Riders head into the sunrise. Photo credit: Em Gatland

We left the Mackenzie Club in a flurry of dust, riding straight into a pretty spectacular sunrise. With the famous Umkomaas drop a couple of kilometres into the stage, there was some serious jostling for position taking place.

Often the signature trail on a route can be overrated, so secretly I wasn’t expecting much from the Umkomaas drop, but it totally over-delivered. We descended for an hour on manicured switchbacks with the most mind blowing view of the valley and the Umkomaas river below. The residents of the valley were all out to cheer us on and watch the show, creating a very festive atmosphere.

Far too soon we were at the bottom, and the floating descent was over.



The switchbacks carved into the Umkomaas Valley. Photo credit: Em Gatland

We followed the river via an undulating trail: I’m not sure where exactly we were at this point, but it was beautiful: pristine greenery, and the river so flat it was almost a mirror. After stuffing my face with chocolate and Coke at the first water point (it was just one of those days) we headed out again to tackle the Iconic climb. This was truly a beast: steep, rocky in places, and never-ending, we climbed 300 metres in 3 kilometres.

Half an hour of vasbyt later and it was over, but the sting in the tail was five more kilometres of rolling district road with some painful climbs before the next water point. I’ve never been so pleased to see those flags.

The Iconic climb took a toll. Photo credit: Em Gatland

Luckily my legs had warmed up by now and I was able to enjoy the remainder of the ride quite comfortably. There were on or two more trail gems in store: including Sally’s Dance which had me sliding all over the show as I overcooked the corners with excitement, and threatened to hug a few trees.

The timing finish was a couple of kilometres from the venue, to prevent riders from racing dangerously on Charlie's Catwalk next to a busy road, and it was a pleasure to roll into Jolivet unhurried.

The race village at Jolivet. Photo credit: Em Gatland

At Jolivet, the tents are set up in an orchard, and this keeps the tents cool, lends extra privacy and sound buffering, and gives the campsite a very relaxed tranquil atmosphere. With the racing over, and the Old Mutual Wealth “Champagne Stage” neutral stage taking us to the sea at Scottsburgh tomorrow the pressure is off. All that remains is to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the food and the company, and look forward to the last day on a bike exploring new terrain.