Port Elizabeth mountain biker Andrea von Holdt announced herself as a contender for The Herald VW Cycle Tour’s Extreme Challenge when she finished runner-up in the Attakwas half-marathon just outside George recently.
The 85km Extreme Challenge and 65km Challenge – which are held in conjunction with the following day’s national road classic in PE – will take place in the Addo Elephant National Park and Zuurberg mountains on the outskirts of the city on Saturday, February 5.
Von Holdt said she surprised even herself when she crossed the line a mere two seconds behind Team bizhub professional Caitlin de Wet in the 52km Southern Cape race, which was the first leg of the national Nissan series.
“I needed a mental break after a very tough year and packed my bike away after the Double Century at the end of November,” said the 37- year-old, who won the national sub-veteran cross country title in Pretoria in July before claiming bronze at the world masters’ championships in Brazil last September.
“Apart from a low-key race in St Francis Bay and some jogging over December, I didn’t touch my bike. One might call it a period of introspection.”
Von Holdt said she made an impulsive decision to enter the Attakwas a few days before the event in order to kick-start her preparation for a possible assault on the Extreme Challenge, in which she placed fourth two years ago.
“Although I was short on conditioning, I felt fresh and strong after the break.”
Von Holdt said she was astonished when she passed MTN-Qhubeka’s Mariske Strauss, who finished fourth. “I realised she must’ve been having a bad day.”
She knew she was on a good ride when she closed a 40-second gap after the last water point to catch up to De Wet in the latter stages.
“I spoke to Caitlin before the race and therefore knew she had been doing a lot of base miles – I didn’t expect to be competing against her. It was a fantastic experience to race head-to-head with the pros.”
Although injuries sustained from two falls in the Attakwas were playing havoc with her training programme, Von Holdt said she would like to give the Addo race her best shot.
“I’m not putting my heart on winning or anything – I just want to race to the best of my ability.”
She said the year was still in its infancy and that she was hoping to peak around March for the national cross country champs in the Western Cape. “It’s still early in the season and not the time to do anything silly.”
She said some trail running, and riding in the Baakens Valley to fine- tune her technical skills, would form part of her regime over the next two weeks.
“The course follows the trend of most modern-day marathon races. It’s definitely more technical than in the past, which is up my alley.”
Riders can enter until January 31 at cycle shops in Nelson Mandela Bay or by visiting www.heraldcycletour.co.za.