Friday 24 July 2009

Posted by Velouria Posted on 10:34 | No comments

Epic 2009 - Stage 7

Date: 28 March 2009
Start/Finish: Oak Valley to Lourensford
Distance: 60km
Climbing: 1760m
Cut-off time: 15:30 (Start at 08:30)

The last stage of the 2009 Cape Epic couldn't have come at a better time. After the tough stage the previous day, I was beginning to think that I was on the downward curve of my fitness. And the memories from last year's final stage were also running around in the back of my head. I remember not having the best of legs, and struggling quite a bit on the steep climbs. In addition, I also punctured, which completely took the wind out of my sails, and my gears finally gave up about 10 kms from the end. I really didn't want to go through all that again.

Me with number one supporter

Pre race nerves

Third place ladies - Sarah and Nolene

I had eaten well the previous night, and again at breakfast, but had given up trying to match Craig. He is in a class of his own when it comes to eating. We enjoyed the last couple of meals at the Epic and soaked up the atmosphere. The vibe around tent city was quite festive, with the finish line just around the corner (and over several mountains). Most people could finally relax a bit, knowing that they had almost survived an Epic, with just one day remaining.

Sarah - eager to start the stage

DCM Chrome nervously looking around for us

The previous evening in the eating tent Christoph Sauser had taken to the stage to promote the charity that he and Burry Stander are riding for. He also offered his opinion on their time penalty they received, making the comment that sometimes he wished politics would stay out of cycling, and that the legs would just do the talking. The eat tent erupted in applause for about 10 minutes. It was plain to see who the "ordinary" cyclists supported.

Burry Stander

My trusty steed - Svalbard

The final day of the 2009 Epic arrived, and again this year we were given the opportunity to sleep in as the start was delayed to 8:30 to give the people at the finish in Lourensford enough time to get organised. It didn't really help though - by now the routine of getting up at 5am was firmly entrenched, and most people went about their usual pre-race business. My father had flown down to see the last stage, and to try and get some sort of idea why it is we put ourselves through events like the Epic. This would be the first time he has seen me race in person. To non-cycling people (and probably cycling people as well), I think events like the Epic really are quite spectacular to see - the organisation, the cyclists, the determination, the stories.

Empty tent town

Yolanda and the empty tent town

As the start time approached, Craig and I lined up in B for the last time. We had decided to ride without hydration packs - after 7 days of lugging around several kilograms on my back I was only to glad to leave the thing behind, and instead rely on bottles for juice, and pockets for spares. Although everyone was excited to be heading off to Lourensford, there was still an air of nervousness as we lined up for the final time - one silly mistake and it could all be over. I think most riders were opting for discretion, rather than ending their Epic within sight of Lourensford.

Right from the start we went up!

As this was the same route as the previous year, Craig and I knew exactly what to expect, and right from the start we went quite hard up the first hill. We knew we could get a nice head start, as the hill wasn't that steep, and many people would take a while to get going. I think Craig and I ride the best when there is a hill right at the start - it slows Craig down just a bit, and lets me use my climbing skills to keep up. Stage 1 and Stage 3 were clear evidence of this.

The photographers eagerly awaiting our arrival

For one of the few times at this year's Epic I set the pace as we climbed up the old VilliersDorp pass, heading towards the monster of the day (and one of the monsters from the first stage) - Nuweberg. We made good progress, passing riders as we slowly climbed the pass - it is a great climb - not too steep, and just goes on and on - exactly what Craig and I are good at.

The Crazy German - Mike Mike

We were riding around the usual suspects - Auric Auto, and several other teams we had spent most of the Epic battling for supremacy. Missing from this mix were the faffers, and Benedikt and his partner. As the road kicked upward on Nuweberg and the going got a little tougher, Benedikt made an appearance. I really wanted to get rid of him, but the steepness of the climb was taking its toll on my legs, as well as on Craig's. We got into a good rhythm and slowly ground our way up the hill - so far this year's final stage was going a lot better than the previous year's. I hadn't had to walk yet, and my legs were feeling pretty good.

DCM Chrome finished in second place

As we crested the top of the climb, Craig came through and vanished down the hill like a maniac. I tried to keep up, but the traffic on the downhill was making me nervous. Our favourite team of downhill-challenged riders were ahead of us (Team Cyclelab Supercycling Racing MTB A Men's Team or something like that) and I just couldn't get past them. I was also a little nervous as there was a lot of dust, and it was quite tough to pick a line, and I was not going to take any risks just to make up a minute or two. When I eventually got to the bottom, Craig was waiting for me, and pointed out that a girl had ridden the downhill faster than me. Thanks.

The winners, and the people's champions

With the monster climb of the day over, and about 35km to go, we slowly started the gradual climb towards the Gamtoe Pass. We took a little longer than planned at the water point, and as we left we were greeted with the familiar sight of the faffers. They had obviously flown down the hill, and made up all the time we put into them on the climb. And they looked good - well, at least Etienne looked good. He was riding like a man possessed, and poor Cillie was doing his best to hang on for dear life.

Bulls - overall winners

Auric Auto, the faffers and us were locked in a 3 way battle, each team trying to shake the other two, but also trying not to over do it. Craig rose to the challenge well, and I started to pay for my earlier efforts. I don't remember too much about the section up to the compulsory portage, except perhaps giving Cillie that knowing look as I dug deep and tried to stick on Craig's wheel.

Kevin Evans and David George

The compulsory portage down the pass gave me a chance to stock up on fluids and have a Gu - the run into the finish was not an easy one, and I didn't want to fade completely. As we were about to leave the portage section and hop onto the railway line, a train came through, forcing several cyclists to jump for their lives into bushes to avoid having a rather embarrassing accident. One or two riders tried to slip the train, but riding over the sleepers in the middle of the tracks is hard work, and they were unable to keep up. Nice idea though. When we finally got down onto the tracks Craig and I chose to ride in the middle - this was the third year we had ridden this route, and we reckoned that it was quicker to ride in the middle than try to find a line on the edge of the tracks. The tough thing about riding in the middle is that you can't really get a rhythm going as you are continually being bounced all over the place as you ride across the sleepers. Our plan did have two flaws - by riding in the middle we just motivated the riders on the edge to ride a little faster to keep up with us, and when it came to leaving the tracks we would have to get off our bikes and hop over the rails. All in all it was a zero win effort - we left the tracks in the same position as when we started. To add to our disappointment, Benedikt had been sneaky and made up some time somewhere, and now was just ahead of us.

Doug Brown and Bärti Bucher - Masters Winners

Another long downhill lay in front of us, and again Craig disappeared as I tried to keep up. Thankfully, there was some traffic which kept him within range. We were know chasing the faffers and Benedikt, and not making up too much ground. With Lourensford around the corner, and some short, sharp horrible climbs still to come before the neutral zone through Vergelegen we had to make our move. Craig pushed hard on one of the little climbs, and had me right on my limit. It was enough to shake off Benedikt. As the road flattened I realised that we had one last chance to catch the faffers before the neutral zone in order to stand a chance of beating them. It was my turn to push hard, Craig hooked on, and after passing several teams we entered Vergelegen behind the faffers. We still had to make up some ground, but at least we wouldn't be hampered by the no overtaking rule and could close right up on Etienne and Cillie, as they were now stuck behind a mixed team.

Etienne and Cillie

All three teams stayed together, obeying the rules, but I could see that Etienne still had plenty left and was starting to get edgy. I knew that once we left the neutral zone the final 5 kilometers of the 2009 Epic would be flat out. As predicted, the faffers made a move and got a gap on us as we had to try to sift our way through traffic. I was on the front, trying to close the gap with not much success when Craig came passed and tried to have a go. He was closing in on them - only problem was that he had left me behind - I just couldn't get on his wheel. We tried bravely for the next couple of kilometers, before easing off to enjoy the last few kilometers as we approached the finish straight.

Team Spot on Bevan

Eight days earlier, the finish line at Lourensford seemed so far away, and yet here we were. Things hadn't gone quite as expected (show me a race where they do), but I think we had tried our hardest and raced pretty well for a snail farmer and a computer geek. The true test of an Epic partnership is to still be friends with your partner afterwards, and we had achieved that twice.

Post stage analysis

Epic finishers for the third time

It was great to spot all the familiar faces in the crowd and to be cheered by friends and family as we crossed the finish line for the last time. At the same time it is a little sad - the Epic adventure was coming to an end, and on Monday morning it would be work as usual. For those 8 days we were mountain bikers, tackling one hill at a time, completely oblivious to the happenings in the rest of the world.

Benedikt and Joaquin

We spent the next couple of hours relaxing with friends and family, eating and chatting. It was great to know that there were people supporting us each pedal stroke of the way. Although we didn't achieve our goal of a top 50 finish, we gave it a good shot, and I don't think there were any sections of the 800kms that we could have ridden better.

Me, with number one supporter - Yolanda

Off to the showers

It did bring a smile to our faces to hear that the team we had beaten the day before - DCM Chrome, had finished second.

Highlights of the day: Cruising up the hills, racing the faffers, finishing the Epic
Lowlights of the day: Forgetting how tough the bit from the country club to the pass is

GC 83 Cat 63 3:34.33,0
Total Time

GC 93 Cat 64



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