Thursday, 17 May 2007

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:23 | No comments

Cape Epic Diary

Cape Epic Diary

Pre Epic

I got a late entry to ride the Epic after surprising myself and finishing 2nd in the Malmesbury 24 hour event in the Solo category. It was a mixed blessing.. I had an Epic entry, but I only had a week to find a partner. I tried everything. I contacted everyone I knew. I phoned all the bike shops. I posted messages on internet forums. The 24hr hadn't done me any favours. In fact I think it made people a little nervous about riding with me. With time running out, I remembered a guy I had ridden with previously in a 4 man team at another 24hr event. He was my last hope of finding a partner. Enter Julian Conrad. The only person brave enough to want to ride with me. I had to make a couple of promises about approaching the Epic as a ride and not a race, but it was enough to convince Julian.

Pre Epic Day 1

This is it. We are in Knysna. Months and months of training and preparation have got us this far. At my partner's request we had decided to approach the Stellenbosch Sports Science institute and get a training program drawn up for the both of us. That was last November. Since then my life has been dominated by monthly A4 printouts of what I must be doing on my bike. I developed a love-hate relationship with our trainer, Kassie Carstens. Getting up at 4:45 to do 5 fifteen minute intervals at lactate threshold on a Monday morning was not my idea of fun. But the results were starting to show. I had my best PPA Summer League to date.
The training had taken its toll on both of us, and our families and friends. Many a social engagement was missed because I had to be up at the crack of dawn to go training. Things around the house started to break, and I didn't have the time or energy (or money) to fix them. The list of chores I had promised to do after the Epic was growing on a daily basis.
But back to Knysna. There was nothing more we could do. We had done the training. We had read countless tales from previous Cape Epics trying to garner as much info as possible. We were ready. We got our first glimpse of Kevin Vermaak's organisational abilities when we went to register. Things just work. We got our race packs, and the legendary Epic bag. The volunteers were as enthusiastic as I was nervous. It was slowly starting to sink in. Eight tough days of riding awaited us. Looking around, I could see I was not the only one feeling a bit nervous. Everyone, from “Epic wurgins” to the seasoned old timers were a little edgy. That made me feel a little better. To complicate matters, I had applied for seeding, and somehow we were seeded in the top 50 teams. I think my partner wanted to kill me, but he never said as much. The pressure was on.
We spent that night at Buffels Bay in a quaint holiday house. Part of me didn't want to leave. An eight day stay at Buffels Bay was starting to sound quite appealing. Another part of me couldn't wait to get stuck into 8 tough days of mountain biking through some places very few people get to see. We did our final preparations, packed our Epic bags (I was able to fill mine – an indication that I had far too much stuff!!), had dinner and went to bed at about 9pm. I don't know how much Julian slept that night, but I don't think I got more than 4 hours of sleep. I just could not switch off. I think I was more excited than I was letting on.

Epic Day 1

Finally, the alarm went off at 4:30am. The day I had been building up in my mind for ages had arrived. After a quick breakfast, and one last check that we had everything, we headed off to Knysna to meet up with our back up crew from Maverick Cycles, and more importantly, our bikes. I had been suffering serious separation anxiety. On the way to dropping my Epic bag off the shoulder strap broke. Another indication that I had too much stuff. We got our bikes, did some final fiddling – I am usually against last minute bike fiddling as this is the time when things usually break. But fiddle we did. Check the shocks. Pump the tires (again). Lube the chain (again). Take the bike for a quick test ride (as if 886 kilometers was not going to be enough). Put the CamelBak on. Wow – I couldn't believe how much it weighed. I had done 95% of my training for the Epic on the road, and hadn't worn my CamelBak in 6 months. The thing felt like it weighed 10kgs. I was going to have to get used to this quite quickly. Julian and I ambled over to the seeded starting pen. I could see the marshal manning the pen didn't believe that we should be in there. After checking his clipboard he let us in, and we found a nice inconspicuous corner to hide in, away from the pros and the TV cameras. We got looked up and down more than once, but I didn't mind – it was nice to see people like Andrew Maclean, Yolande Speedy and Anke Erlank looking nervous too. The start approached at 7am. After last minute goodbyes to wives and friends, we were off to the sound of cheering spectators and blasting vuvuselas. What a great way to start a race.
The start was quite controlled, and we wormed our way along the lagoon, and onto the first climb of the day. Just before the half hour mark I almost had a race ending crash. At the bottom of the first long decent the road narrowed, and I was on the far right. The rider behind me though he could squeeze past on the right, but quickly realised that he was running out of road, and the only place to go was into me. He clipped my handle bars, veering me further off to the right, and towards some menacing looking rocks and a 20 foot drop off. Thank goodness for disc brakes – I was able to slow down enough before I clanged into the rocks that the resulting plop over the handle bars was not too serious. With a bit of blood dripping from knee and shin I quickly assessed myself to see if everything still in working order. Apart from my elevated levels of adrenalin, I was good to continue. The rider that caused all this didn't even look back or offer an apology. This infuriated me and I mumbled some choice words at him under my breath.
The rest of the ride up until Prince Alfred's Pass was quite uneventful, except for the beautiful scenery and the great riding conditions. As we hit the bottom of the pass, I could see Julian was starting to struggle. I had let Julian set the pace for most of the day, and decided that we should try to ride at a slower tempo. I didn't help – I think the exertions of earlier in the day had caught up with him. We stopped a couple of times (it was during these stops that I got to appreciate the amazing scenery). A couple mixed teams had come past us, with the guy towing the girl. I thought about offering Julian a tow, but my pride would not let me, until the first male team came past us with one partner towing the other. I made the offer, and Julian accepted. At least we were riding again. Julian was cramping badly, and his breathing was quite laboured, but we made it up that pass, and enjoyed the downhill on the other side. My wife was waiting at the last water point, and it was good to see her briefly. With the final 9 kms on the old wagon trail to Uniondale ahead of us, I had images of us walking, as there was no way to help Julian out. The only encouragement I could offer was to remind him to drink frequently, and spin the easy gears. It was on this wagon trail that I saw the first of Julian's grit and determination. He rode that wagon trail like a man possessed, and later admitted he was cramping all the way. I was struggling to keep up, but was not going to say a thing. After some awesome single track down the other side of the hill, Uniondale awaited us. It was a welcome relief to cross that line in 6:05.06,4. I was soon to discover that the hard work for the day was just about to start. I had to get my bike washed, have lunch, download my heart rate at the Polar tent, go for a massage, wash my bottles and CamelBak bladder, mix juice for the next day, hand my bottles in at the food service, lube the bike, have supper and prepare for bed. This was to become my daily routine for 8 days.
My wife was still about, and it made life a bit easier having someone to stroke my ego and make decisions for me. The Maverick backup crew were also brilliant – pampering our needs, putting up with our moods, feeding us, making tea, and listening to our tales of the days ride.
Julian's quote for the day: “Look at all these fit people – I thought I was fit” - while cramping up Prince Alfred's Pass.

Epic Day 2

Woke up at 4:45am. Got dressed. Went to breakfast. I am so glad that the meals at the Epic are top notch. The food is tasty, and there is loads of it. I don't eat this well at home. Bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages (that always come back to haunt you), fruit, cereal, yogurt, toast. Brilliant. I gorged myself. This is heaven. Perhaps I was just trying to put the thought of the day's stage out of my head. I had skipped the race briefing the night before, as I really didn't want to know how much suffering was in store for today. I prefer to ride the piece of trail I can see in front of me, and not worry about the bits coming up later in the stage.
In the start pen this morning (we have been moved down to “C”) there is still a buzz of excitement. People are still quite upbeat, passing comments and full of chirps. Maybe they missed the race briefing too? After some entertainment watching a team jump the queue leaving the bike park by climbing over a 5m high tennis court fence with their bikes, we were off. Julian was out of the blocks like a greyhound chasing a rabbit, and I struggled to keep him in my sights for the first hour, which was slightly downhill, on wide gravel roads. We covered those first 30kms in just over an hour, and I was still not feeling good. Thankfully the fast road section would soon come to an end and a massive climb would await us. We climbed and climbed and climbed, and every now and then I would stop to wait for Julian, and enjoy the views of the valley below. All of a sudden my bike started making a funny sound, and on closer inspection I saw my rear shock was giving me issues. The result was that I had to decrease the pressure in the shock, and could only ride seated. Greg Minnaar asked if I was OK. Him and Hannele Steyn-Kotze were having a terrible time with punctures, yet he seemed as friendly as ever. A little while later, I discovered I had also broken a spoke. I had a little word with my bike and told her to hang in there until Oudtshoorn, which at this point seemed very very far away. And finally, I went through a deep mud section, lost control, went over the handle bars and landed in the mud. During my acrobatic display I must have lost my sunglasses. After more climbing in Kamanassie Nature Reserve, we got to enjoy spectacular views and a tricky but exhilarating rocky descent that somehow made the climbing seem worth it. I had heard an American comment that he understood where the "untamed" in "The Untamed and Magical Cape Epic", but he was yet to experience the "magical". So far, I had to agree with him.
The next 50km were a little boring on wide gravel roads, but it was easy riding after all the climbing. I gave Julian a Gu to eat, and before I knew it, he was on the front of the bunch, and I was barely able to hang on to the back. Thankfully that didn't last long, and by the time we got the the next water point, Julian had bonked. I tried to get him to eat and drink, but he wasn't feeling good. Those last 15kms through the nature reserve seemed an eternity, but at least it gave me time to think about how I was going to fix my bike for the next day. We crossed the line in 7:46.46,5 after a long day on the bike. I barely had time to sit and relax, I had to get the bike fixed, get self washed, have “lunch”, wash the bottles, replace a spoke (thanks to Knysna Cycles), have a massage, eat dinner, mix juice for the next day, check up on the bike, and check up on Julian. He was in a bad way.
Julian's quote of the day: “I just puked” - while climbing up the hill in Kamanassie Nature Reserve. I was a little to preoccupied with my bike to offer any real sympathy.

Epic Day 3

I awoke to find that the elves had been able to fix my bike in the night. Turns out is wasn't really elves, just Eben from West Rand Cycles. I was quite relieved. After yesterday's ill fortune, perhaps things were starting to turn for us. Today we were greeted with 128kms, which after yesterday's 132kms seemed like a walk in the park. How wrong I was!
Not only had the elves fixed my bike last night, but they must have done some work on Julian too, because once again he was off like rat up a drain pipe. Thankfully the congestion at the turn off the main road slowed things down. The dust on this jeep track was blinding – I could barely make out the rear wheel in front of me, let along anything on the trail. I was blindly following that wheel in front of me. It turns out that today was not to be much luckier than yesterday, at a sharp corner where everyone came to a halt, the guy behind me rode into my rear derailleur and bent the hanger, resulting in some very crunchy sounding gears. I stopped to bend the derailleur as best I could and continued, feeling annoyed! Before long the annoyance was replaced with thoughts of suffering and pain as once again we got off our bikes to push them up a hill. It was here that I again saw Greg and Hannele, who rode the hill where we were all pushing. Greg asked if everything was alright with the shock, and I told him that they had been able to fix it last night. What a bad omen. Five minutes later the shock went again. So yet again I had to spend the rest of the stage seated. My bum was really starting to get sore now. Thankfully Julian was suffering too, which gave me time to get off the bike on the top of hills and wait for him. I spent some more time with Greg climbing yet another hill, and it was great to see him go down the other side. He made it look so easy. With the serious off road climbs out of the way Huis Rivier pass beckoned. I was looking forward to this, as it is a nice gradual climb on tar. After what we had been through in the last two days this was going to be easy. Except Julian was struggling. He was eating and drinking more, and spinning the easier gears, but I think the previous day's effort had caught up with him. After towing him up the pass, I thought we were quite close to the finish. How wrong I was. Perhaps I should have gone to the stage briefing. To make matters worse, Julian kept telling me Ladismith was "around the corner". We went around several more corners, and over several more hills and still there was no Ladismith. One last corner and Ladismith came into view, and I promptly hit the wall. The day's exertion had caught up with me. We (I) limped across the line in 7:27.40,0. Another long day in the saddle.
And so began the routine : get the bike washed, get self washed, have lunch, clean the bottles, get the bike fixed, replace the derailleur hanger, have a massage, download my heart rate, eat supper, mix the juice, check up on Julian.
Julian's quote of the day: “I know this area well, Ladismith is just over this neck” - that was about an hour before we finally got into Ladismith.

Epic Day 4

A newly repaired shock, and a new derailleur hanger, a good night's sleep, and the prospect of a transition stage - what more could we ask for. While the mood in the start chutes was slightly sombre, there was an air of relief. We had survived the worst Leon Evans could throw at us. I thought I even saw a couple of smiles.
Yet again the start was fast and furious, and Julian was intent on making the pros look like amateurs. I had to hang on for dear life as he weaved through the traffic, gulping in massive lung fulls of the crisp Ladismith air. It was as if my prayers were answered when I felt my back feel lose pressure just after we turned off the tar road and onto a farm road. What a relief. In between gasping for air I was able to yell to Julian that I had a puncture, and we stopped to assess the situation. We made the really bad mistake of me stopping on the left hand side of the road, and Julian stopping on the right hand side. It was only then that the true scale of the Epic struck me. For the next five or six minutes, a continuous stream of cyclists passed us, and Julian was unable to get across to my side of the road. In the meantime I hoped and prayed the Uncle Stan would seal any puncture that I might have had. I couldn't see any signs of a puncture, but the tyre was very soft. I got the pump out (as Julian had all the bombs) and pumped the tyre. Everything seemed fine. The tyre was holding pressure. We got back on our bikes, and for the first time in three days we started passing people. I think this did wonders for our morale. Had we turned the corner?
I should have known it was too good to be true. Just before the first water point, Julian came over to me to tell me that his right pedal had completely disintegrated. I told him we would continue to the neutral service point, and assess the situation there. Once there, the mechanic had a look at the pedal, and quickly told Julian that he would have to replace the pedal with a brand new out the box Shimano XTR pedal, which cost (if Julian's wife is reading this, look away now) R1400. I could see Julian was hesitant, and so I told him that he had to make a decision - buy the new pedals, or try to ride to the end of the stage (some 75 kms away) with the broken pedal. I then left Julian to make the decision, and stocked up on coke, Powerade and water. When I returned, I was quite relieved to see that Julian had fitted the new pedals.
If we learned on thing today, it was how to ride through soft sand. I think I am now a soft sand Master. Take the pressure off the front wheel, hold your line, and keep the momentum going. It sounds all very simple, but it took many hours of practice to fine tune my technique. Meanwhile, Julian was over the moon with his new pedals. I don't know how many times I heard him say "For the first time I have float", or "These pedals are fantastic". Definitely money well spent.
The rest of the stage was quite uneventful, and I had a bit of time to admire the surroundings and just enjoy riding my bike. We were still riding quite well, and were still passing people all the time. Once again, Julian's geography let him down, as I had to endure several "Barrydale is just around this corner" comments. It was a welcome relief to finally get around the last corner and see Barrydale in front of us. But, as I was quickly learning, when given the choice of a simple, straight run into town, or a nastier and tougher approach in, the nastier and tougher route always prevails. I did my best to push Julian over the hills, but the last rise up to a dam wall was one step too far, and he bonked within site of the finish. But we finished the day in good spirits in a time of 5:45.18 and were now halfway through the Epic.
Back to the routine: wash my bike, wash myself, download my heart rate, have lunch, wash my bottles, get a massage, have dinner, service the bike, mix the juice and prepare for bed.
Julian's quote of the day (there were several contenders, but the winner had the effect of demoralising our competition completely): "Barrydale is around the next corner" to some friends of ours.

Epic Day 5

I awoke to the sound of a truck hooter going off. On previous days I had already been awake by the time the hooter had gone off, but I slept so well last night. I was quite glad to see Julian at breakfast - I had been worried that his lack of geographic knowledge might get him bumped off in the night. Our mood was lifted after the previous day's ride, and Julian had fallen in love with his new pedals.
The start today was how all starts should be. It was a nice gentlemanly affair with everyone, except possibly the pros who were looking to restore their honour after Julian had embarrassed them on the previous day, starting the day off in a sedate and sensible manner. I think we had settled into the Epic, and the routine of each day was starting to take over. Julian and I were speaking less to each other on the bike, but were riding nicely as a team. There seemed to be some sort of understanding between the two of us that didn't need verbal communication.
It is the greatest feeling in the world when you ride past spectators, and they are cheering as loudly, and sometimes probably louder, than they did for the pros. And spectators come in all shapes and sizes, from relatives and friends, to farm workers and school children. This was the "magical" in "The Untamed and Magical Cape Epic".
Today was another tough day, but nothing worse than we already dealt with. The route included a little bit of everything, some steep climbs, some hike-a-bike sections, some rolling descents and some tar, with the tar section being most welcome. (I apologise for my roadie roots). With the second big climb of the day approaching, I told Julian I would wait for him at the top, and proceeded to make my way up, intent on riding the whole climb. While I suffered like crazy on that climb, with scorching temperatures and not a breath of wind, my legs burning and my lungs gasping for air, I kept on going. It just felt so good. This is why we ride bikes. This is why we entered the Epic.
On the descent of that climb we were caught by some friends, and the last 20kms which had promised to be a leisurely ride into Montagu turned into a tooth and nail scrap all the way to the finish line. We came off second best, and finished in a time of 5:18.12. Julian gave 100% in the last 20kms in my quest to beat a friend, and he sat slumped over his handle bars for 5 minutes trying to catch his breath. This was not the Julian of the first four days. He was getting stronger and stronger. If only the South African cricket team showed as much commitment. Losing to Sri-Lanka would have been a nightmare.
Today had been my most enjoyable stage so far. It was tough, but a good kind of tough. Everything worked as it should have. And we were one day closer to Lourensford.
The routine was becoming second nature now: wash the bike, wash myself, eat lunch, clean my bottles, get a massage, fiddle with my bike (which is always a dangerous thing to do), have dinner, mix the juice, watch some cricket, and prepare for bed.
Julian's quote of the day: "........." - five minutes of silence at the finish after the hard effort of the last 20kms.

Epic Day 6

Did someone say 20kms of tar? I couldn't wait to get the mountain biking out of the way, and settle down to a comfortable and relaxing cruise on the tar. This was going to be a breeze. As I was soon to learn, the people around us had different ideas for the tar stretch, and eventually I was hoping and praying for the tar to end. I was suffering, partly because of the efforts of the previous day, and partly because the bunch we found ourselves in were intent on catching anybody or anything they spotted on the road ahead of us. Added to this, I had another problem. I had started to chafe a bit the previous day, and so in my eagerness to prevent any chafing today, I had applied a copious amount of botty butter. I am talking about handfuls here. I can safely say that in this case, more is not better. I was sliding all over my saddle. The botty butter was oozing through my shorts, and as the temperature climbed, it started to run down the back of my legs. Eventually I was one well lubed rider, from head to toe, and as soon as we left the tar, the dust from the dirt roads clung to every part of my body that had come into contact with the botty butter. I learnt a very important lesson today, the hard way.
The highlight of today's stage was having the privilege of seeing Christoph Sauser and David George (a roadie) ride a steep, rocky section of trail that the rest of us could barely walk. They made it look so easy, often riding up the bad line as us walkers were occupying the good line. And being polite to the people they were passing at the same time. A couple amateurs could take notes from these two pros. I don't think either of them even broke a sweat. Seeing them fly down the other side of the hill was just as impressive.
One of the upsides of the tar section (possibly the only upside) was that we caught a couple of teams that we knew, and gave us a great opportunity to race them. Julian was riding well again today, and I could see he was up for some racing. A very sneaky move at the last watering point put us on the back foot and allowed one team to get a gap on us, but we were still ahead of another team. We were always within sight of the team ahead, but could just not close the gap. Likewise, we were also within sight of the team behind us, and they weren't giving up. The last climb of the day, up to a cell phone tower above Villiersdorp was torturous, and the riding surface was quite uneven and rough, making it just that much tougher. We both had to dig deep. My wife had told me that Julian's family would be on the route today, and had wanted to surprise him. They couldn't have picked their spot better. After descending like the wind, with just over 2 kms to go, and the team behind us gaining quickly, Julian saw his family, and found some extra strength to hang onto my wheel for the last kilometer as we managed to stay away from the rather large bunch of riders closing in on us. We might have beaten them by just 20 seconds, but the bragging rights belonged to us. Our shortest day yet, at 4:59.44, but definitely not the easiest, although yet again we had no mechanical incidents.
The short ride today gave us time to relax, and take our time doing the usual post ride activities. It was nice to be able to just sit and not have to worry about running out of time to get things done. The routine of the previous days was now firmly entrenched.
Julian's first quote of the day: "Arrrgh!" as we were both suffering along the tar section. He briefly grabbed hold of my CamelBak, more for moral support than for a tow. I was glad to know that I wasn't the only one suffering.
Julian's second quote of the day: "Go! Go! Go!" as we passed the one kilometer to go board.

Epic Day 7

I had been hearing about Groenlandberg for the last six months, and by now I had the fear of death put into me about this mountain. Today I would finally get to discover what Groenlandberg had to offer. There was a buzz of excitement in the start chutes this morning. Tomorrow's stage didn't really count, so that left today as the last real stage of this years Cape Epic. (We would later discover that tomorrow's stage was tougher than we expected). The commentator this morning was rambling on as usual, but I heard him say something along the lines of "And our real stars are all you amateurs - you guys make this race". I got a lump in my throat, and felt a little teary eyed. The emotion of 6 days of tough, exciting, at times soul destroying, yet exhilarating cycling was getting to me. I didn't want this experience to end. I had gone through a range of emotion in these last 6 days that I seldom go through in a year. What an experience.
The start was fast and furious, with everyone feeling quite energetic knowing that we were just one day away from the finish. Yet again we did quite a stretch on tar, and for the first time ever, I found myself being guttered on a mountain bike. Julian stayed nestled in the bunch, and I did a bit of work up front. We soon left the tar behind, and started heading towards the Mountain. As Groenlandberg approached, the bunch slowed, as if to catch its collective breath before making the assault on this much talked about mountain. I was feeling good, and when asked Julian how he was doing, I got the somewhat surprising reply of " I'm fed up". I didn't quite know how to respond to that. We had started on the foot hills of Groenlandberg, and still had the majority of the stage ahead us. I decided on a double pronged approach - lots of encouragement, and lots of space. I would ride on up ahead, wait for Julian to come along at his own pace, offer loads of encouragement, and then head off and wait again. While waiting, I got time to have a look around, and we were once again riding in some very scenic surrounds. It struck me then that the vegetation had changed completely. Yesterday we were still riding in desert-like conditions - hot, dusty, scraggly little plants, thorn bushes. Today were were riding through orchards, rocky fynbos sections with dense impenetrable bush. And yet each day had its own beauty.
The descent down Groenlandberg was fantastic as he headed towards Thandi. Julian seemed to have found a rhythm, and we were making good progress. At the water point it was nice to see some familiar faces from home cheering us on. People had made quite an effort to come along and support all the riders. And we appreciated every single one of them.
We crossed the N2, and slowly climbed up towards the Koegelberg. It was along this section that I suffered from a bit of brain failure. My technique of riding ahead of Julian and then waiting for him caught me out. On a long descent, I went screaming down, just assuming Julian was following. When I hadn't caught sight of him for over five minutes, I knew something was wrong. I headed back up the trail, and after about 10 minutes of riding, discovered Julian had had a puncture, and hadn't been able to get my attention. To make matters worse, in our wisdom, we had decided that I should take the pump to make Julian's pack lighter. Once reunited, we quickly fitted a tube, pumped it up and were on our way. The whole experience costing us around 30 minutes. In my haste, I had put Julian's tyre on back to front, and so the handling on his bike was shocking. From there on we pretty much limped to the finish, but not before discovering that Julian had also broken a water bottle cage, and that his bottle kept on jumping out. The slower pace allowed us to enjoy the spectacular Koegelberg Conservancy, although the 43C temperatures made it a little uncomfortable. As I had learned from the previous stages, I suffer from white line fever, and as soon as we were within mental range of the finish, I would go into a frenzy to get there as quickly as possible. And often Julian would be on the receiving end of the frenzy. Today was no different, and the last five kilometers into Kleinmond flew by. The finish was quite unique, with the riders riding across a bridge over the lagoon before crossing the line. I was glad today was over. While the riding had been quite good, things just hadn't gone our way. We finished in 6:10.36.
Good news did await us. Tomorrow's start was only at 8:30. And my wife and dogs had made the trip through to see us. It is amazing how the small things we take for granted everyday in our normal lives come to mean so much during the Epic. It was Julian's daughter's birthday, and he too was delighted at seeing his family, and celebrating her birthday over dinner.
Julian's quote of the day: "I'm fed up" - I think this summed up the stage for us today.

Epic Day 8

The delayed start acted like a catalyst for the celebrations to begin. The chill out zone had done a roaring trade the previous evening, and people were visibly more relaxed. This was the day that, on occasions, couldn't arrive soon enough. Today I didn't want it to end. The Epic experience had changed me. The 79kms that awaited us seemed like a walk in the park in comparison to the previous days. There was a mixed mood in the chutes this morning - glad that it was almost over, but sad that it was ending.
As soon as the gun went, it was racing as normal, and the tar stretch out of Kleinmond back towards the Koegelberg Conservancy was ridden at high speed. Things settled down into their usual rhythm as we hit the jeep track, and a slow steady climb along the Palmiet river awaited us. Our only misfortune for the day occurred when Julian's chain broke. After the brain failure yesterday, I made sure I was always near Julian. I expected the worse when I saw the chain wrapped around his pedals, but was relieved to see it was just the quick link that had come loose. Two minutes later we were back on the trail. My heart went out to the rider in front of me whose derailleur disintegrated into a thousand pieces. So close to the finish, yet it must have felt so far. Julian rode fantastically well today - I kept pushing the pace, and he kept hanging on. I think the white line fever hot me after about 30kms, but Julian was up to it, and didn't back off once. Superb riding.
The compulsory hike-a-bike section down the historic wagon trail gave us a chance to catch our breath and enjoy the view of the Helderberg basin. I could see my house, we were almost home. A stretch along the railway line was quite tricky, and one short lapse in concentration could end the race right there. If we thought we were going to be in for an easy finish, we should have know better. The rolling hills took their toll on many riders, although by now most realised that the Epic was over. It was just a matter of getting to the end. We encountered a bizarre situation through Vergelegen farm, where overtaking was not permitted. We caught the team in front of us, and they were struggling on up a climb. I ended up pushing them up the climb, while giving Julian a tow, just so that we didn't end up overtaking them. All this on broad forest roads. We left Vergelegen, and entered Lourensford - the finish couldn't be far away. I started pushing, and Julian dug deep and stuck to my wheel. Before I knew it, we had assembled quite a couple of riders behind us, all hanging on as we lead the bunch towards the line. The last corner before we entered finish straight, and several riders jumped us. It would have been nice to race them to the line, but it didn't matter. We soaked up the atmosphere as we headed for the line - spectators cheering us on. Family and friends had turned out to support us one last time. Magical.
Crossing that line for the last time came with so many emotions. We had done it. Two normal guys had completed a very special race. A race that had changed us both, and taught us so much. A race that gave us so many memories, both good and bad. All that was left for us was to make the walk past the spectators to receive our medals. Having the medal presented by Kevin Vermaak meant a lot.
To my wife, who in the last eight days had been a star - thank you. To my Epic partner - Julian - thank you and congratulations - we did it, together. To everyone else who made the Epic such a memorable experience, the volunteers, the medics, the physio students, the commentators, the back up crews, everyone - thank you. Hopefully we will see you next year.
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