I left the first water point on my own. Ahead I could see a pair of riders battling into the wind. The race rules prohibited drafting except for the first 222 km section up to Van der Kloof Dam. Most riders were taking advantage of the rule exemption and were toiling into the wind in small bunches where possible. I tried to close the gap and hook on to a back wheel. Half way across the gap my left leg cramped. I managed to ease the cramp without stopping but in easing off I lost ground on the pair ahead. After 10 minutes I slowly increased pace aware that a knotting cramp was a mere muscle twitch away. The battle of cramp verses pace was to go on for the next 5 hours.
The next opportunity for water was at a farm shop at 96 km and I was counting down the distance kilometre by kilometre. I couldn't bear to think beyond that. The second official water point was at 170 km and the thought of riding that distance in the heat was simply depressing.
I figured I was well into the back half of the field. Every now and then I would pass a rider sitting in the shade of a tree. A few people rolled by me as I took a couple of breaks. At the top of a climb I saw an ambulance on the side of the road. I could see the medics mingling with 3 riders, one of whom I knew well.
Philip Kleijnhans, seeing me go passed yelled out to me, "What are you doing back here? I really thought you could finish in the top five."
Before long Philip was on his bike and riding alongside me. I explained how I was battling with cramps and he told me that his knee inflammation had returned and he thought it highly unlikely that he would manage to finish. With that he pulled in front of me and started powering into the headwind. I tucked in behind him and we made good progress. Every now and then I would sit up to ease a cramp and Philip would slow up and wait for me.
A particularly bad cramp had me far back. The farm shop was only a few kilometres away so Philip rode ahead. I caught up with him just short of the shop after he had taken a dip in a reservoir to cool off. I bought a Coke and 4 bottles of water. Philip waited outside while I filled my bottles. It was just after sunset. I turned my lights on and headed up the road. The next water point was 74 km away. It was still hot and it was going to hard work. Once again Philip took up a lead position and hammered into the night. I sat on his tail happy for the help. At no stage was there any suggestion that I should take my place at the front.
10 kilometres short of the water point, after pulling me for 75 km, Philip was hurting. He told me to go ahead. I put my head down and made good progress passing a number of riders on the way. Philip had helped me through a particularly hard section of the race and I am grateful for that help. What I hadn't realise was the full extent of the assistance. It would become apparent once I arrived at Van der Kloof Dam. Signing in to the race village at 01h50 I was surprised to see that there were only 9 riders ahead of me.