So straight after OFM, I was on a plane to Asmara, Eritrea via Cairo. My form was really good the past few weeks and I thought I had a great chance to win both the TT and RR. Of course. I would have to beat one of my big rivals Daniel Teklehaimanot, who recently signed for Greenedge among others, like Natnael Berhane, Adil Jeloul and Azzedine Lagab. Our team consisted of Jaco Venter, Herman Fouche, Louis Meintjes and Myself.
I was presently surprised upon arrival in Asmara, the people were really friendly and respectful and although poor the city was very neat and tidy. There is a big an Italian influence, hence cycling is their national sport. In fact, the people go nutters for cycling. I thought surely this would encourage the Eritreans to perform… making it our jobs difficult. Another factor was that Asmara is located at 2300m. Being from Pretoria it should have been ok, but I spent the past month or so at sea-level. Also I think once over the 2000m barrier, the lack of oxygen availability really starts to affect you more.
One had to be very careful in the Time trials to pace yourself right as recovery after going a little too hard is difficult…almost impossible. That is the exact mistake we made in the Team Time Trial… Starting out too hard and soon we found ourselves in oxygen depth and starting to lose precious time over our rivals. We managed to limp home and rescue 2nd place from Morocco as the Eritreans won by 1’25.
On the individual TT I was cautious not to make the same mistake. Unfortunately, I suffered a mechanical on my wheel again. It seems that disk my was slightly off-centre by 1-2mm causing it to rub my frame. This happened at worlds as well, but we incorrectly identified the problem as a rolled tubby. So I suffer the same problem twice. Unaware of the problem I carried on. Towards the end the altitude really made it thought and when I finished I took perhaps 5min just to get my breath back. It felt like I was breathing through a straw. I managed to hold on to 3rd , 1’14 of the pace set by Daniel Teklehaimanot. Louis Meintjes finished 2nd, 46” behind the Eritrean.
Finally it was time for the RR on the Sunday. And the crowd was huge. At the finish was a small stadium overlooking the finish, it was packed and so was the streets. Just people everywhere. We did 14 laps of a flat 10.4km circuit to make 146km. CyclingSA could only afford to send 4 riders, while Eritrea, Morocco and Algeria all fielded 8. If it was a hard circuit it might not have mattered so much, but on a flat circuit numbers count a lot more. Outnumbered, the local media still made us out as favourites for the race. Making it real difficult as neither Morocco or Eritrea wanted to work with us.
The race started off with a lot of attacks as Louis and Herman covered most of the time. Unfortunately Herman punctured on the 3rd lap and took 3 laps to come back again, wasting most of his energy. And for 3 laps we were down to 3, and under immense pressure. To make it worse whenever we got 2 riders into a move the Eritreans and Moroccans refused to work, despite having the numerical advantage. As they knew if they waited for the bunch only 1 or 2 South Africans would re-join again. On 2 occasions I was in a move that had a 2minute gap, but then everybody would rather sit up.
A break went clear and then finally with 2 laps to go I rode away with a big split rode in pursuit of the break. But then once more, bad luck struck as I punctured in the final 15km. Bad timing, as the group just rode away from the bunch, and the team car was nowhere in sight. Also, the pressure was on in the front and I didn’t know if it would be possible to see the front again. After all, my African Champs last year was also spoiled by an untimely puncture 10km to go.
Fortunately, The commisaire could call them back from the small breakaway in front, I got a fast wheel change and were able to catch up to the split 5km later. We had myself and Jaco Venter in the front as we headed into the last lap. Jaco did a great job covering the Eritreans, Moroccans and Algerians who made their number counts.
Jaco finally run out of steam with just over a km to go, leaving me to cover the final few moves. This forced me out of position. I knew I had to start my sprint at the 200m to go mark due to the headwind and slight drag to finish, but I had to open up the sprint early to avoid getting swamped. I paid for this dearly as 2 Eritreans came past me in the final 100m, as I had to settle for 3rd. The winner was 20-year old Natnael Berhane. Another young rider man with a great talent, that we will hear a lot more of.
I wanted to win badly and make up for the TT, and I was really disappointed not to win. But I had to acknowledge the Eritreans, as they rode a clever tactical race and really used their numbers to their advantage.
On the way back, I could at least relax and take my mind of the event, as we spent the day in Cairo. We visited the pyramids of Giza and went to a local perfume shop, where a cheeky old salesman convinced me into buying a flower blend for my Girlfriend 😉