The mood in race village was a bit apprehensive ahead of the much-dreaded Queen stage and while there was no wind or rain forecast for today, the small issue of Swartberg Pass stood between riders and finishing the penultimate stage.
The first 100m was lined with cheering Langenhoven Gimnasium students who have been serving us in Oudtshoorn. We cruised through town in our routine neutral zone complete with escorts. These folks know how to do the neutral zone in style with all traffic temporarily shifted off the road to allow the Pioneer Trek peleton through. We soon turned off tarmac and onto district gravel road and then up a jeep track climb littered with Karoo stones – the kind of stuff that can be likened to golf balls! We meandered through the Klein Karoo on a variety of jeep track and flowing single-track to WP 1 (37km). While we felt good at this point we held back knowing we’d only negotiated 400m of vertical gain and still had around 1600m left to climb.
It was a long haul to WP 2 but we were treated to some of the most beautiful rugged yet flowing single-track through and over small rocky koppies. Occasional loose descents and rocky outcrops required concentration but were never so technical as to make us uncomfortable. In this stretch we had one beastly climb – parts of which had to be portaged due to the relentless gradient and loose surface. True to form, Oom Katot was brewing his 5 Roses tea on top and even offered us some! We were finally logging up some serious elevation as we traversed the foothills of the Swartberg Pass towards the final WP at Kobus se Gat.
We’d been tentatively eyeing out the pass from the distance and the first kilometres were a pleasant surprise with a good dirt surface and gentle gradient. Jenna’s mood was good as we chewed up the last 10km. However, the last 3km of the pass were substantially steeper and we had to dig deep for the last push. We were greeted by Paul Valstar and the Dryland team on the chilly peak. After admiring the views and posing for pics with some fellow cyclists, we put on our jackets and freewheeled back to Kobus se Gat where we had a roosterkoek before getting transported back to the race village – tired but elated. A tough, rewarding and spectacularly beautiful day out on the bike.