Thursday 10 March 2011

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:41 | 1 comment

The Grape Escape - 2011

Every year during the month of March, the Cape becomes the unofficial capital of cycling in South Africa. With events like The Cape Argus Cycle Tour, The Giro del Capo, The Argus Mountain Bike Challenge, The Tour de Boland and The Cape Epic you'd be excused for thinking that everyone's needs were catered for. Meurant Botha of Dirtopia fame didn't agree, and saw an opportunity for a mountain bike stage race through the winelands of the Western Cape, geared towards the average weekend warrior who wanted to give stage racing a go, but didn't want the commitment or have the budget to attempt some of the other stage races on offer. And so the Grape Escape was born.

Meurant Botha, with Dr Evil aspirations, promised an "achievable route that would incorporate the best features that the diverse terrain options present". This is code for "it's going to be tough, and you are going to hurt, but you'll have fun and will soon forget the pain once you get your medal at the finish". Any final delusions that this was going to be a sedate bike ride through the farmlands outside Cape Town where dashed when word got out that the likes of Kevin Evans, David George, Burry Stander, Christoph Sauser, and Karl Platt would be lining up with the rest of us weekend warriors. After several rounds of creative brainstorming and voting, I dictatorially chose the team name Blind Melons for our latest adventure. To confuse the pro's we had a B team wearing the same kit as us - some mates doing their first ever stage race, calling themselves Team Tired Raisins (we quickly renamed them to the Wrinkly Raisins). One year ago, one member of The Wrinklies was doing his first MTB race - the 25km Argus MTB race.

Stage One - Big Bay to Nelson's Creek

After a 2h30 car trip from Somerset West, several border crossings and time zone changes later we arrived at Big Bay with a handful of minutes to spare before the 9am start. The sun was already blazing away and rather uncharacteristically, there wasn't a breath of wind as we snuck into the back of our start chute. Team Wrinkly Raisins had been in the start chute for hours, and had hopefully out-psyched our competition. Our immediate goal was to beat John and Pieter - John being the weaker half of Team Heading for Divorce at Wines2Whales.
It was a long road trip to get to the start
The stage started off with a 8km neutral tar section which was great - that was 8km less that I would have to chase Craig for. The only risk being the riders around us - putting a whole lot of mountain bikers together in a big bunch is a recipe for disaster and it was no surprise when several riders went down before we had even left the tar. As soon as we hit the dirt the bunch stretched out and the racing started. Team Blind Melons were flying, passing riders left and right as we made fantastic progress from the back of the bunch, the matching 29ers loving the flat fast course. And then disaster struck 5 minutes after leaving the tar. Craig nicked something as we rode under a railway line, past a pair of red high-heels. As we were bemoaning our bad luck and fitting a tube, The Wrinklies came past us - they were going to have to fly the flag today - we had heard about another unofficial competition and were eager to compete, after already claiming the prize for the earliest puncture on the stage.
Is there a better backdrop to cycling than this?
With only bragging rights up for grabs, this unofficial competition centered around punctures. Three points for a side wall cut, two points for a puncture in a slime tube, and one point for a puncture in a standard tube. Convincing strangers to part with their tubes is worth an additional point. Bonus points would be given for creative approaches to fixing the above mentioned punctures. The rules were strict though - no intentional tyre sabotage would be accepted, just the general riding conditions on route. With less than an hour of riding done we were well placed with 11 points and no spare tubes left. The competition was fierce as riders lined the side of the route, pumping, bombing and patching away like crazy. In a stunning piece of creativity, Craig managed to bag us an additional 7 points as he somehow managed pop his tyre off the rim, in the process leaving an 8cm side wall cut and puncturing our last tube. After asking roughly 200 riders if they had a tube for us and receiving nothing but blank stares rider #1257 kindly donated his tube to our cause. With two gaiters, a bit of swearing and lots of pumping we finally got going again, now right down amongst the back markers.
The Professor, me, Craig, and the Race Snake, all representing
By the time we made the first water point they were about to pack up and leave, all the coke was finished and the water was luke warm from the 40C+ temperatures. We grabbed a spare tube and some duct tape from our dedicated (and somewhat disappointed) supporters and set off on our merry way, trying to make up some lost time. As we raced on to the next water point, our supporters raced to Chris Willemse Cycles to buy a new tyre, just in case. Meurant was right - this was a race for the whole family!
Duct tape ingenuity.
We'd barely left the water point when we scored another point, and I've put in an appeal for additional points for variety and creativity - unlike the previous punctures this one was a snake bite. As half the field once again passed us, snickering and chuckling, we fixed the puncture and headed off, again. After a long an uneventful 20 minutes we stopped again, this time to do some running repairs on the side wall tear which involved the liberal application of duct tape to keep everything together. As we got going again, thinking we were clear leaders in the puncture competition, we passed Christoph Sauser flapping and waving his arms about, gesticulating wildly, and directing some angry Swiss words towards a flat wheel. Suddenly the competition was on, and this was one race the skinny Swiss rider was not going to win!
Hot, tired and grumpy, but winners of the unofficial puncture competition.
The next 30kms of tar and gravel gave us little opportunity to puncture, but we did catch The Wrinklies who were starting to take after their team name as they started to feel the heat. At least some serious embarrassment had been avoided. With opportunities now few and far between, we made good use of a patch of thorns when riding through a vineyard to once again score 3 points. As luck would have it, we had chosen quite a good spot to stop, and I had some time to sample the different grape cultivars, much to Craig's annoyance as he fixed the puncture on his own. I would have thought that he would be an expert by now, but he still needed some guiding assistance which I reluctantly offered, tearing myself away from the tasty grapes. Thanks to rider #1133 for donating his tube to our cause and scoring us an additional point. Two minutes up the road we passed the devious skinny Swiss, still waving his arms about, fixing another puncture. He was good, and was not going to go down without a fight.
Glad Stage One is over!
From there on in the race was rather uneventful, and we actually had to pedal for more 20 minutes at a time and before we knew it, we crossed the finish line at Nelson's Creek, all chances of a top performance gone, but with the coveted unofficial puncture award safely in our hands.

Stage Two - Nelson's Creek to Boschendal

With the adventure of Stage One behind us we decided to get down to some serious bike racing, and once again managed to sneak into the back of the start chute with minutes to spare. Have I been hanging around Craig for too long that I now too faff and fiddle as much? In a haze of dust and sweat we set off eager to avenge the misfortunes of the previous day. The route promised to be a little more exciting than the previous day's and would once again favour the big wheeled 29ers.
The pre-race faff with minutes to spare to the start!
I set the pace for 40 minutes as we weaved and snaked our way through the field. Craig then took it upon himself to dish out 2 hours of pain and suffering as he drove us on towards the big climb of the day. We caught Hector (aka The Professor), another Hermanus local who is starting to look a lot like Laurent Fignon and let him tag along in our little posse. We also caught John and Pieter, and although they had over an hour on us from the previous stage, we were eager to get one back on them.
The Pro's
The route was fantastic - a little bit of everything, and probably the closest you will come to an Epic stage without actually doing an Epic. There were certain sections where Meurant could have competed with Dr Evil, but instead thought of the riders and chose the easier option. The riding was good, the route was well marked, the water points were well stocked (banana bread, peanut butter sandwiches, biltong, banans, ice cold grapes - I'm bringing a lunch box next time for take aways) and there were plenty of marshals along the way. The same could not be said about the locations of the spectator points which were pretty much kept a secret, except for a select few. We did eventually spot our support crew with about 10kms to go, shouting and cheering us on as we whizzed by.
David George waiting to pounce!
With the finish line at Boschendal almost in sight we started to slow, but the combination of white line fever and the urge to beat John got us to the finish line in good time. The demons of the previous day had been laid to rest.
The Dane Train
The Wrinkly Raisins had a long day out, but finished in one piece, although there were reports of an emergency visit to the pharmacy for bum chafe related products.

Stage Three - Boschendal

With maximum temperature for the previous two days reaching well into the 40s, the promise of cooler weather for the final stage of the Grape Escape seemed to be to everyone's liking. Once again we snuck into the back of the start chute with minutes to spare, and after a half hearted apology from Meurant for lying about the route distances, we were once again racing (I thought mountain bikers were supposed to be tough!).
Two Niners off to the race.
Today was Nelly's birthday and I'd really hoped that we'd be able to have a good ride, but as the race unfolded I was convinced my bike had been sabotaged - try as I might I just couldn't get her going and my legs felt like sacks of gooey cheese. Craig proceeded to extract revenge for the Grape Incident of Stage One and cranked up the pace as I desperately tried to hang on for dear life, hoping my legs would wake up and decide to actually participate in the race.
It's hard to smile after three hours of Craig Pain.
Christoph Sauser's bad luck from day one had rubbed off onto his Epic partner, Burry Stander, and he yo-yo'ed around us for the early parts of the stage. I felt under a bit of pressure as I took a corner with several guys all following my line, including Burry. Would he approve? Before I could ask him he was gone, effortlessly speeding away from us weekend warriors.
You'd swear he wasn't on the front.
As the stage wore on, a strange thing started to happen - we started to catch and pass riders. My legs weren't feeling any better, and I was still having to bite down on my handlebars just to keep up with Craig, but we were once again going forward. Perhaps the exertions of the previous days were catching up with those around us, or perhaps they had gone out too hard too early. Whatever it was, it gave me a glimmer of hope that something could be salvaged from Stage Three. And then the near impossible happened - we caught a glimpse of John and immediately my legs went from gooey cheese to stodgy pâté, and my jaw tightened on the handlebars - we had a target to chase down!
Still got lock jaw from biting the handlebars.
With 10kms to go we caught John and Pieter, and after some silly roadie talk of us all riding to the finish line together humming Kumbaya, we dropped them like a bad smell in a wind tunnel. By now my legs were starting to wake up a little and we went in search of  targets, quickly catching and passing several more riders on our way to the finish line. We managed to avoid some embarrassing finish line handlebar entanglement and safely crossed the line for our best placing all weekend, collecting another well earned medal.
The Professor, Craig, me and Little John.
The Wrinkly Raisins put in another good performance, enjoying the route and amenities on hand, finishing just in time for lunch to the cheers of their supporters. I hope to see them regularly at events in the future, and a collection is being put together to fund some new shorts for one half of the team...
The Wrinklies - all smiles and ready for the next challenge.

1 comment :

  1. Nice post dude though the team may be considering a change in fruit for the next challenge! And those new shorts can't come soon enough!