ccs-58780-0-44583500-1492964916.jpg

Once again the day started with a neutral zone of about seven kilometres, before we were into the farmlands. Rolling grassy farm roads, interspersed with some cheeky single track sections. The kilometres rolled by briskly until the first water point, and from here headed out onto yet more rolling farm roads. I spent the time mostly alone, tagging onto bunches where possible.

ccs-58780-0-30989900-1492965013.jpg
The water points were overflowing with Vrystaat hospitality. Photo credit: Em Gatland

By the second water point at 60 kilometres, my koeksuster levels were starting to dip, and I was happy to refuel with the assistance of the volunteers for the Reitz East Farmers Association/ Reitz Oos Boere Vereeniging. The koeksusters took their time to kick in, and I experienced a mini-bonk entering the Jabulani single track at 76 kilometres, which wound its way through willow trees alongside a mirror-like river. Luckily, I was able to pedal it out and pull myself together by the end of the single track. After which we had yet some more rolling farm roads to deal with before the third water point.

I was nearly brought to tears by a group farm labourers supporting the race. The women were so excited to see a female rider and ululated and cheered so loudly, I was really touched. It provided some much-needed motivation and reminded me how privileged I am to be out here doing an event like this.

ccs-58780-0-48347400-1492964076.jpg

ccs-58780-0-65658700-1492964072.jpg
The support along the route has been unwavering. Photo credit: Em Gatland

This was last of the mielie fields for the day, and although beautiful, I was grateful for the change of scene that followed. After another refuel at waterpoint 3, we headed out towards the main climb for the day: Mount Paul. We were now entering the sort of terrain that makes me happy to be riding a bike: winding cattle trails through the foothills of a mountain range, with a gentle climb in sight, and the promise of awesome views and a fun descent.

I was ecstatic to have the trails mostly to myself and be riding through uncultivated land, dodging cows. At this point, I wondered why the organisers had described the last 25 kilometres as tough. This was the kind of riding I signed up for! The euphoria carried me up the winding single track climb on Mount Paul, and down the sublime descent on the other side. The views of Sterkfontein dam from the top are reward enough but the descent is the cherry on top. Flowing, fast, and packed with small kickers/ speed bumps to pop off. I grinned the whole way down.

ccs-58780-0-77687400-1492964062.jpg

ccs-58780-0-37537600-1492964056.jpg
The views from the top of Mount Paul were worth the ride. Photo credit: Em Gatland

I then found out exactly why people warned me about the last few kilometres. The Sterkfontein dam wall was a truly dark place: flat, bumpy and with a raging headwind. All my gees evaporated and I nursed myself across the line as comfortably as possible. The sign of a proper day out.

ccs-58780-0-51813200-1492965252.jpg
Although beautiful, the ride around the dam wall was a struggle at the tail end of a 125 kilometre day. Photo credit: Em Gatland

Tomorrow we drop down the escarpment and into Kwa-Zulu Natal, riding 93 kilometres, to Emseni. The route appears to be packed with single track, and if the riding around Mount Paul was anything to go by, it should be an epic day out!

Watch the daily highlights video