Jan’s Story – Day 4

Stage 4 my memory bank – The rain that dislodged any hope of racing on Wednesday pounced on us when the sun set and the moon thought it would share its light with us. It had arrived with menace, vigour and determination. A desire to see itself through until 5:30 in the morning. Wake up hour. The energy from each tent that was spent pondering our fate for the day as the night progressed should be enough to power up a number of lights. Add the thoughts of those in lodging who were sympathising with the tent dwellers as well as the lightning and we could have quite a party instead of rolling around and wishing time away.

We would set off at 7:00 regardless the conditions as it was once again moving day. The only thing that could change accordingly would be the route we would need to follow.

Shotgun blanks sent us on our way in light rain and it soon became apparent how extreme the mud would be. Grant Usher and I had the elastic to the lead group stretched a couple of times but ultimately managed to keep in contact with them.

I had a moment to ride up at the front with Mathias Flückiger and we chatted about his and World Cup cross-country races in general. It was great as I regularly root for him. Not a moment after thinking how good this morning was in contrast to our riding conditions was I brought back down to Earth with a clatter and a bang.

The two of us were at the back of the bunch when we crossed through a flooded drift. The last thing I saw was the waters parting as the two riders ahead passed through and my arms as straight as an arrow as I was yanking on my handlebars with an almighty heave in order to get the wheels up and over the water (I was really keen on keeping my feet dry for as long as possible). The most horrendous cracking sound ensued and then I saw my left hand fly up past the side of my head. What followed was that solitary moment of peace and bewilderment before a life changing experience. I closed my eyes immediately in the hope that when I open them, everything would be alright as it was only a dream.

This fall rates among one of my hardest ever. I opened my eyes with my head in a puddle, my body pulled together like a baby in a cot and an immense pain running through my right side. Mathias was crouched in front of me and only when I saw how his hands were shaking did I notice the short length of handlebar in mine. One of the nightmares that haunts us as riders had paid me a visit. I was in total shock, disbelief and nauseous as an ill dog.

The most awesome part about scribbling myself was the feeling I got from seeing seven guys, all stopped, standing around, trying to help me as best they could. The race could wait. This is an immensely special thing to experience.

All I wanted to do was get back on the bicycle but that took a while as we (more accurately, the top notch mechanic Grant Usher) needed to transfer my left brake to what was left on the bicycle and convert the rear mechanism to a single speed. The words single speed and Lesotho do not go together. Not then and not now.

All this happened at twenty six kilometres. The finish was fifty seven kilometres away. We smiled and reminisced as often as we could to keep me going. The day would be long as we had to stop often to pull my chain down a cog when it climbed up, adjust this and that to make the ride more bearable and pull mud away from our shoe soles and the wheels when they stopped turning. I played all kinds of mental games in order to help me along and with Grant’s immense support, patience and vast single speed guidance, we crossed the finish line in over five hours.

When one has crashed like this, all one wants to do is rest. An unaffordable luxury as I would spend the rest of the day, well into the night piecing my body and bicycle back together. Christo Roos and Nkatlholang Simon Thole (Enduro Planet), Tanya Kirstein and Cora Krielwere incredible in that they made it all come together better than I could ever have anticipated. I am blown away by the kindness and desire to get me ready for Stage 5.

What was most sad for me is that I could not enjoy and take in this most beautiful lodge and its surrounds. Our lunch and dinner was delicious though.

I went to bed with mixed emotions but a settled mind as I knew that I would sleep like a log. This day will be summed up as exhausting.