Prologue: 13km; 320m elevation
James Reid and Julian Jessop: 4th Place
The start of the 2016 Cape Pioneer Trek began with a short and speedy 13km Prologue with a mere 320m elevation. Starting and finishing at Milkwood Primary School in Mossel Bay, riders tackled some of the sharp climbs on the streets of Mossel Bay before heading to the rocky and tricky descents around the Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse.
As James and Julian are both XCO champions in their respective age-categories, they were ready to hit the ground running and had high hopes for a stage win. They set a blistering pace as they set-off for the short but technical route. James and Julian were looking in a good position to take the fastest time for the day. James lead the way down to the finish, with Julian hot on his heels as they fought to maintain their speed while carefully choosing their line through the rocky descent. It was here where Julian slammed his rear wheel into a rock, which cracked his rim and resulted in a puncture. Despite their teamwork to plug and bomb the tyre, they were unable to recover their lost time on such a short route. After a strong start James and Julian managed a 4th place finish as the strong pair of Erik Kleinhas and Matt Beers claimed the fastest time of the day.
Despite the slightly disappointing start to the week, the young riders were optimistic and excited for what the remainder of the event had to offer. With some long days ahead the pair aimed to limit their losses and set their sights on the shorter stages later in the week.
Stage 1: 95km; 1700m elevation
James Reid and Julian Jessop: 7th Place
Stage 1 was the first real test for Julian Jessop as he was taking on his first stage race. James and Julian tested their legs against their opponents as James kept a close eye on his younger teammate. The 95km route with 1700m of elevation proved to be an eye opener for what the rest of week had in store.
A difficult day of racing saw NAD Pro MTB of Nico Bell and Gawie Combrink, attack midway through the stage and they held their lead to the finish. James lead Julian through the route as he took the majority of the workload. Julian was able to hold James’ wheel as they maintained their position within the group. As they neared the final 20km, they had a potential 3rd place finish on the cards. It was at this point however, where Julian’s legs cracked. They soon lost sight of their bunch as James pulled a broken Julian along the final tar road stretch to the finish. “After we lost our bunch, I tried to shelter Julian to the finish line.” said James “As he locked onto my wheel, I was doing around 200 watts, but even this was too much for him as he soon drifted back.”
The difficult stage and fast pace from the outset of the neutral zone had caught up with Julian. As they had crossed the line, their time deficit was around 10 minutes and they finished the stage in a respectable 7th place. Despite the challenging day, both James and Julian were in high spirits and a little wiser on what to expect in the days ahead.
Stage 2: 99km; 2200m elevation
James Reid and Julian Jessop: 5th Place
The Queen stage of the event saw riders tackle the 99km route from Mossel Bay to George with 2200m elevation. After the eye opener of stage 1, the Team Spur pair better understood how to manage their legs on the longer days. The goal, to nurture Julian through the difficult stage with the knowledge that Stage 3 was more suited to their XCO format. James lead the bunch through a lot of the early tar sections, while Julian happily sat further back in the group, conserving his energy.
The bunch was all together as they rumbled through water point 1 at 35km in. The mass of riders was made up of all the top men’s, ladies and veterans teams, with everyone taking it fairly easy. It was not long after however, when riders made their moves and the race began split. By water point 3 at 76km, James and Julian were still looking good as they were firmly ensconced in the lead bunch which had now been reduced to 4 teams.
The final 12km of the stage was the tipping point for Julian once again. It was around the 85km mark which left Julian scraping the bottom of his energy stores. Despite a split in the bunch, James’ experience and power allowed them to stick with the remainder of the group as they entered the final kilometres. Rounding the bend towards the finish line resulted in a sprint for 3rd place. Julian had given it his all but had hit the power too early and soon dropped off the back of the bunch. A podium finish was not to be, Julian crossed the line a few seconds back from the bunch and they finished in 5th place.
Despite suffering through the toughest day of the week and narrowly missing a podium finish, James and Julian were happy with their performance. Julian was recovering well as he looked to be getting stronger each day.
Stage 3: 57km; 1150m
James Reid and Julian Jessop: 3rd place
Stage 3 had been targeted for a stage win prior to event by James and Julian. The shorter distance with less climbing and lots of single track would suit the strengths of the two XCO champs. The bunch stuck together in the early section of the stage, but as they neared the first single track section the leaders began to jostle for position. James had been hammering the pace for the first few kilometres and this allowed them to enter the single track at the sharp end of the bunch. This early pace however, seemed to have taken its’ toll on Julian. After two hard days in the saddle, and carrying the weight of their potential stage win on his shoulders, he was battling to find his legs.
At each checkpoint their gap to the leaders increased. James and Julian found company in the CBC Elite Pro pair of Konny Looser and Daniel Gathof. The two teams worked together for the final half of the stage. As they neared the line team CBC Elite Pro sat up slightly, this allowed James and Julian to claim their well-deserved 3rd place finish.
Although they had hoped for a stage win, their 3rd place was a brilliant result considering the distance they had already covered. They now sat in 4th on GC and the new goal of a podium finish on GC was in sight.
Stage 4: 94km; 1650m elevation
James Reid and Julian Jessop: 3rd place
After a tough week of racing, Stage 4 was set to take its’ toll on the riders as the rode from George to Oudtshoorn. With temperatures reaching 38 degrees, the Klein Karoo was even more unforgiving. As riders climbed through the mist of the Montagu Pass between George and Oudthsoorn, the top names were all still together. By water point 2 at 53km the lead bunch seemed to be in a truce. They cruised through the feed zone to gather their fresh bottles and rehydrate during the scorching temperatures.
It didn’t take long after the water point before the first team made their move. After a slow start, Team Full Sus of Matt Beers and Erik Kleinhans attacked on a false flat and they were able to maintain their lead to the finish. Team Spur and CBC Elite Pro were the next group on the road as they battled it out for 2nd and 3rd on the stage. Entering the finish straight on the fields of Langenhoven Gimnasium in Oudtshoorn, James and Julian crossed the line in 3rd just behind CBC Elite Pro.
With their second podium finish of the week, the pair had now closed the gap to 3rd on GC and were looking to Stage 5 to remove the gap altogether.
Stage 5: 88km; 1700m elevation
James Reid and Julian Jessop: 3rd place
Another long day was ahead of the riders as they headed into the dreaded Kamanassie. After the previous days scorching temperatures, riders welcomed the sight of a cooler forecast. As riders exited Oudtshoorn, the neutral zone ended. The pace however still remained fairly stable as riders cruised to Water Point 1 at 30km in. With the rolling terrain and compact dirt roads, it would be difficult to obtain a sustainable lead. With the difficult section of the day still to come, riders conserved their energy for the rocky, treacherous terrain of the Kamanassie.
In order to secure a 3rd place on GC, James and Julian would have to go searching for the time deficit, which was just over 1 minute. James was the aggressor and Julian had to hang on for all his worth. They managed to gap Team Stappenbelt Specialized who were in 3rd on GC. After receiving time gaps from their support at Water Point 3, the pair knew they were in with a chance to take 3rd on GC.
The stage ended with Team Spur coming across the line in 3rd, 2:13 ahead of Team Stappenbelt Specialized. Their goal had been achieved, and ahead of the final day of racing it would be vital to prevent any loss of time.
Stage 6: 57km; 1200m elevation
James Reid and Julian Jessop: 6th place
The shorter final stage suited the skills of the two XCO riders as they planned a possible stage victory and a potential 2nd place on GC. It was all to play for as the gap between 3rd and 5th on GC was a mere 2:53. The day however did not go to plan. The morning started with an easy 11km ride to the start at Chandelier Game Reserve just outside of Oudtshoorn. As they lined up in the chute, mechanic JP Jacobs was doing some final checks when he noticed Julian’s shoes were covered in tyre sealant. Julian had picked up a 3 cm thorn on the ride in. After a scurry to change his rear wheel, the riders set off for what would be the toughest day in terms of mechanical issues.
Riding up front, James was marking Erik Kleinhans of Full Sus as they sat in 5th on GC and were eyeing the podium. Julian and James were looking in line for a possible stage victory as they stuck with the lead bunch. It was then, when disaster struck. The rocky terrain and fatigue from the week resulted in a lapse of concentration. Julian cracked a rim and punctured. They had soon lost sight of the lead bunch and their hopes of a stage victory. After struggling to repair the flat they were able to get back on their bikes. This did not last long however as the tyre was not holding air and Julian was forced to run. They were lucky enough to receive two CO2 cartridges from Ben Melt of team Squirtlube, this allowed them to continue to the finish.
Despite their admirable fight to the finish line where they crossed in 6th place and they had lost their podium finish on GC. After the disappointing final stage James and Julian finished 4th on GC, a mere 14 seconds off the podium. The whole week of racing was extremely exciting and despite being 19, Julian rode way out of his comfort zone as they far exceeded expectations. James was brilliant as he helped Julian through the tough times and controlled the race where possible to assist with his partner’s recovery.
For the full stage results: click here