“Going into the race I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to win and break the record,” said Shirley, who finished roughly ten minutes faster than last year in a time of 6:31:16.
“As the race started, I saw how strong Jason (Meaton), JP (Minnie) and Steven (Venter) and them were.
“I didn’t think the event was going to happen for me until we reached the first King of the Mountain.”
About 15km into the 160km race near Jefferys Bay, Shirley took the lead in a breakaway group of eleven riders.
“As we continued to climb more and more guys fell away,” he said. “Eventually it was just Jason, JP, Steven and myself who could keep the pace.”
It was the KOM climb, a 12.5km ascent with an elevation gain of roughly 650m, that showed who had the legs to compete for the Trans Elands title.
At the crest Shirley was trailing in third place, behind Meaton and Minnie.
“I was a little bit off the pace, probably about 500m going off the top, but I thought to myself that I would hang back and let them play around in the front and wear themselves down,” said the 47-year-old.
He then caught the two leaders on the descent before they turned onto Elands River road, where they were faced with gale force winds.
Shirley said the wind had slowed him down to the point where he was covering only eight or nine kilometres per hour.
Despite the tough conditions, it was along this stretch of road that Shirley dropped Meaton and Minnie and continued to complete the remaining 120km alone.
“You always write a story in your mind about how things are going to go and as we hit the KOM the story was nothing like how I’d wanted it to be at that point.
“I thought I’d be away from the guys but they were much stronger than I’d expected so I was really in a bad place,” said Shirley, who won the solo category of the Midnight Express in April.
“Going over the climb I saw they weren’t getting away from me and that’s when I realised that, although they were strong, they weren’t ultra distance guys.
“Hitting the wind I got into the right mindset and tried to overcome and move forward from what had happened by slowly chipping away at the situation,” he said.
The Port Elizabeth local had put himself under immense pressure as he fought to keep up with the leaders as they tackled the KOM, an effort he said took its toll on his body.
Mid-race he started cramping and had to contend with the fatigue that had set in.
“When I crossed that line I was over the moon, it was a very emotional event for me,” he said.
“Walking up stairs at this point isn’t such a pleasure, but I can promise I’ll be back next year.
“The event is right up my alley, it’s as hard as it can get and it’s where my talent is,” he concluded.