Tough, corrugation, headwind, mist, drizzle, rain, never again… those are some of the words you will hear when you ask someone who has done the Transbaviaans 2019 Repeat. “Toughest team single stage race in the world” is what it said on the website, it certainly dished up that and more for Pure Savage this year. Nothing could have prepared them for what was to come no matter how meticulous their planning was.
The 16th edition of the Transbaviaans took place this year with the “Race” version on 10 August and the “Repeat” version on 17 August. Originally this event was only one weekend but due to the popularity and the demand a second weekend was added a couple of years back. The first weekend is the focus for the Pro’s, with bigger prize money on offer, while the Repeat offers a bit more relaxed atmosphere. The racing somehow did not reflect this during this years event with the field in the Repeat arguably being much more competitive and closely contested than that of the race.
Waldo and Malcolm was lining up for Pure Savage. These two did this race with Kevin and Carl last year and learned a thing or two about strategy. Kevin has become a father since then. In the whatsapp group he just posted pics of him sterilising baby bottles all the time and kept us up to date with diaper leak incidences (which we all tried to warn him about), so with limited time to train opted not to join. Carl was on a mission to assist friends of his to also complete the Baviaans and was also there but this time enjoying all the delicious food on route at the checkpoints.
Part of the team this year was a support driver which was able to meet them at checkpoint (CP) 5 and CP7. Diether, Waldo’s younger brother, gladly agreed to play this role as he himself has done 3 of these and know how important a good support team was. Last year the Savages had to support themselves and make use of the checkpoint boxes you only get at CP2, 3 and 4 (Bergplaas). The support driver however could make a big difference in saving time and was crucial to gain some time over the competition.
Race day came quicker than expected. All of a sudden the guys are on the start line, prepped and ready. With confidence from other results in the back of their minds they knew their form was good. It was all about if their race strategy was going to work. There was a very competitive line-up and for things to work everything had to just fall in place as planned… which was NOT what happened…
The race started and 7km into the race the rollercoaster of a day started for the two. Malcolm picked up a long thorn on the way out of the jeep track section just after the start and on the open gravel road heard a “click click” noise of the thorn hitting the fork. It was in the front tyre and the two stopped to assess the damage. It was holding pressure but pulling it out would mean a possible plug so without risking anything the right call was to break it off so that the thorn stayed put and the sealant could do the job. It was debated at length (afterwards) if this was the right thing to do and at that moment with the info they had it definitely was. This would come back to haunt them later though.
Not too much time was lost here and because the bunch was still big and the group was still trying to figure out who was going to be brave enough to sit in front with the headwind the boys could chase back and join again.
Steady they go
The headwind was just going to build through the day but Gawie Combrinck was man enough to sit in front and pull the bunch. Now and then another team would come and help a little but the Savages soon realised that exactly the same is happening like last year where they would get sucked in to work but the race actually only starts after CP2 (93km). Savages did their bit and even tried to put a little pressure on the bunch at the little climb just after CP1. They did not stop and neither did any of the big names but increasing the pace here would mean that those that did stop would have a hard time coming back. It was steady after this again and Gawie took his place up front while the smaller group now planned their actions for CP2.
Remember the thorn? Well at the 80km mark, 13km before CP2, it decided that the corrugation was just too much and wiggled itself straight into the tyre leaving in it’s wake a spray of sealant and a hole the would not seal. The pace was hot as the group shunted towards the CP but the Savages was stranded trying to fix the tyre. What should have been a quick and easy plug turned out to take much longer due to the preloaded plug fraying and the end bits too big to go through the hole. Almost 4min later the plug was in and the guys were off but the damage was done.
Part of Waldo and Malcolms strategy was not to stop at CP2. They had enough water to last till CP3. It was expected that other teams would do the same but also if they didn’t do the same, it could put pressure on anyone who did stop. A vital strategic point in the race. For them though this was now no longer in play. The chase was on and they needed to make up time. Problem now was that they were on their own and had to work harder than planned for the next 30min till they reach this point. They were hammering into the wind and rotated like clockwork to try see if they can catch the bunch. They got to the CP, some teams stopped but most didn’t and they kept with their plan… don’t stop, check in, check out… chase chase chase.
What lied ahead was another 10km of flattish roads and then the climbing starts. The bigger, climb called Baviaans Back, is coming up and normally this is where the field splits and teams go on their own. If a team saved enough energy in the first 100km they would be in a good place. The Savages did not have this luxury, they did everything BUT save energy in the 30km leading up to this climb with the effort they put in to chase. They could see teams climbing though and still managed to pass a few on the way up. Waldo was starting to take a little strain and had to dictate the pace a bit even though Malcolm wanted to just fly up the hill.
Malcolm had a bit of trouble on the climb, to Waldo it just looked like a dropped chain or maybe something stuck in the gears or wheel but as Malcolm stopped and looked at it, Waldo continued on as to not hold up any progress. It was the derailleur stuck in the spokes that caused Malcolm to come to a standstill. To this day we do not know how or why this happened, but it seemed at the time the race was over. With Waldo still climbing, Malcolm tried to rescue the situation and eventually could get going again. Problem was that he could not shift into the 3 big climbing gears and with this climb being so steep it was near impossible to pedal in places. Waldo eventually stopped and passing teams told him the news. This was it race was surely over… or was it?
Repair and regroup
The situation was disappointing but the two Savages was experienced enough to not panic at all. Yes, start was not great, puncture really cost them, the derailleur surely meant that their race is now turning into a survival ride. CP3 was on the other side of Baviaans Back and realising this they soldiered on. They did plan to stop here and properly fill bottles etc so a welcome little break. Malcolm got his bike sorted with the mechanic there completely fitting a new derailleur faster than Brendon can consume a Bootlegger coffee and banana bread. Waldo got them some roosterkoek and downed a few cokes and off the two went again. They were lying 9th at this stage, almost 20min behind the leaders.
Closing the Gap
Fangs and MAC is notorious for taking victims. Fangs “bite” as it is short and steep climbs. The guys kept a steady pace and soon passed a team. This was motivating enough and they kept a strong and steady pace. On MAC Malcolm said “I smell blood” meaning there MUST be some wounded teams up ahead. His canny K9 like sense was confirmed as they passed yet another team in the form of last years winners of the Repeat, Cadence Tyger Valley. The boys were now lying 7th. It was getting cold and misty and rain was coming. Luckily Diether was waiting at CP5 with some clothing and support. Two teams exited CP4 just as Pure Savage started the jeep track into bergplaas. With enough water still in the bottles the Savages decided to not stop at CP4. They checked in, checked out, to a big cheer from the staff as they were the first team to follow this strategy. They were now only 12min down from the leaders!
Down the Big Dipper it started to get cold. The wind chill factor really comes into play when going downhill and a few drops of rain started to fall but nothing that would even really keep the ground wet. After the Malcolm’s new derailleur really seemed to put some power in his legs too as he put down some serious watts. Waldo followed his wheel and soon they passed a team which was also attending to a puncture (Enduroplanet). The section between CP4 and 5 is quite a bit of rolling hills. It is fast and perfect to set a steady tempo. Pure Savage caught up to another team, they looked completely wounded but they managed to latch on and score a tow. It was Coimbra. With more and more big names popping up and being caught they guys started figuring out that all is not lost. Finally CP5 was there and on arrival Diether had everything set up perfectly. New bottles, food and lube and a Formula 1 stye pit stop was done before you could say HAMMER! Diether gave some info and said 7-8min gap to leaders. This was turning out to be a phenomenal chase and just over 10min already gained from CP3 already meant it was edge of the seat stuff for those who was following the whatsapp group and social media.
Three teams were now on never ender. Coimbra, Fountains Mall/Stepp and Pure Savage. Fountains Mall/Stepp was battling with a dropped chain and they boys pulled a gap on them. Coimbra was still just in front and the Savages were sort of regretting pulling them all the way to CP5 a bit because it seems like they have gotten a second wind. No freebees was going to be given this time and both teams started working together. Never ender is just that. It is just one long drag with a few steep bits thrown in for good measure. On this section there is also CP6 which is an unmanned CP. Teams need to grab a sticker from a container and stick it on their control medallion that proves they did stop here. Both teams got their sticker and stuck together for the chase. It was getting dark now and lights needed to be used but both teams started with their lights already mounted to save time not having to fit it.
No Jaffel Boet
The last CP is the famous jaffel checkpoint. You don’t just simply pass this checkpoint without grabbing a jaffel. This is Waldo’s 8th Baviaans race and auto pilot wanted to kick in as they entered the CP7 gates but Diether was like a drill sergeant and handed just a bottle and shouted “gooi rooi!!”. No jaffel this time round. Diether knew the boys were gaining and potential to catch up was still there. The whatsapp groups was going ballistic with the updates Diether gave through and from almost not even finishing to contend for podium now, was an amazing achievement already. Pure Savage and Coimbra left CP7 together. They were now only 5min behind and gaining minutes with each CP.
A furious pace was set and the teams now had their sites on catching up. On one section they saw red lights going up Mini MAC and realised the chase was on. They still need to do a descend though and also climb MAC so it would take a huge effort. With 210km already in the legs it is not easy to keep hammering but all hammers came out and was swinging like crazy. The singletrack came closer and it was evident though that time is running out to catch any team that was still in front of them. Pure Savage unfortunately did not get to the singletrack first which meant the odds was heavily stacked against them for a final podium position sprint. Malcolm and Waldo backed themselves though and was going to give it all they got. The final left turn approached, they lined themselves up… but Coimbra’s experience and determination was just better on the day and there was not enough distance for a proper overtaking manoeuvre to take place during the sprint.
The race was done and beers was in their hands. The roller coaster ride was over and the boys finished with a smile on their face. They clawed back almost 16min from their misfortune and missed out on a top 3 spot with 2 seconds. Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve can be said but what happened on the day happened and the guys dealt with it the best way they could. It was a proper Pure Savage ride! Special mention to fellow savage Garth Enion who came in 2nd, teaming up with Wesley Lentz for team ESA Partner riding a superb race. Gerrit De Vries and Gawie Combrinck (Uncle Fish B-Team) took top spot showing us how it’s done on their very first attempt.
1. Uncle Fish B-Team 09.25.20
2. E S A Partner 09.27.22
3. Coimbra 09.29.18
4. Pure Savage 09.29.20
5. Fountains Mall-Stepp 09.34.54
Photos from Jacques Marais.