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Morning routines are serious business. Photo credit: Oakpics.co.za

And what a stage it was. The profile was too terrifying to comprehend. Over 90 kilometres, with the mammoth climb up the Swartberg Pass in the final eight kilometres of what would already have been a challenging route.

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A fast, flat, dusty start. Photo credit: Oakpics.co.za

We headed out of Oudtshoorn and into the Karoo veld, at high speed for the first twenty, fairly flat kilometres. A gradual climb on a surface of loose “baby head” rocks spread out the field, and from this point we were on our own for large parts of the day.

In terms of the terrain, this was by far my favourite day. We rolled through thorny bushveld on a mixture of tweespoor jeep track and winding trails with the odd sandy corner to keep us on our toes.

It felt very much like we were in the middle of nowhere. At times there was not a fence, car, or building in sight. We were incredibly lucky: the temperature stayed mild throughout the morning, I suspect we would have cooked in those windless valleys on a warmer day.

At the first water point, we were warned about a “kwaai bult” and advised to fill up both bottles. As it turns out, “kwaai bult” was not an exaggeration. A few kilometres later we hit a monster hill. Brutally steep and rocky we pushed, dragged and carried our bikes most of the way up, along with my heart rate.

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Photo credit: Oakpics.co.za

We were rewarded with a rather fun and sketchy jeep track descent, but I suffered on the district roads that followed, as I struggled to recover from the portage effort and stay with the group we had formed.

The kilometres up to the final water point were a dark blur. To our left, we could see the Swartberg summit high above us: the vehicles at the finish line glistening ominously in the sunshine, while the road we were following took us in the wrong direction, away from where we knew we needed to be and over a series of unnecessary rolling hills. I was struggling to breathe and find a rhythm, and panicking about the massive climb I knew was still to come.

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At last, we reached the final water point where we shoveled as much food down as possible (and in desperation, I even took a caffeine tablet), before embarking on the long-awaited Swartberg Showdown.

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A spectacular finish. Photo credit: Oakpics.co.za

Once on the climb, I settled down, found a rhythm and began to enjoy the view unfolding as we moved higher and higher up the pass. To my surprise, we even began to reel in teams in front of us. This pleasant state lasted until the final 1.5 kilometres where the gradient kicked up, and the day's efforts quickly became apparent in my body. The stretch to the finish line could well have been the longest 500 metres of my life, but standing at the top fighting back tears of relief came with an incredible sense of achievement.

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Photo credit: Seamus Allardice

Tomorrow is the final stage through Chandelier Game Reserve where we will be riding 64 kilometres with 1150 metres of climbing before our final celebrations at the Queens Hotel.

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Tomorrow's route. You can find more information about the route here.