Thursday 23 April 2009

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:59 | No comments

Epic 2009 - Stage 3

Date: 24 March 2009
Start/Finish: Villiersdorp to Greyton
Distance: 73km
Climbing: 1976m
Cut-off time: 15:00

Stage 3 had us leaving the quiet seclusion of Villiersdorp, and heading off the the even quieter and more tranquil town of Greyton, over some particularly steep and nasty mountains that just happened to lie between the two towns.

We had ridden some of this route previously, and we thought we had a good idea of what was in store for us today. A mad uphill start to soften us up and get the heart pumping, followed by a short, sharp descent before the big climb of the day awaited us. We had been hearing all sorts of rumours about this climb, but no one really knew what to expect. Apparently it was completely unridable, and even the pros would be walking. This is what I hate - having an inkling of what lies ahead of me. I prefer to tackle the obstacles as they come, and not have to worry about the pain and suffering that will be dished out later in the day. Craig, on the other hand (Darren), likes to know details like this, as well as distances to water points, climbs and other interesting obstacles along the route.

A good nights sleep, and ready for the stage.

I could do with a few more hours of sleep.

For the first time so far, we had to cram the ever increasing chaos in our tents into the big black bags. The neatly folded and organised contents of my bag was slowly yielding to the chaos. And things were starting to multiply. The space was getting less, and it seemed like I had brought way too much stuff that just wasn't ever going to get used. You would swear this was my first Epic. Clearly I haven't learnt how to effectively pack just the essentials yet...

Team Lefty and Fox were in high spirits this morning after yesterday's victory over us, although Cillier was already starting to take strain. His Achilles heal was not his heal at all, but rather his bum. And it was starting to ache. It is always quite funny to laugh at another's discomfort as long as it doesn't happen to you. We've all had bum sores, so we knew exactly what he was going through, which made it quite funny!

Etienne, preparing for a cold morning ride in the Overberg.

Right from the start we started climbing, and would continue going up for about an hour in the hills above Villiersdorp. Having ridden this section previously, we knew where to push it, and where to catch our breath. The only difference this time around was that there were over a thousand other cyclists competing for the same patch of dirt that we were on. And when one rider gets it wrong and has to dismount, we all have to dismount. And yet there is always one guy who refuses to wait his turn and insists we all get out of his way. Another team onto my list. Craig seemed to cured of whatever had been affecting him on day one and two, and rode like the clappers (when we could ride) up that first hill. The sweat was pouring off me, and I was frantically trying to stay hydrated, and within touch of Craig.

The leaders racing up the hill out of town.

We made the top of that first hill in good time, and had a short sharp descent on some off-cambered jeep track to deal with. In the trial ride I had struggled quite a bit here, and so went ahead of Craig. To my surprise, I made it through without any mishaps, only to hear Craig connecting with mother earth twice. I was quite chuffed that I had ridden a downhill section better than Craig - doesn't happen too often. Luckily, they were gentle crashes and no damage was done.

The faffers shadowing us closely.

Once at the bottom, we raced through the first water point without stopping, although this was going to play on my mind for the rest of the day. Just to make sure I stayed topped up, I ate my banana and had a Gu. We had a fast section ahead of us to the bottom of the big climb of the day, and to our disappointment, the faffers were right behind us. We hadn't been able to loose them at the waterpoint.

Ask any first time rider what they were most worried about for this year's Epic, and they would mention the 3km portage on day 3. Now I have done quite a bit of walking with my bike on my shoulders in previous Epic's that I wasn't too worried about the little walk that lay ahead of us. How hard can it be? As it turns out, I should have been worried - this was the toughest portage I have ever done. To get an idea of how steep it was, when I looked ahead of me at the next rider about 2 meters in front of me, all I saw were his ankles. I heard one rider saying that for ever 25 steps he took, we were climbing 10m. This was the section that Mark Fish had to pull out on, after walking in his socks because of the size of his blisters.

Mark Fish, in his socks.

Every now and then, we would get a break, and be able to ride for a couple of meters before the path turned up again. In places it was so steep that there was no option to push your bike - you had to carry it on your back. Now imagine me, and my amazing upper body trying to get this right. In those 3 kms, I think my arms muscles doubled in size! In addition, I got another compliment from Craig - "Not bad going for someone who doesn't run". He quickly made me pay for that compliment - as soon as we could ride again, he put the hammer down and flew up the remainder of the hill. I had no choice but to hang on for dear life. My calves were paining, my quads were aching, my back was sore, my arms were wobbly - and yet we flew up the rest of that mountain. The payback was some nice fast downhill where we were able to make up some good ground. Just before the next climb, with Craig on the front and me right behind we took a wrong turn and ended up in a dry river bed, with no sign of where to go next. And to top it all off, the guys who had been sucking our wheels have the cheek to moan and complain about us leading them astray.

We had a short climb ahead of us, followed by a long, fast downhill section, back to the valley floor. All the guys we had lead astray were now ahead of us, and holding us (more me) up on the descent. This seemed to be the trend for the rest of the day. Guys climb better than us, and demand we move over for them, but when it comes to the downhills, they don't return the courtesy. We reckoned that they must be roadies, or come from some place that is very flat. Like Holland.

When last did you see a white horse?

Back on the valley floor, on a wide district road I was still suffering from all the hiking, and let Craig do all the work on the front. I don't think I had done an ounce of work all day, other than just trying to keep up. The good news was the faffers were nowhere to be seen, after spending the morning shadowing us, they had finally dropped back.

Craig, making everything is still ok.

Ready to go!

With Greyton around the corner, the Epic route organisers had decided to take us into the hills again, in an effort to make up some distance. We had the treat of riding some really nice uphill single track (and doing a little walking too). I was starting to feel good, but at the same time Craig was fading. I reckon that on the day when we both feel good at the same time we will have an awesome ride.

Our tents, in the "bad" neighbourhood - near the Brazilians.

Home for the next two nights.

The last water point of the stage was with 9kms to go. You just know they have something torturous planned when they do that. In comparison with the mountains we had already been over, the last few kilometers were nothing, but with 2 and a half days of riding in our legs, we felt them. And we suffered. Sometimes it is easier to admit defeat and hop off and push, rather than try to ride, and Craig and I were doing plenty of this. Unfortunately, this meant that the guys who go uphill well were able to pass us, and become obstacles for us on the descents.

That was tough, and dirty!

We finally made it into Greyton, past our waiting supporters, to the finish line in a respectable 4:41. This would give us the whole afternoon to rest, eat and recover, and I certainly needed to recover. My legs were quite knackered from all the walking, and the afternoon massage was one of complete pain. I had knots and aches everywhere, and I think Jayne quite enjoyed working them out. It was reassuring to know that as sore as I was, Cillier was going to be in more pain, and be far more expressive about it.

Our spot along the finishing straight.

Just our luck - I thought we had escaped the noisy Brazilians once we left Villiersdorp, but it soon turned out they had followed us, and once again, were camped out in the row behind us. The only blessing was that they were starting to feel the exertions of the Epic, and so there loudness and chatiness was being affected. I think Brazilians are uncomfortable with silence, and will use any opportunity to fill it, at the top of their voices. Good thing I had ear plugs and a sleeping tablet!

In my compression pants, still aching after the massage

Highlights of the day: An almost top 50 in our category
Lowlights of the day: Mountain goats who can't go downhill fast!

Adrian and his Specialized lackies fixing and cleaning expensive bikes

GC 83 Cat 56 4:41.10,2
Total Time

Thursday 16 April 2009

Posted by Velouria Posted on 11:43 | No comments

Epic 2009 - Stage 2

Date: 23 March 2009
Start/Finish: Villiersdorp
Distance: 110km
Climbing: 1527m
Cut-off time: 17:00

As day 2 of the Cape Epic dawned on us, things felt a little strange. Today was a circular route around Villiersdorp, and our first introduction into what some people were calling the "Great Circle Route". On the one hand it was nice not having to pack all my worldly Epic possessions into the big black bag. On the other hand, we were going to race for 6 hours and end up back where we started. Where is the sense of achievement in that? I was quite happy to rather jog around the school athletics track and head back to my tent for another hour or two of sleep.

The flat lands, surrounded by hills - perfect for an Epic stage

The leaders flying through the Hot Spot

After the slight wobble of the previous stage, we were going to take it "easy" today. As easy as one can when facing 110kms with 1572m of climbing. To add to our issues - Craig didn't have his heart rate monitor strap with him, so determining "easy" wasn't going to be that easy.

The "bedrooms" in Villiersdorp

As usual, the backup crew of Yolanda and Bonte arrived at our tents just before the start. It is always encouraging seeing some friendly faces. To get the heart rate monitor strap to Craig, they were going to have to break some speed records in order to get back to meet us at the second checkpoint at 52kms, which happened to be at the oldest unrestored farmhouse in South Africa, Brandvlei Cellar.

The "bathroom"

We had managed to hang on to our C seeding, clearly we were not the only riders who suffered yesterday. We thought this would also help us out with our "easy" day. At 7am the gun went off, and we found ourselves heading out of town on the tar road. As usual, the pace was high with people jostling for position. I had my first scare of the race and afterwards realised just how lucky I was. I was following Craig on the left edge of the road when the road narrowed. Being on mountain bikes, this was no problem to Craig, and he just continued straight ahead onto the gravel. Seemed like a good plan, and I followed. Little did I know that on my left hand side, slightly behind me was a mountain bike who did really like Craig's plan, and so tried to squeeze into the bunch to avoid the gravel by steering right. Into me. Our handle bars locked and we both came crashing down. We were probably doing about 30km/h at the time. Fortunately, I mostly fell on him and his bike, and didn't end up loosing too much skin. I did take quite a knock to my knee, elbow and shoulder though. The other rider jumped up without saying a word, got on his bike and rode away. I taught him a couple of choice Afrikaans swear words that I won't repeat here. Needless to say, he went straight to the top of my list of people to beat!

The Epic teaches the art of queuing

I was a little worried about the knock to my knee, especially after all drama it had been through in the last 8 months. Thankfully, the riding was tough enough to keep my mind occupied. Almost as soon as we turned off the tar onto the dirt riders started falling - we were riding across some badly eroded ground, and riders were losing their front wheels in ditches and holes. Several riders broke collar bones and wrists there. Thankfully, there were enough bodies lying on the ground to act as warning beacons when we came through that we escaped unscathed.

Francois, and every one's favorite German - Mike Mike

I made a discovery that would become a habit throughout the rest of the Epic. Breakfast is usually a dull affair consisting of trying to cram as much food into your body as you can stomach, and then having a little more. No one really eats breakfast because they are hungry (except possibly Craig). You eat breakfast so that in 6 hours time you won't hit the wall and bonk completely. After a large bowl of oats, two pieces of toast with scrambled eggs, tomato and cheese, and some fruit juice I was stuffed. But Craig was still tucking into his second serving of eggs on toast. I was worried. What if I ran out of energy? There was no way Craig would with all that food in his stomach. So I took a banana for the ride. After about an hour of moderate suffering I thought it was time to try the banana. While I didn't feel an immediate effect, it was enough to take my mind off the riding, and get rid of the taste of energy drink in my mouth. The fact that I had good legs all day - not sure if the banana was responsible, but I wasn't going to fiddle with something that worked. So, for the rest of the Epic I would have a banana after about an hour of riding - sometimes sooner if I was struggling.

Hanging onto the back of the bunch - my second home

Etienne and Cillie had started with us in C, but very quickly rode away from us on the hills. What a surprise to look back over our shoulders after the first water point to see them pedaling like crazy to try to rejoin the nice little bunch we were in. As they said - they like to get value out of their stops - they paid good money to enjoy the free coke and energade.

The section between water point one and two was flat and fast, and dusty. I think I put on a kilo from all the dust I ate that morning. I struggled with the pace, and suffered quite a bit - definitely one of the tougher sections of the stage for me. The only plus was that the kilometers were flying by. Before long we reached the MTN Hot Spot and spectator point where our supporters and fans had been eagerly waiting for us. So eager in fact that they had been wine tasting. At nine in the morning. This was also the spot where Bonte was going to give Craig his heart rate monitor strap. Like someone doing an illicit drug deal, she sneakily stuck out a hand and passed the strap. A misspent youth in Roosevelt Park, observing the locals in Sea Point, some tips from Hawstone - who knows? But certainly effective - no one saw a thing.

Strap exchange done - off to the next water point

It wasn't long before we made the next water point, and even though Craig had to pretty much get undressed to put the heart rate monitor strap on, and I needed a toilet break, we once again left the water point ahead of the faffers. The daily highlight of the 2nd water point each day was the lube guy. He would apply a generous spray of lube to our chains, and somehow, after that, the bike would feel like new. Any niggles and problems, either bike or rider related, seemed to vanish.

As tough as the climbs were today, there was an even tougher obstacle in store for us. Sand. It is like riding through treacle - sucking your bike deeper and deeper, and sapping your legs of energy. Getting off and pushing isn't much easier. That's if you can't ride through it. The cycling gods had decided to be kind to me after my poor showing of sand riding at the Argus MTB ride, and somehow my sand skills were in tip top shape. I actually enjoyed the sandy sections - mini challenges every couple of hundred meters. Whether it was me, the tyres, the bike setup I don't know. But together it worked perfectly.

Once the sand had drained the riders both physically and mentally, the hills started. Most of it was ridable, but every know and then there would be a bit a little too steep, or a little too rocky, and the only option was to hop off and push. It was on the top of these sections where the photographers lurked:

This was posted here - famous at last!
"A rider checks that all of his ducklings are following close behind."

The tricky descent made all the climbing worth it, and compared to yesterday, Craig enjoyed this downhill. The only downside was the traffic we bumped into along the way. I am no downhill expert, but even I was going faster than some of these roadies. Talking of which, I hadn't seen my friend from this morning, and all signs were indicating that we were ahead. Good!

Done - wasn't too bad

Glad it's over though

To show that the pros are human too, we passed one of the riders from the Bulls second team walking, smashed front wheel in hand. The obsession with light weight components perhaps not well suited to the tough terrain in the Villiersdorp valley. That pro still finished ahead of us - his partner had gone in search of a wheel, ridden back to him, and then they both came flying past us as if we were stationary. Perhaps they aren't human afterall.

M-u-s-t h-a-v-e c-o-k-e !!

The route now joined the district road before the last climb of the day. This was all old hat to us as we had finished the stage from Malmesbury to Villiersdorp in 2007 along this same route. In true Epic style, we were going to climb up to a cell phone tower that overlooked Villiersdorp. Through a cow patch. Craig was being a policeman again today, as I set the pace along the wide dirt roads towards the climb. The faffers were ahead of us and putting distance into us all the time. Thankfully, there was one more water point, and we were sure we could erase the time deficit there. Another highlight of each stage was trying to spot Frank at the water points. Today he was at water point 3.

The red team (team faffers) got one back on us today

We got to the bottom of the last climb together with Etienne and Cillie, but they were not going to wait around and flew off up the hill. We set a good tempo, and climbed well. By now the sun was baking down on us, and there wasn't a breath of wind to cool us down. We got to the top a couple of minutes behind the competition, but made up some time on the descent until we caught up with a mixed team. With the faffers in sight, riding like men possessed, we could do nothing but wait for the mixed team, eventually finishing a minute or so behind them. 2-1 to them.

Mother and son - I think is smelt a bit - notice the gap ;)

Again, our superb backup crew were on hand to cheer us in, give us our recovery drinks, and listen to the stories. Our bikes again had performed flawlessly, and Francois was on hand to whisk them away for a wash and lube.

Speek from Maverick clowning around and supporting

Bonte reflecting, waiting for her cousin Derek.

The rest of the afternoon was spent eating (same principle as breakfast - eat as much as you can, and then some more), drinking (rehydrate for the next day), relaxing and having Jayne attend to the aches and pains from the days racing.

We turned the pavement into a massage, dining and relaxation area

My turn for Jayne to fix the aches and pains (with Craig napping in the background)

Highlights of the day: The awesome downhill, Bonte's sneaky strap handover, SAND
Lowlights of the day: The crash, my sore knee, losing out to the faffers

Nope - not dead. Just having a nap.

Feet up, compression pants on, a newspaper to read. Perfect

GC 126 Cat 88 5:39.21,7
Total Time

Derek and Cliff made it - 2 down.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Posted by Velouria Posted on 02:10 | No comments

Epic 2009 - Stage 1

Date: 22 March 2009
Start/Finish: Gordon’s Bay to Villiersdorp
Distance: 112km
Climbing: 2729m
Cut-off time: 17:00


The big change of this year's Epic was the break from the traditional start in Knysna, as well as spending two nights at each town along the way. Up until now, the Epic didn't really feel like the Epic. We were still in my back yard, I was sleeping at home at night. It was only as we made the 15 minute journey from Somerset West to Gordon's Bay that it started to all sink in. We had 7 days of tough mountain biking ahead of us, and the finish line in Lourensford seemed a lifetime away.

Orbrey turned out in support too, and had a very busy time peeing on 1200 bikes
Stage one had been billed as a tough one, and a look at the profile confirmed it. The long, flat dirt roads of previous years were a thing of the past. We were either going up, or down, for 112kms.

Our steeds - ready to go.
After last year's implosion on day one, Craig and I had discussed a strategy that we thought would work. Take it easy and ride at tempo till the 3rd water point, and then evaluate how things were going. If we felt strong we could push the pace, if not, we could continue looking after ourselves. We really didn't want ruin another Epic on the first day. With this approach in mind, our somewhat disappointing Prologue time was a blessing - we were seeded in C, far away from the racing snakes in A and B, and so wouldn't be tempted into anything silly so early on.

Jayne and Bonte
With my nerves on edge - 4 months of training about to be put to the test - we lined up in our start chute. As the music started, we both slipped into "Epic mode" - ready to tackle the challenge that lay before us. The advantage of starting in Gordon's Bay was that it felt like a local funride - I recognised many familiar faces who had braved the early morning chill to come out and support this fantastic event. A big thank you to everyone.

At 7am sharp we were off - our Epic adventure number 3 under way. From the beginning, the tone for the next 7 days was set as we started climbing almost immediately. And just like previous years, some teams got caught up in the first hour madness. Although the temptation was there to match them, our knowledge and experience prevailed as we settled into a comfortable tempo on the tar climb up to Steenbras Dam. A sharp left turn at the top, and we waved goodbye to the tar as the mountain biking began.

We adopted our familiar riding formation - Craig on the front, with me right behind him and made good progress as the sun rose over the mountains, sunlight streaming straight into our eyes. Already we were taking note of the teams around us - people we knew, people we wanted to beat, riders we wanted to avoid. Craig had secured last minute sponsorship from MMA Consolidators - a transport company, and with that in mind, my first marked team was a pair of riders in DHL kit who came from Somerset West. We had to do our sponsor proud and beat them. The next team that got added to my list was a pair of foreigners who displayed some very bad etiquette and jumped the queue as we waited to portage a short unridable section.

We passed Etienne and Cillie as they attended to a mechanical, but any hope staying away from them was short lived as 5 minutes later they caught us from behind. With the Steenbras Dam behind us, and the burnt moonscape of the Grabouw forests with steep climbs ahead of us, we settled into a good pace, accompanied by several other teams. All along the route the spectators turned out in force, and it was quite reassuring to see our seconders as we crossed the N2. At this point I was still quite capable of smiling!

Water point 2 and still looking good.
As the day progressed, we climbed the forest roads up Nuweberg, enjoyed the fast downhill on the other side and before long had arrived at the second water point of the day. It was here that we made a rather interesting discovery - Etienne and Cillie's Achilles heel: they faff at water points. They had ridden away from us up the slopes of Nuweberg, yet we were quite surprised to catch them at the water point. Our seconders, doubling as spies, filled us in later that a water stop for Team Lefty and Fox is a occurrence that must be observed to be believed: helmets off, bikes down, fill the bottles, have a chat, drink some juice, wash faces, get some snacks, chat some more, have another drink, stretch, have a bit of a moan, do some mechanical repairs and so on. The whole process can take up to 10 minutes. Ten minutes that we would use to catch and pass them on a regular basis.

Off to tackle Groenlandberg

As we left the water point, with the faffers behind us, we once again started climbing - up the infamous Groenlandberg - a 5km climb at 8%, in hot, airless conditions with temperatures up to 43C. Almost right away Craig started struggling, but he was not alone. The mood of all the riders around us changed - the carnival atmosphere of a couple hours earlier was gone, the reality of the Epic sinking in. I was having stomach issues and didn't feel like eating or drinking, but in these conditions that is tantamount to suicide. Forcing a Mule bar down, and a GU or two with lots of fluid didn't help my belly, but I think it saved my legs later in the day.

Bonte taking pity on the dog in the heat!

The joy of mountain biking is that for every uphill there is a downhill, and I was really looking forward to the downhill once we reached the summit of Groenlandberg. We were in for a bit of a shock as they took us down a rutted, eroded track that required total concentration - one slip and the Epic could be over. At the bottom I asked Craig if he enjoyed the downhill, and to my surprise he said no - things clearly weren't all going to plan. With water point 3 in the distance, and my legs still feeling quite good, we slowly made our way forward. Just when I thought we were having it tough, I looked back to see Etienne and Cillie, and through the heat haze I could just make them out - walking. I had to double check, and they had indeed dismounted. It was reassuring to know that others around us were suffering too.

Starting to hurt a little - water point 3
The support crew were all gathered around the water point as we took our time restocking for the last 30kms. With shouts of encouragement and plenty of photos we set off - the final push to the line in Villiersdorp. In true Epic fashion, there was quite a nasty sting in the tail of today's stage, and we didn't want to be caught without fluid. By now my legs were starting to hurt, and I could feel a cramp coming on in my right quadricep. The best solution is to ride through it, although it hurts like hell. Craig wasn't doing much better - also suffering from cramps, and feeling the heat. As we messed around in the foothills around Villiersdorp, many riders started to suffer from sense of humour failure. The thick sand, the steep orchard roads, the heat were all conspiring to make this a rather tough finish.

The finish - cold coke and water.
With 5kms to go, the tented village almost in sight, I lost Craig. Upon looking back, I saw him playing in a sprinkler - chasing the thing round and round in a bid to cool his legs and feet off. If only I had a camera. By now our spirit was broken, and we really didn't care about position. I think deep down we were both quite worried that this year was going to be a repeat of last year, and so far, all the indications were there that this was the case. This was by far one of the toughest stages I had ridden, and I really felt sorry for the back markers - it was going to be a long hot day in the saddle for them. Just making the cutoff would be reason enough to celebrate.

Another tough opening stage in the Epic
We finally crossed the line, and like a Formula 1 pit crew, our seconders got to work. Bikes were whisked away, recovery drinks were dished out, post stage photos were taken, and we were gently herded to our tents for a shower. Once clean, and feeling half human again, the real seconding began - we were expertly fed, professionally massaged, egos were pampered and sympathetic ears were lent to listen to the many war stories.

Jayne the phsyio, and expert tyre replacer

To make us feel better, the organisers convinced Christoph Sauser to stand up at dinner and tell us that today's stage was the toughest he had ever done. Very sweet. Didn't really help the people who missed the cutoff and had their Epic come to an end before it really even got started. But it is good to know that the pros hurt too.

Highlights of the day
: Riding the Epic, the Sprinkler incident, our friendly backup crew
Lowlights of the day: Stomach issues, cramping, a 2008 repeat?

GC 120 Cat 83 7:08.54,6
Total Time

One of the Epic songs played each night:

Herbert Gronemeyer - Celebrate The Day
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Stage 1 highlights:

The route: