first kilometer so fast that I could barely see him. He probably ran 40 seconds out of me and I was giving a flat-out sprint effort to get a good position going into the forest single track!!! It was so fast that the front group completely shattered up into a line of individual athletes following in Brands dust within a few minutes.
Theo and Renier Grobler (finished top 20 overall a few weeks ago at the Comrades Marathon) trailed Brand after the 1st leg of the race by about 1 minute. I came through in 10th position running the 5 km trail run well under 17 minutes trailing Brand by more than 2 minutes. This meant Brand ran the 5 km under 3 min/km pace – which if you don’t know is a world class effort.
By the time I jumped onto my bike I knew that I had some tough work lying in front of me on the 30 km mtb trail. Luckily the route comprised mostly of single track which suited me. Within in the first 8 km of the bike leg I managed to get myself into 3rd place overall. I was very determined and focused to finish on the podium and gave an all-out effort on the bike. I spared nothing in my legs physically or my bike mechanically. I took huge risks on the bike but it paid off for me. I opened up a safe gap to 4th and 5th place overall. The splits I received on the early part of the 30 km route gave me some hope as the time gap between me and Theo started to decrease. But Theo he managed to find his rhythm and speed again the 2nd of half of the race for and when I got off the bike he had a commanding lead over me off 2:45 min.
With only a 2.5 km trail run on the 3rd and final leg of the race there was very little I could do to catch Theo in 2nd place not even mentioning Brand who well deservedly beat me with 5 min . I finished the race emotionally very happy and pleased with my performance given the star line up of athletes who raced and my struggle the past 12 months to get back into top racing condition and mentality. Looking forward to the next Dual Cross in October later this year...
Safe Training,Nico Sterk