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:


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