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Becoming Pawns

Roger and I set off today on a quest to get to Diemersfontein on single speed bikes. Roger is an experienced and accomplished single speeder whereas I am an unwitting newcomer to the “On One” brigade. Roger has everything to do with my foray into the ranks at the gearless gang. Last year I did a couple of training rides with Roger on a bike I converted to single speed to keep him company. On our second outing together Roger took a serious tumble that put paid to his upcoming Race to Cradock. As Roger wasn’t able to ride I decided that I honour Roger’s intentions and give RTC a whirl on my single speed. The race didn’t go off without a few hitches but I managed to finish and followed that up immediately with a last minute entry to Race to Willowmore. In the space of two weeks I had two single speed races under my belt.

As soon as I got home I converted the bike back to a full set of gears thinking my sortie into single speeding territory was done and dusted.

Early May all this changed when the army of FC fanatics egged on by Andrew and Roger challenged me into entering RASA. I sealed my fate when I foolhardily dared the FC community to donate money to the scholarship fund. I was smart enough, or so I thought, to suggest an absurd amount of support that would get me to do the race. I confidently suggested that if that absurd amount was doubled I would do RASA on a single speed. Well, within 4 hours the first watermark was breached and I was online and entered. I went to bed that night convinced that maybe going for my ninth blanket wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

When I woke the following morning and opened the Freedom Challenge Whatsapp group I saw there had been an anonymous donation that effectively double the “absurd” amount I had initially suggested. It took me a while to digest the fact that I was now committed to doing RASA again and this time on a single speed bike. I had already laid out a full set of shiny new 12 speed components to put on my bike. By lunchtime those components were back in their packaging. My shifter cable was wrenched from my frame and the limp derailleur packed away with the other 12 speed components together with my suspension fork which had made way for a rigid fork.

I had a race and I had the bike. What I lacked was race fitness. I spent the next 5 weeks teetering on the edge of overtraining riding more than I had since the beginning of the year.

The banter between Roger and I, egged on by others, about who is going to go faster has been a constant refrain. During this time Roger and I have been doing a lot of training together. Roger and I get along fabulously but we’re both competitive and want nothing more than to beat each other. As competitive as we are there’s no ugliness about it. That said, we are hardly likely to meet up on the trail and agree to a truce and ride together to cross the finish line in tight embrace. We don’t expect to be the first riders over the finish line as there are better and faster riders on better and faster bikes. Our focus has narrowed to watching each other.

We have completely different strengths and weaknesses and knowing each other as we do, we will take advantage of the others weaknesses.

With that in mind it has occurred to me that we have unwittingly become pawns in a bigger game. The chess masters are the dot watchers and Scholarship Fund supporters. The two pawns will be closely watched and their antics and strategies critiqued. The pawns themselves will be aware of the greater game and may well be forced into doing something “spectacular” which will give them either a strategic move advantage or lead to dismal failure. Lehanas, Mordor and Stettynskloof by night are all options that might have to be played out.

Leon Erasmus was a soft touch when I suggested he rip the gears off his bike and he join us for the first section of the race to Rhodes. It’ll be interesting to see what influence his presence will have on the first few days of the race.

The stakes are high and the players keen to get to the finish line ahead of the other.

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