After a slightly delayed start to the 2017 Xterra season due to a late injury in 2016 from a mountain biking accident leaving me with a broken wrist I was very excited heading up to PE even with doubts about my current fitness levels. Training has been going well but with an extended rest period and not much high intensity work it was always going to be a little hit or miss on whether the body would respond well to the racing environment. Either way I was just happy to be back on a start line and content not to worry too much about the outcome.
The Xterra course in PE known best for its urban setting offers one of the most exciting bike courses I can remember racing on. The local mountain biking community has clearly invested in their local trails and we were lucky enough to be able to take advantage of their hard work. Xterra PE takes place in the heart of the city and the race kicks off with a 1500m swim off of Kings beach with perfect water temperatures and a steady swell testing even the most experienced athletes on their ability to deal with a few shore breaks.
With a somewhat average start I looked up and guessed I was in about 15th position but my swimming stroke felt good and soon I moved up through the pack into 4th position onto Stuart Marais toes. Stuart had recently raced the Ironman 70.3 in East London so I knew he was in good form and would provide my biggest competition on the day. Exiting the water, Theo Blignaut, Stuart and myself headed into T1 together about a minute behind the leader Keegan Cooke. Onto the bike I was now in my comfort zone and excited to make the most of this technical route. About 3km into the bike there was a small technical river crossing, Stuart dismounted but I was able to get over and made a small gap. We climbed up through the Baarkens Valley on twisty smooth flowing single track with small punchy climbs.
I dug deep to the top end of the bike route knowing that once the course flattened out and got less technical Stuart would be able to begin closing the gap to me. As the leader its always difficult to know what’s happening behind you as no one can give you accurate splits on your competitors. The media crew was doing an awesome job capturing the race and they were able to feed me a few splits as and when they could but ultimately I just put my head down and kept pushing. On the last flat stretch along the railway lines of PE I got a split of 1 minute back to Stuart but once I exited T2 and saw Stu already racking his bike I knew the race was far from over. He is known for his running abilities and I am well aware that he is a more talented runner than myself. My hope was that the tough punchy ride had taken the sting out of his legs, which would allow me to hang on to the slender lead.
The run route took us back along Kings beach and then up into Happy Valley for two loops with a mixture of sandy climbs, loose descents and some flat fast running on tar roads. Having broken my wrist back in December running was the least effected element of my training so I had a fair amount of confidence that I would be able to run well. Onto the second loop in Happy Valley I could tell Stu was not closing the gap and if anything I had gained a few more seconds on him. Still I didn’t want to leave anything to chance so I kept digging until the final kilometer which took us back onto Kings Beach to enjoy the cool ocean breeze one last time before heading down my first finishing shoot of 2017 and to my surprise still in first position.
I really could not have asked for a better start to the season and I am incredibly excited for what is to come. The next big challenge is Xterra Grabouw, which is the South African National Championships where I will be attempting to defend my 2016 title. I have no illusions that its going to be war out there with so many talented South African triathletes vying for that top spot as well as a fair share of international professionals who have made the long trip out to take part in the biggest Xterra on the planet. No need to say the motivation levels are pretty high!
Photo credits: Tobias Ginsberg