Wednesday 21 April 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 20:12 | No comments

Cape Epic - Stage Three

Date: 23 March 2010
Start/Finish: Ceres
Distance: 115km
Climbing: 2280m

Stage Three was supposed to be Dr Evil's masterpiece, his pièce de résistance, the tour de force of his ability in devising torturous cycling routes for mountain bikers. From the day the route was announced the only thing on many people's minds was the obstacle that Dr Evil had found for us - affectionately known as Mt Evilrest. Survive the stage today, and the rest of the Epic would be a stroll.

Dr Evil's magnum opus
Thankfully, some enterprising mountain bikers had pulled a fast one on Dr Evil and had somehow convinced the land owners to demand payment for access to Mt Evilrest. Never before in the history of cycling have so many owed so much to so few. Whoever you are - we salute you. Without Mt Evilrest, the route looked a lot more manageable, but still by no means did it look easy.

The revised route
The Target and I had once again had a team strategy meeting - we had flip charts, presentations and performance evaluations before we settled on a new strategy - go very slowly and survive the stage. It wasn't a strategy that differed much from the previous day's, but we had tweaked it here and there. Once again we set off through the not so glamorous neighbourhoods of Ceres, but this time I was on the back as the Target set the pace. We made good progress, and when we hit some tar I could see the Target cheer up quite considerably. It wasn't long before we took a left turn and started the first climb of the day.

The Target's date with destiny awaits
Our nemesis - The Girl in Pink - was sighted briefly as we slowly climbed the dirt roads outside Ceres, but before long had once again left us for dead. I was beginning to think that I needed to find a new nemesis - someone that we might stand a chance against, but none of the riders around us were nemesis material. There was a guy on a 29er, just like Craig's, but he was too friendly to be a nemesis. There were some foreigners, and they just wanted to know more about South Africa - certainly not nemesis material. Yolanda had pointed out some guys she knew with horns on their helmets, but we had yet to see them on the route. They would be suitable, if we could just up our game.

On the front and ignoring the Plan!
Back where I belong.
After what seemed like an age of climbing we finally made the first water point. The Target was struggling, so I  gave him an extra minute or two to scoff down the Woolworths rice cakes. We were near the back of the field, so not that many people would upset if he finished them off. My dad had made the trip out to the water point, and was one of a handful of spectators cheering us on. We had done 30kms, and had another 90kms to go. At our current pace we would be in for a 9 hour day!

Next month's dinner at the supporters accommodation
We continued to climb - nothing particularly steep, except for the odd technical climb strewn with loose rocks, ruts, and struggling cyclists pushing their bikes. I found these climbs quite enjoyable, the challenge of picking a line,  staying upright and avoiding obstacles (rocks, ruts and cyclists) made for some good riding. It also gave me an chance to show off my skills and boost my ego as I showed off my impressive skills to the walking cyclists. At least that's what I thought. As I stood at the top of a particular climb waiting for the Target, ego puffed, Craig came along with his DayTripper board and rode the whole climb as well. Suddenly I was just another rider who could ride up hill like a DayTripper. Damn him!

The Target wasn't far behind - I could hear his throat clearing noises getting louder and louder as he walked up the hill, his hill climbing reserves completely depleted. A quick Gu at the top and we were off - I was keen to follow Craig down the rather technical descent. On the way down we passed Mr Stander, and while in previous years I have passed people like Christoph Sauser, David George, Max Knox and Brendan Stewart (they all had mechanicals), this wasn't the famous Mr Stander - it was his dad. I think the technical bike handling gene skips a generation.

Even the supporters were getting hot, waiting in the sun
It wasn't long after the bottom of the climb that Mr Stander once again passed us, and so I found my new nemesis. I don't think we saw him again that day, but in the coming days would see quite a bit of him. With the  major climbs for the day behind us, we meandered around on the Swaarmoed plateau. Interestingly, the Target seemed to be suffering from a "Swaarmoed" (heavy heart), as well as heavy legs - he was really suffering, so much so that he wasn't even making his throat clearing sounds. It was around this time that the crazy talk started. He wanted to quit. Not even seeing the turn off to the Mt Evilrest that we were supposed to do, and then not taking it, cheered him up. Throw in some sandy patches and the Target was in a very dark place. One particular sandy patch got the better of him - he had approached it at speed and as his front wheel hit the sand his bike came to a complete stop, but the Target kept on going - a perfect Super Man impression. Thankfully he was in one piece, but his hatred of sand was growing.

After wanting to quit several times (I think I counted six times in total), and lots of pushing and encouragement, we made the water point at the halfway mark. We had been going for 4h30, and I was suddenly quite worried about the cut off. Any mechanical issues and we would be cutting it fine. We only had 10 hours to finish the stage. Being told by the announcer that the leaders had already finished didn't do much good either. After depleting another water point's Woolworths rice cakes, getting some chain lube from Speek (my local bike shop's mechanic) and saying hi to my dad we set off for the second half of the stage.

Ambulance == Danger!
We were immediately rewarded with 10kms of  fantastic downhill, although extreme caution was required - it was fast, loose and had a couple sharp corners. Several riders around us came short, and we later heard that Craig did too. Once back on the valley floor we hooked in behind Schalk Burger Snr ( a former Springbok rugby player) - a mountain of a man with the strength of 100 oxen, and a very quick temper. Another team had also hooked on behind Oom Schalk, and we let him do all the work for about 5kms. The other team then tried to pass him as we entered some farm land -  I thought we were about to witness some cyclist on cyclist aggression. Oom Schalk let the two riders know that he didn't appreciate their tactics, and judging by the way his arms were flying about was busy giving them a demonstration of what he would do to them if they didn't retreat to a safe distance behind him (my spidey sense had been tingling, and I had made sure that we were already a safe distance behind Oom Schalk, along with his partner).

What a fabulous downhill!
The temperature by this time had risen to around 43C, and there wasn't a breath of wind. The Target was taking strain in the African sun, having left the cold climate of his flat (and sandless) island not that long ago. We had a bit of a climb ahead of us - only 200m of climbing - but given the climbing we had already done, and the temperature - it felt like 2000m of climbing. It was at this point that the Target declared once again that he wanted to quit, and that he wasn't having fun. I told him to look around - to look at the faces of the other riders and see how much fun they were having. Each and every rider wore a grimace on their face, teeth clenched, sweat pouring off them. No one was having fun. And yet this was why each and every one of us were here - to suffer, to push through it, and make it to the finish. I had wanted to remind him of our team name the previous year, but diplomacy was needed.

A kind farmer had erected a shower of sorts - cold water flowing from a hose pipe - and the Target made a bee line for it. I don't like getting wet, and so had ridden around it and was waiting under a tree. While I waited I dished out some Mule bars to the locals, did some stretches, and have a conversation with a rider who had complained to me that the Target wasn't letting other riders use the shower, and that he reckoned the Target might be there all day. After what seemed like an age we were off again, and we had finally turned in the direction of home. That is usually enough to trigger white line fever in me. Throw in some tar and flat farm roads and all I want to do is get to the finish.

White line fever!
With the Target tucked in behind me, we made great progress - catching and passing several teams. Suddenly the day didn't seem so bad at all. And then the Target got hit with an apple. Some kids had been sitting on a dam wall. I had waved at them, and they had waved back. I was puzzled by some apple pieces on the road, as I was about to say something, the Target got hit by an apple on his right shoulder. If he had had his way, he would have stopped right there and possibly killed the apple thrower. Today was not the day to mess with him. I managed to get the Target to keep on cycling, but about 500m on we hit some sand. Not a patch here and a patch there, but about 2kms of continuous soft sand. Being so close to home I had hoped the Target would have gritted his teeth and pushed on through, but the Apple Incident had taken it out of him - he wasn't even going to attempt to ride the sand, and told me as much, using several words that aren't suitable for this blog.

Another one down.

he Target - alive, but only just
We eventually cleared the sandy section, but the damage was done. We limped home to an enthusiastic welcome from our supporters - completely knackered both physically and mentally, but in once piece. That night the Target got a special massage on his apple bruise, and I got a special massage on my arm that was cramping from all the pushing. Team Burger Kings were battered and bruised, lying way down the overall placings, but we were still in the Epic. The next stage was a transitional stage, and hopefully we would start to improve.

197. Cat
291. GC

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 13:55 | No comments

Cape Epic - Stage Two

Date: 22 March 2010
Start/Finish: Ceres
Distance: 90km
Climbing: 1625m

Just like Stage One - Stage Two promised to be a bit of a killer. We were going to be riding the holy grail of mountain biking - single track, and lots of it. However, like life in general, Dr Evil believes you have to earn the rewards, and so before we got to enjoy the fast technical single track, we would be made to suffer for several hours as we climbed relentlessly up.

Day Two underway 
The Apprentice and I had agreed on a new strategy - we were going to ride conservatively at first, and then see what happened. We believed that the melt down from the previous day was a once off thing (we are definitely a glass half full kind of team!). The first hour of racing (from now on I shall use riding - we weren't really racing) passed us by in a cloud of dust and patch after patch of loose sand as we headed off in the direction of the mountains. So far, so good - the Apprentice was quite perky, the pace was good, my morning banana went down well. And then we hit the single track.

Look at that view
This wasn't the beautifully flowing, mountain biking utopia kind of single track. This was the tax we had to pay - technical uphill single track. Nothing kills the legs (possibly with the exception of sand) quite like uphill single track. And to make it worse, it felt like we were riding around in circles - we could see where we had to go, yet we were going in the opposite direction, which doesn't do much for the morale. The Apprentice and I had agreed that we would ride/walk our own pace up the hills. This gave me a bit of time to stop and appreciate the view which was quite spectacular, to chat with the other riders, and very importantly, to rest.

Up, up, up
Before long, we had made it to the top of the first loop of single track, and some fast technical single track awaited to take us to the first water point. We did have a problem though - the Apprentice doesn't have any mountain biking skills, and was going to have to learn quite quickly if he wanted to get to the bottom of the mountain in one piece. And learn he did. Before long, we were catching and passing real mountain bikers, and I think I even caught the Apprentice smiling. He is a quick learner.

We grabbed some drinks and snacks at the water point - the Apprentice discovered the Woolworths Rice Cakes. I had to use all my powers of persuasion to get him back on the bike - he was attempting to eat ALL the rice cakes he could lay his hands on. We eventually got going again on the second loop of the day that would take us up and over a mountain, and then back around it, returning to the very water point where the Apprentice was currently feeding. Talk about motivation. The next couple of hours were filled with lots of pain and suffering as we slowly inched our way up the mountain through a combination of riding and walking. The Apprentice really doesn't like going up hill at all. I have submitted a proposal to the Jersey Government that they investigate the idea of importing a hill or two to better prepare their athletes when competing against the rest of the non-flat world. I am awaiting their reply.

DayTripper Edwards with Support Crew Betts
The great thing about the Epic is that no matter how tough you are finding it, you don't have to look very far to find someone who is suffering a little bit more. I think the Apprentice was that someone today. With the temperatures rising, so did the intra-team tension, and I witnessed several riders suffering from sense of humor failure. One rider was particularly annoyed when his partner who had been waiting at the top of a hill for several minutes whipped out a camera and proceeded make a video of him while asking such questions as "Are you having fun yet?", and "What took you so long?". Since this is a family blog, I cannot write his reply, except to say that it contained several four letter words, and a suggestion about someone's mother.

We got a pleasant surprise when my partner from the last two years, Craig, disguised as a DayTripper, caught us as we finally started to go downhill. We put his fresh legs to good use as he gave the Apprentice a good push as we approached the beginning of our reward - the single track. It was like old times - Craig was on the front, and I was right on his wheel as we flew down the technical single track, the Apprentice not too far behind as he grew in confidence. We caught and passed so many riders - this clearly wasn't going to be an Epic for people that couldn't mountain bike, and where we were in the field, there were lots of people like that.

DayTripper Edwards had fun
After an exhilarating descent, we found ourselves back at the water point we had last seen 3 hours ago. My Dad was waiting in the baking heat, cheering us on. I think the Apprentice thought he was cheering on his rice cake eating world record attempt. Woolworths will make a loss this year, stay away from their shares. Freshly fed and watered, the three of us headed off for what we thought would be a quick 30kms back into town. How wrong we were. Dr Evil had us messing around as we rode in circles up, down and around any little piece of single track that he could find. I had given a quick estimate to my father that we would be back in town in about 90 minutes, yet after 90 minutes we were back at the same water point, with 15kms to go!

The twist turny sandy bit near the finish
The Apprentice was starting to fade, the Dr Evil inspired pointless single track detour sapping his concentration and will to live, so much so that he successfully managed to ride over himself. Perhaps the Apprentice was becoming the Master, as this requires considerable skill. I am still not sure how he did it, but he got the tyre marks all over his kit to prove it.

Sixteen kilometers and an hour and a half later we were back at the same water point for the third time. By now, the Apprentice had had enough. I was suffering quite badly from White Line Fever, and so for the next 15kms tried to push and pull the Apprentice as much as I could. My plans were foiled once again by Dr Evil and his insane love of inflicting both physical and mental anguish on cyclists when we encountered patch after patch of soft sand. Nothing destroys morale quite like sand. We limped on, slowly inching toward the finish line, through one of the less glamorous neighbourhoods of Ceres - in fact, I think it was the rubbish dump of one of the less glamorous neighbourhoods. Not a great impression to leave after what had been quite a scenic day's riding.

The Apprentice, with me close behind
We had the same approach to the finish line as the previous day, and I had quietly warned the Apprentice that we would be riding it all - no walking was allowed, and to his credit, we rode it all the way, finally crossing the finish line.

As tough as the stage was, the massage was tougher, and by now a crowd would gather to watch the Apprentice squirm and writhe in pain as his aching muscles where prodded and poked. Quite a good laugh actually.

STG 2252. Cat
375. GC

Overall: 15:36.15,1

Thursday 8 April 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 19:45 | No comments

Cape Epic - Stage One

Date: 21 March 2010
Start/Finish: Diemersfontein to Ceres
Distance: 117km
Climbing: 2190m

For the second year running, the Epic started in my backyard (I have a very big back yard, and Wellington is right on the edge, near the fence). Our first destination - Ceres. As far as first stages go, this one was going to be a toughie. Not because there were any serious climbs, but just the length, the heat and the terrain.

The Roadie and I
The Roadie and I got to the start line with plenty of time to spare, and found ourselves two thirds of the way down in the start chute. We weren't worried, we were going to take it easy and have a good time. It was here that we met our first nemesis - the Girl in Pink (and her partner, the Guy in Pink). Normally, I wouldn't bat an eyelid - these riders usually don't make good nemesis material, but with the Roadie fresh from a bender and on a mountain bike every rider was a threat.

The massive start chute
At 9am the 2010 Cape Epic got underway, and about 5 minutes later so did we. We had discussed our strategy several times, and the it was a simple one. I would follow the Roadie, and he in turn would ride conservatively. In that first hour I got quite worried about my levels of fitness - I was having to work hard (again - why to all my partners insist on riding like the clappers in the first hour). Thankfully, I was able to make up ground and rest a little on the downhills - the Roadie is absolutely useless when it comes to technical descents. On one such descent, with only one ridable line I heard this racket behind me and naturally assumed it was some hardcore downhiller having some fun riding off line through all the rocks and ruts. Imagine my surprise when the Roadie came screaming past me in what can only be called a crash in slow motion. There was no way he had any say in where the bike was going. He was a passenger riding over every obstacle in his way. Crude, but quite an effective way to get down a hill. I was to see this technique repeated over and over gone throughout the course of the Epic.

After messing around in the vineyards of Wellington, we finally made the climb up to Bain's Kloof Pass and the Roadies hallowed turf - tar. A quick stop at the water point for some snacks and juice and we were off. Once again I was having to bust a lung to keep up. We made good progress on the tar, and passed several groups of riders on the descent. What a great pass to ride. I have been threatening for years and years to ride Bain's Kloof Pass on my bike, and having total road closure made it even better.

At the bottom of the pass we made a sharp left onto a gravel farm road, heading away from Ceres. It was on this stretch that the Roadie encountered his kryptonite - sand. We had also been going for roughly 3 hours which seemed to be the Roadie's limit. The wheels began to fall off, and we had to drop out of the group we were riding with. We settled into a new tempo, and eventually, after several more sandy sections, made it to the next water point. My Dad and Yolanda were there cheering us on. The support, snacks and juice gave the Roadie a bit of a lift, but 500m later the wheels fell off completely.

First water point
It seemed that the flat island dwelling Roadie had another weakness - hills. We limped up the climb, feeling the full intensity of the Cape sun baking down on us. Slowly but surely, for the first time that day, riders started to pass us. A trickle at first, but by the time we got to the top of the climb it was a steady flow. The Roadie's legs were quivering as the cramps set in, and every rise became a major obstacle. The cricket players passed us, followed by the rugby players, and then the pretty boy, and finally, the coach.

The Roadie struggled on, pedal stroke by pedal stroke, gritting his teeth and groaning under his breath (much like Julian's moan). Just as it looked like he was coming right, Dr Evil played his trump card, and chucked in 7kms of railway line. The first kilometer went ok, and we caught a couple of the riders that had passed us. We hooked onto the back of a "train" of riders for a few minutes before the Roadie popped. I think it was the sight of the Girl in Pink on the front driving the train and riding away from the guys that did it for the Roadie. The remainder of the 6kms were spent either walking or riding slowly. Nothing I said would get the Roadie motivated to ride, and I had visions of us missing the cut off. Until the Roadie spotted a photographer. He was on his bike in a flash, game face on, and rode the 50m past the photographer like a Paris-Roubaix champ! If only I could have organised photographers all along the railway line at 50m intervals...

Not sure who is happier
We finally emerged from the railway track, bodies battered, legs aching, moral destroyed. I helped the Roadie over the last small hill of the day (on tar), down the other side and to the finish. Just to make sure the Roadie was completely destroyed, Dr Evil had thrown in some more sand in the lead up to the finish line. I was worried that we might end up walking over the finish line. But we didn't. We had survived, only just.

Still looks better than the tent accommodation
If the Roadie thought the pain and suffering was over for the day, he was in for a special surprise - Stage 1 had been the warm up. The real torture awaited in the form of the massage. Funny for his partner and other spectators, excruciatingly painful for him.

STG 1 227. Cat
           341. GC