Cycling is an honest sport, you cannot blame others or hide away from poor performances, it’s all on paper and in your face. You learn to deal with situations, which builds character… Up-and-down is a good way to describe my past few months.
During December I managed to build a solid foundation with some quality training down in Cape Town. I started the season off well with a few race wins, my main focus was always to win the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in March, however as I kicked for the line with 350m to go I touched wheels with my teammate Dennis and nearly crashed but managed to save it and finished fourth. My teammate Reinardt powered away to win the race overall which was fantastic!
Once the Argus was over we returned to Johannesburg to prepare for the Tour of Morocco. My preparation went really well and I was determined to prove myself in the bunch sprints. I arrived in Morocco with great form and with the help of my team I managed to win the sprints during stage three and four. On day five I woke up with a really bad sore throat and sinus infection. I didn’t want to stop and knew I had some important work to do for my team. Reinardt was in the yellow jersey leading the tour and this would require total commitment from each of us if we were to keep it to the end. We still had five stages to go. I decided to push through and nurse my symptoms. Towards the end of the tour my condition improved and with the support of my team I managed to win both Stages nine and ten. I was really pleased with my performance. I departed Morocco for Europe on a high.
After an exhausting trip to Belgium we had two days to recover before our first two big races. We knew it would be tough coming from warm, sunny Morocco to a freezing, wet Belgium. My body never really felt great and I really struggled to find my rhythm. After 150-kilometres I found myself sitting in our team camper feeling rather sorry for myself watching the race go by. When we got to the finishing laps my group was more than three minutes behind the leaders and we were pulled off the circuit. No bike rider enjoys sitting on the sidelines. You are only as good as your last race. I recovered and managed to have a good race the following day in Germany, finishing in the main bunch. The average temperature during this race was four degrees with pouring rain from start to finish. My hands were so cold I could not shift gear or feel my handlebars. I had to ride the last 30-kilometres in my small chain ring. The only other option was to stop and shift gear but then I would never have seen the race again.
The following day I woke up with a terrible fever. I was run down and needed to see a doctor. Our manager, Jens Zemke took me to see a doctor in town. The doctor said I needed rest and put me on three-day course of antibiotics to clear my sinusitis as fast as possible. I had three days off my bike and missed a race in Belgium. Within five days I was back on the start line for two races in Holland. I had a good ride to finish 24th after a tough 200-kilometre race in the rain and wind. The following day only nine riders finished the race in gale force winds over 200-kilometres an hour.
My next race was the Tour of Bretagne in France a few days later. I was super motivated and ready to have a good tour with my team. During the first fifty kilometers of stage one I was yo-yoing off the back of the peloton. I moved up to the front and by the time we hit the following climb I was sprinting at the back to hold on. This was crazy! The other riders were all sitting up riding tempo and I was testing my sprinting legs to stay with them. I looked at my heart rate and noticed it was really high. I simply did not have enough power to stay in the bunch and I popped out the back where I spent some time fighting through the convoy of team cars to get back. So there I was, day one in the sweep vehicle gazing out the window into the green fields of France wondering how three weeks back in Morocco I was in top form winning and after only 50-kilometres of a seven stage tour I was already OUT? I had my tail between my legs. I felt like I had let my team down immensely. I had no excuses or any clear understanding of what went on that day. I was just not my normal self. I had a chat with my team and returned to our team house in Belgium to following day on the TGV high-speed train. I spend the week training with my teammate, Jim Songezo, who was at the house for the week preparing himself for other events.
I pulled myself together and focused for our next race, Ronde Van Overijssel in Holland. I knew I could do well in the 2.8-kilometre prologue. My five-minute power is world class and this is what was needed to post a good time. I hit out with all I had, pushing myself deep. I finished sixth in the end, six seconds behind teammate and winner Reinardt. I was pleased with this result. I finished the route in 3m51sec with an average of 540 watts. Things were on the up and looking good. That night I went to sleep with a smile on my dial, I needed that. The following day my job was to lead Reinardt out in the sprint primes where he needed to gain valuable time bonuses to secure to overall title, which he did in the end and took victory. The following day we lined up for Circuit de Wallonie, this was a really hilly course and so I was given a domestique role for the day, collecting bottles and race information from the team car for Dennis, Reinardt and Tsgabu. Reinardt went on to win a very tough race gaining him even more serious respect in these tough European races.
After a successful weekend most of the riders looked forward to a recovery week in Belgium. Martin and I were given permission by the team to visit London. I arrived in London that Monday. My younger brother Kierhan has been living here for two years working at British Airways as an aeronautical engineer. I enjoyed some time sightseeing around London with him the day I arrived. That same afternoon I could feel my damn throat getting raw and so I got all the meds I needed as a precaution and got into bed early. The following day I was right back to square one again. This time coughing up phlegm and feeling really run down. I took myself to a doctor and was told to rest completely for four days and once again I was back on antibiotics for another seven days. I did not know what else to do. I thought I was doing everything right. The illness from Morocco together with a busy program, cold, wet weather and personal performance stress was just not giving my system enough of a gap to recover 100 per cent. Jens Zemke made the decision for me to stay on in London with my brother where I could recover and train properly while they were away in Luxembourg racing, Fleche’ Du Sud. I would not take part in yet another important stage race.
It was a frustrating period for me. I recovered well in England and my SRM data was back to where it needed to be.
My next race was in Bordeaux, France. Tour de Gironde UCI 2.2 is a tough stage race but it’s a race that suits me and I was really motivated to prove myself with a good performance. The climbs are fast and the terrain is rolling. I could get myself to the finish fresh enough to content in the sprints. I remember standing on the start line of stage one ready to give it my all. Stage one went well, I managed to ride across a fair size gap to join up with the breakaway of 12 riders. We opened up a three-minute advantage and I took both sprint primes away from the Rabobank rider who we knew might be a threat to the overall GC. I was joined by my teammates Martin and Tsgabu. We were swallowed up by the bunch with 10-kilometres to go and finished the day with some confidence. Rabobank who had the leaders jersey controlled the following day. We waited patiently until the last 40-kilometres where we knew we had a chance to split the race up in the cross winds. We went hard and split the bunch into a group of 40 riders from 200. During the finishing laps I was positioned on Reinardt’s wheel for the sprint. I knew the sprint suited me and that I could have a good go at finishing on the podium. Once again bad luck struck me, I clipped a small rock in the road with 600-metres to go and punctured. I had to sit up and roll into the finish far down. I had one more chance to prove myself the following day. I managed to finish fourth the following day in an uphill bunch sprint. I was content with that but knew I needed a podium finish to walk away feeling fully satisfied.
I am returning to Europe with my teammates in September for 5weeks. I will not give up easily; I need to keep fighting. I know I can do it. Look out for some BIG news later this week. TEAM MTN QHUBEKA has some exciting news that will change African Cycling. I am proud to be apart of this.