The 5th edition of the Clover Lowveld Tour took place from the 6th to the 10th of August. The race comprised of 6 stages which included 2 time trials and 4 road stages, all run from one of the Lowveld’s Tourist hot spots – Graskop.
Day one was a 155km stage to Ohrigstad and back to Graskop via Pilgrim’s rest. Our ‘pilgrimage’ meant crossing Robber’s pass and the Bonnet pass towards the end of the stage after more than 100km of racing. It took about 25min for the break of the day to be established, after which the Bonitas and Westvaal BMC teams kept the break in check for the better part of the day. The break slowly got reeled in and then all hell broke loose on Robber’s pass. Dylan Girdlestone (Bonitas) and JC Nel (Westvaal BMC) rewarded their teams work and took it to the line where JC Nel took stage honours ahead of the newly signed Garmin Sharp stagiarre. I trailed in a few minutes later in 17th spot, semi-satisfied with the day’s efforts.
Day 2 was a 27km time trial from the bottom of Kowyn’s pass towards Hazyview. As the course was mostly downhill, the real TT (Time Trial) specialists on their TT bikes were sure to make the rest of us look average – and so they did! JC Nel again showed his class and won the TT ahead of a super strong Nico Bell (RE:CM) who surprised many with his 2nd place.
Day 3 was another 155km slog which included 3000m of climbing. The day’s break away got established very early on and back in the pack it was no easy ride as we rode at a strong tempo for the most part of the stage. I really struggled towards the end but had some good company in the last 5km as I finally caught up to Matthys Beukes (Scott Factory Racing) who had been in the early break and we rolled in just inside of the top 20.
Day 4 was a killer with a hillclimb time trial in the morning up Kowyns Pass, followed by an afternoon stage of 6 laps around the God’s Window circuit. The hillclimb TT suited me and I snuck into the top 10 on the stage, but paid for it in the afternoon when I ‘hit the wall’ on the 6th and final climb up God’s Window. By this stage the peloton was also in shreds after chasing Matthys for 4 laps. In a repeat of the previous day, Matthys and I finished the stage together but this time he was helping me in to the finish. It’s good to have friends.
By day 5 I was just hanging on and while the peloton raced on an out and back route to Blyderiver Canyon, I just made sure I finished. That in itself turned out to be quite an achievement as I later discovered that more than a 3rd of the field had called it quits before reaching the tour’s end.
What stood out for me was the performance of the mountain bikers at the event. Although not in the limelight much, Nico Bell did some sterling work and was super strong all week despite a nasty crash on the final day. Matthys Beukes animated the race with regular attacks and huge turns at the front of the bunch which had some roadies jealously asking if he was ‘retarded’ in response to his never say die attitude. Rourke Croeser (Kargo MTB) was also super strong and was close to winning stages on 3 occasions, just losing out to the superior numbers and tactics of the road teams at the event.
With a few exceptions it was also very refreshing to see the positive racing from the professional teams at the event. I think the guys realize that aggressive racing is the only way to improve and get to the level required if you want to be competitive outside of SA. It’s also an infectious mindset and if one team races positively and has success, the others will follow.
Congrats to all the organizers and competitors on a well run and hard fought event and long may it continue as a platform for developing our road racers.
Now it’s time to lick my wounds, recover and hopefully benefit from this block of hard racing.
Until next time, happy trails (and roads)!