Jan Withaar and teammate Grant Usher ride for Team 24/7 Security Services. They finished 3rd overall on Day 1. This is Jan’s account of the day.
The past week was an act in trying to recover from traveling induced poor sleeping patterns and muscle fatigue. Despite only wanting to sit back and ‘find myself’ in yet another different climate, it was important for me to load the body sufficiently as I did not want to be completely out of control in today’s mountains.
My yellow duffel bag and I are spending a great deal of time together. Everything that was taken out of it after the trip to Germany went straight into the washing machine and back into the bag. Thankfully I did not have to deal with a bicycle bag on this occasion but was not going to get away from a long stint behind the wheel. The distance to travel is not overwhelming but the speeds are low so it becomes quite a trek. We traveled safely, reached the border post in good time and felt in control from this point on as I thought the border post would be the complicated piece of the puzzle. This is when the wheels came off and almost literally too. The traffic in Maseru was carnage. Jams seem to be following me. If not Germany, it would be Lesotho. With a Sunday afternoon looking like this, I do not want to find out what a Monday would look like. Lesotho is in desperate need of water and we brought the rain along. A hefty cloud burst followed us on our three hour Lesotho meander and when the numbness started to grab hold of my glutes I drove into a well camouflaged speed bump so fast that I launched my car sky high. Grant and I looked at each other equally perplexed. We had slowed for numerous bumps so I was aware of them but this one ambushed me. This is one way to completely ruin everything. I have no idea if there is damage but thankfully, very thankfully, we managed to reach Ramabanta without dealing with an unnecessary breakdown.
It was a relief to reach our destination and greeting us in the depths of these astonishing mountains was a lifting sky and beautiful sunlight. The rain had passed over and the evening would be stunning. Chilly but in no way unpleasant.
After a welcome warm homely dinner, race briefing and the race day preparations, I settled into my comfortable green tent for much needed sleep because today was now around the corner. Childlike excitement at having the opportunity to ride in Lesotho had made its way into my body so I would sleep like a baby.
The stage was fifty five kilometers with over one thousand six hundred meters of ascent and to add to the expectation, there was the novel concept of racing according to a route projected onto my tiny screen for the first time. Today, we went either straight up or straight down for the majority of the route and whether up or down, it was tricky. This is not a manicured track. We are riding along trails that are alive in the remotest parts of Lesotho. They serve the communities, have purpose and range between myriads of trails for herding animals, foot paths, donkey hauling-routes and vehicle access tracks. It is chaotic to the foreign eye but a perfectly sound network to the local. If we are not glancing into every which direction to anticipate the next heading, we had to carefully weave our way around rocks and mounds. It is beautiful. A form of artwork to me. These tracks, as technical and dangerous at times as they are, have flow and it is up to us to tap into it.
Grant and I (Team @24/7 Security Services), despite never having ridden together, had a whale of a time, ‘whooped’ repeatedly and were mesmerised by the enormity and majesty of the mountains. Our introduction could not have been any better. It was normal to have to do a few u-turns and deal with tiny spills but that was the extent of our troubles as we traversed the terrain without any other riders around us. To keep with the peace and serenity of this area, we spoke very little and rode in harmony on trails that define mountain biking to me. Raw and untouched.
To round it all off perfectly, we crossed the finish line in third under the most stunning sky. There is no need to look at the time gaps as yet. Second place was within our sights and we still have a long way to go. We have found our rhythm and understanding and rode hard. Keep to this recipe and our race is going to turn out to be just awesome.
These images by Wayne Reiche are surreal. Imagine what we experience,