It was raining most of Saturday night, and well into Sunday morning. I messaged Andrew early in the morning asking if the race was still on considering the conditions, because it was apparently touch-and-go for a while due to safety concerns. He assured me that, no, it was all nice and dry there. I don't know why I believed him, because near Cape Town side, everything outside was well soggy.
Now, I haven't actually raced in a while. The last race I did was the Urban DH in Cape Town last year, and before that it must have been about 10 years. I didn't really have a clue what I had gotten myself into, never having even seen the Contermanskloof track outside of a few GoPro clips on Youtube. So I pitched up at the race with my trusty little trail bike and open face helmet with a big smile and nervous anticipation.
Turns out I was the only one who thought that rocking up at a very wet Contermanskloof with an open face helmet was a reasonable thing to do. Of all the 39 riders who raced, I was the only one without a full face. Thankfully, though, I didn't need one - my runs were crash-free.
So it turned out that Andrew lied to me or - as he will surely put it - stretched the truth to favour himself. It wasn't dry like he said. I heard that the conditions the day before were great and the track was running the best that some had seen it. But when I had my first taste of Contermanskloof it was as sludgy and slick as possible.
The top section was great to ride, with the trail still holding together and allowing some nice grip. Into the switchbacks you saw how the rain affected the track with huge ruts being carved out at the main line. This was actually good in some ways, as long as you could position yourself well into the ruts. If not, then your back end was most likely running away from you. There was a lot of discussion about the road gap being feasible. Personally, I never even gave it half a look as a possibility - not in those conditions, not on my first time on that trail.
Heading into the road gap section it was especially sludgy on the first run. As soon as my tyres so much as glanced at that corner going into the road, they were covered and were not tyres any more, but mud discs. This is where I first got a taste of what I was actually in for. The landing after the road gap was rutted, rocky and generally unridable on my bike at the time. I had to walk my bike, or rather, slide it. Hopping back on, the next section allowed a lot of the muck to be flung off my tyres and onto the rest of me, but at least I had traction of a sort.
Going into the rock garden from here was also interesting. I kind of gung-ho'd my way through the first time. Pick a line? Nah. Just hang on for dear life. After that, the series of small drops almost caught me out, especially one of the last with two enormously nasty pillar rocks hidden on the left. I must have missed it by a hair, saving my tyres, rims and body untold amounts of damage. It's the same with the jumps at the bottom: I skipped them all, chickened out hard. But at the same time, potentially saved myself and my bike untold damage. I wasn't there to win anything.
The track must have changed about three or four times throughout the day. The next two runs allowed me to get a good feel for the flow of it, and I even managed to stay on my bike for the entirety of the third run! The fourth was another story.
We saw the rain coming. The forecast said it would hold until about 6pm, but no, the weather decided we needed a quick downpour to refresh the track and make it a bit muddier. This really didn't help the track, or in fact, getting to the top. There was a two-phase system. First, jump on the back of a flatbed, standing up and holding your bike upright. Next, hop off and transfer to one of the bakkies, where you strap your bike onto a rack being towed by the bakkie. It was slow going and if you were lucky you could get in a hand full of runs. The trucks had a hard time getting anywhere once the rain joined the party, so it was an even longer haul up the hill.
It was probably my most fun run I had - certainly the most treacherous - during the rain. I had all kinds of filth in my eyes and constantly blinking meant that I was only seeing a fraction of the course. But the fact that I made it down, not only in one piece, but without coming off the bike at all made it fantastic. I was speckled and splattered with mud after that, so blended nicely with my surroundings.
I had one last practice run before the race. I tried to find some decent lines, especially at the infamous rock garden and found one that worked.
There were some misplaced riders at the beginning of the race runs, and we didn't get going until well after we were supposed to. The wind at the top of the hill was doing its best to keep us cold and stiff for our runs while we waited.
I was second down the course. I kept it nice and clean, not trying to do anything fancy. I do regret not hitting those jumps at the bottom, watching everyone else having fun on them. Next time! Funnily enough, often times when you go for your race run all your lines go out the window as you try to go faster than before. I managed to keep my head at the rock garden and find a line that was smooth enough and kept me on the bike.
Now about the bike. I was riding my Santa Cruz Blur TRc - 125mm at back with a Rock Shox Lyric with 160mm up front. I was incredibly impressed at how the bike handled the course. It also showed off my collection of mud better than any bike there. This, of course, is because it's white, which we all know is the best colour for mud riding.
When all the mud had settled, it turned out that, while I may not have been out for a win, I still did! Only my class - Enduro Men - which had a grand total of two people in it, but that's the way the game goes. If you want to win, choose your class wisely.
A big thanks to Andrew Backstrom for a shove in the muddy direction and all the sponsors who made the event possible. I may even do a few more downhill races on my trusty trail bike!