Andre Nelson overcame strong winds and other hurdles en route to claiming his first Steak Race victory when the event took place in Port Elizabeth yesterday.
The Walmer Cycling Club rider said he remained focused and “dug pretty deep” during the race, which is regarded as the toughest cycle event in the Friendly City.
Totalling 90km, it starts at the Grass Roof Farm Stall in Seaview Road and takes riders over energy-sapping hills to Van Stadens River Mouth and back.
“I can’t really say I had much enjoyment while racing. The Wall [a steep climb of 800m] was quite a sting in the tail for me as I had a go there and the legs didn’t really respond well, but I calmed myself and recovered.”
Nelson said the field started off “pretty chilled” until the first climb of the day at Theescombe when Archie Zakhe put in an attack and tried to break up the bunch.
“Most of us had to respond. There were about eight to 10 guys when we got to Kragga Kamma Road, which included all the pre-race favourites. By the time we hit The Wall we were down to six or seven.
“As we started the Van Stadens climb toward the mouth, Archie and I decided this was our opportunity to get away.”
He said as both of them were “pretty good climbers” they knew this was where they could make up time.
“We had to make it count due to Steven [Shirley], Graeme [Renard] and Warwick [Renard] being very strong on the flats.”
Nelson said when they started climbing out of Van Stadens, Zakhe began to suffer. “I did about 90% of the work. He was strong enough to stick with me, but not strong enough to come through and put in a solid effort.
“I never really felt that I couldn’t go any longer. I was fully committed and wasn’t going to stop for anything.”
He said Van Stadens was his favourite part and he felt comfortable climbing and heading back to the city.
“The toughest part for me was coming back into Welcome Avenue when the wind picked up quite a bit and there was a very strong cross-wind, which hurt a lot.”
Nelson, who had competed in the event twice before, added that his win felt surreal. “I mean every cyclist in PE wants to win the Steak Race. It’s a very prestigious event and surely lived up to its name as being the city’s toughest race.”
He added that he did not expect the win and went into the race just wanting to give it his best shot.
“I’ve been building my form slowly over the last few months. I’ve performed pretty well in our local Masters and Ladies series. I knew I was on track after the last race I did before the Steak Race.
“It’s an unreal feeling [to win], especially finishing solo with a clean pair of heels. I had put a lot of work into the race and it was all so worth it when I saw the finish line.”