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.


STG 3
197. Cat
291. GC
7:50.04,0
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