Last year the race did not take place due to land access issues, but this year it was back on the calendar with a new route and venue. The Koedoeslaagte Trail Park and Venue situated on the banks of the Vaal River was the start and finish venue this year with the course going out the same way as always but starting about 25km into the old route omitting the neutral zone through town, the opening hot-spot sprint (on tar) and the fight for position leading into the first corrugated section.
Although these established features were missed there were a few new sections which added fresh flavour to the race route. Chief amongst these was the new singletrack section shortly after the start, the extra loop through the Grootkoppe Nature Reserve and the traverse of the Thabela Thabeng Kloof. Although the new route is a breath of fresh air, it still needs some refining and if the organisers stick with it there is a lot of potential for future editions to reclaim the stature that the race used to enjoy.
Self seeding at the start saw riders lining up in 3 batches according to their fitness level and/or ambition for the race. This meant ladies and men started together but as always a fast start sorted things out pretty quickly.
In the men’s race Arno du Toit was the early aggressor attacking from the start with the Day brothers using their road racing acumen and tactics to keep everything in check behind. Melt attacked on the Espach climb combining with Arno on the open roads that followed. The second half of the race was a tough affair being mainly uphill on jeep track and cattle paths. This is where Melt made a break from Arno maintaining his lead to win the Crater Cruise for a third time.
I followed the pace as best I could from the start often riding alone or in small groups but always maintaining a steady pace knowing how tough this event is. Starting with the men made the race a lot more aggressive and equalled the playing field as it added to the depth of the field in comparison to a ladies-only bunch. Everyone was a rival and the route was the real challenge with nowhere to hide. Despite strong challenges from Cherise Willeit and Sylvia van Tromp I managed to take a 4th victory in this race which has such a special place in my heart.
One of the biggest challenges on the day was the heat, exacerbated by the longer than advertised race distance (10km longer!) which made the waterpoints further apart than expected. The fact that the final 7km was on fun singletrack next to the mighty Vaal River was lost on most, as it was so close to the finish that the commentators voice could often be heard in an agonising case of so close, yet so far...
In the end The Ride Crater Cruise was the usual slug fest which suits our style of racing and we were happy to come out on top for Team Garmin!