I was nervous for South African National Championships this year. Targeting the later part of the season this year, I arrived at Nationals without any racing in my legs since Unite 4 Mandela last year. But, just because I want to finish the season stronger than I ever have before, didn’t mean I wasn’t going to start strong.
I was nervous though, because I wanted to keep my stripes. I’ve proudly worn the national road race jersey in Europe for the past three years, the time trial jersey for the past two, and I wanted the honour for another year. There was also the double expectation of African Continental Championships the following week where another three gold medals were up for grabs.
Competition was definitely stronger this year, nationally and continentally, so, with my legs still finding form, I knew I would have to draw on other weaponry if I was to defend any of my titles. Instead of planning attacks, I focused on my mental game. Worrying about my racing form and doubting my abilities would mean disaster. Keeping my composure would mean victory.
I spent the South African road race marked at every turn. But I stayed calm, patiently using the tougher parts of the 14km circuit to soften my competitions legs, until finally I made my move for a 30 second gap on the final climb to take a solo victory. During the time trial, I stayed in my own head and took the title for a third year in a row. At continental champs, I fed off the spirit of the South African team and the four of us proudly took gold in the team time trial. In the road race, I kept my cool when I realised I had to bridge to a two woman break away created by teammate Lise Olivier, and then we confidently attacked to win Gold and Silver for South Africa.
While experience in Europe and training consistency played a major role in my string of success, my legs wouldn’t have been enough if I hadn’t achieved my mental goal of keeping my composure. The five races over eight days showed me how important mental strength is, and that’s an experience I hope will keep me strong throughout the upcoming season and into Olympic selection. And if I waiver or lose sight of that composure? Thankfully, I’ll have the stripes on my jersey to remind me.