Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 10:33 | 3 comments

Cape Epic - Stage 4

After another good night's sleep (I can't say the same for Craig as he wondered around looking for his tent until all hours of the night) we awoke to a quiet, still morning. The howling wind from yesterday was gone, and so were some of the memories of yesterday's 'epic' stage.

My wife had diligently patched up all my wounds, treated my blisters, and had even washed my helmet. True love. I was all ready to go.

Oozing wounds

Today we had 121kms and 2620m of climbing to look forward to on our way to Swellendam. By now I wasn't even looking at the profile of each day's stage, and wasn't really concerned with how long it was either. I would keep pedaling until either I couldn't pedal anymore, or we crossed the finish line - whichever came first. Secretly I hoped it was the finish line for both Craig and I.

Some wives made their husbands carry their own bags - shocking!

Craig was looking much better. By much better I mean he no longer resembled a walking zombi with skeleton-like features. He was even smiling. We had gone from "I am never doing the Epic again" to "I will let you know after the Epic" which I took to be a positive sign.

A bit of a smile

Once again we agreed to take it easy at the start, and just see what happens. We were now well entrenched in D, and so it was virtually impossible to have a fast start. After a short stretch on tar, we turned off onto the dirt and started slowly climbing out of Riversdale. An immediately noticeable difference was that we were not being passed on the uphills like yesterday. In fact, we were slowly riding past riders.

Looks way better than a tent!

Bonte had given me explicit instructions today to make sure that Craig drank his juice. He had to get through a bottle an hour, and so today my official role was naggy housewife - every ten minutes for 6 hours I had to ask/tell Craig to drink. I was worried not because Craig would dehydrate, but rather of the pain Bonte would inflict on him if he didn't drink. How would we finish the Epic then?

The first 2 hours passed by rather uneventfully, except for a rather serious crash that we saw the result of, until my stomach started acting up. I had had one spoonful of a rather dodgy and bubbly stewed fruit yogurt for breakfast, and now I think it was now starting to bubble in my belly. I found a burp every 10 seconds or so to be quite relieving, and so for the next hour or so I was not a very nice person to ride next to. Several cups of coke and a bunch of grapes (which took me about10 minutes to eat as I don't like grape pips) settled my stomach enough to at least do away with the need to burp.

Some encouragement along the way

We had been promised a South Easter today, and that would have made today's ride quite pleasant as the wind would have been from behind for most of the stage. But it failed to materialise. Instead we got hot, dry conditions and the parts through the fynbos felt completely airless.

Just one of the climbs that lay in wait for us

We were still passing people on both the uphills and the downhills and were making good progress towards the last waterpoint of the day at Suurbrak. We approached Suurbrak on the tar, and once again I was in my element. I went to the front, caught a couple of riders who tucked in, and proceeded to hunt down a bunch in the distance. One of the riders I was towing along came along side with a big smile on his face - we were flying along at 50km/h - possibly the fastest he had ever been on a bike.


At Suurbrak, Craig got rid of his Camelbak, and had one bottle to ride to the finish with. Unfortunately we had no idea how far the finish was from that watrepoint, or what the route was like. We couldn't be that far from Swellendam? We made good progress out of Suurbrak, with Craig climbing quite well. As is customary in the Epic, there is no such thing as an easy finish, and just when we thought we were going to be heading towards the finish, we went in the opposite direction into the forested hills above Swellendam. By now, the temperature had climbed to the upper 30's, and Craig and his one bottle of water were taking strain. We were faced with a series of short steep hills that really killed the legs. Even I was suffering, and had to be rather nasty and turn down a request from Craig for a pull up a hill.

A couple more torturous uphills awaited us, and I me lost my sense of humour with some spectators who told us we were "nearly at the top", only to be faced with several more short climbs. When a farmer told us were were on the last climb of the day I asked him if he was lying to us. Turns out farmers don't lie, and we had a nice downhill into town, and across the finish line.

Halfway - four down, four to go.

Epic partners

The roadie and his recovery drink

The rest of the day was spent doing the usual post race stuff, and we found a nice spot in the shade to laze about in. Before long, our spot had been converted into a field hospital with Yolanda dressing wounds (mine) and attending to saddle sores (strangers). She quickly got a bit of a reputation and very soon had several strange men showing her parts of their bums that I prefer not to think about. But she was in her element. It is amazing how people are prepared to sacrifice dignity for comfort.

The nurse having a great time

And another bum

After a good dinner we headed off to bed, where I got to hear about Johan and his partner's tales of day 4. Johan and partner were our tent neighbours that night, and insisted on having a conversation at full volume with from their separate tents. Not even my earplugs could drown them out. But eventually the sleeping tablet kicked in, and I nodded off to sleep.

Post stage relaxation of a different sort

STG 4 94. Cat, 128. GC

Friday, 18 April 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:39 | No comments

Cape Epic - Stage 3

After a reasonably good night's sleep, we awoke to the challenge of Stage 3 - 133km from Calitzdorp to Riversdale, with 2340 meters of climbing.

The route profile didn't look as bad as the previous day's efforts, but this was by no means an easy stage. We had decided that it was no good trying to race anymore - we were too far down on classification, and Craig was in need of a day with as little suffering as possible. Today was our recovery day. We were going to take it easy, and ride very conservatively, and hopefully recover from the excesses of the first two days.

Did someone say 'dancing girls'?

By now we were seeded in D, and the front of the race was getting further and further away from us. It is a little hard to accept that people that we usually beat without too much effort were miles ahead of us, and still looking strong.

Tent town at Calitzdorp Spa

We had 15km of relatively flat riding before the first climb of the day - the Rooiberg Pass. We stayed with our start bunch and got a nice tempo going. As the road started going up, we started going backwards. The effort of the previous two days had cost Craig, and he was suffering. It took us over an hour to climb Rooiberg Pass, and we must have been passed by half the field. The upside was that I got to have a good look at the surrounding scenery, chat to the passing riders, and generally have a rather relaxing climb. I don't think Craig saw the scenery or did much chatting, and the climb certainly wasn't relaxing for him.

While the men were out riding, the ladies enjoyed the area's hospitality.

The one area that we were still good at was going downhill, and we were able to make up a lot of places going down the back of Rooiberg Pass. If only there was more downhill. Before we knew it, we were at the bottom, and 60km of rolling hills awaited us. We rode some, walked others, knocking them off one at a time. Craig set the pace today, and I tried to ride behind him where possible. We were in no rush - this was going to be the day that was going to save our Epic.

Some famous roadie

On a stretch of downhill, with my mind wondering all over the place, I let my front wheel drift about 15cm off the line into a loose rocky section, and before I could do anything, was lying on the ground with my bike on top of me. A quick check to see that nothing was broken (both me and the bike) and I was up and on my way again. The guy behind me was quite concerned, and when I asked him how spectacular the crash was, he gave me 12 out of 10. As the adrenalin wore off, I started to feel the aches and pains of the crash. I had bashed my knee, and grazed my hip and elbow, and bruised my shoulder. In a way, the pain felt good, and served as a motivator to get to the end.

After a long, boring, slightly uphill dirt road into a head wind, we reached the 3rd water point of the day. The wives had been waiting for us here, and were sick to death from worry when we finally did arrive. We took a longish stop while we stocked up on juice and fruit before we set off to conquer the final 30kms of the stage.

A long long wait in the hot sun

Arriving at the watering point

The remainder of the day was all on tar, but we had to get over the Garcias Pass and deal with a strong headwind before we could call it a day.

The tar briefly revived Craig, and we initially made good progress. By now we were being passed by several teams that I knew, and my competitive spirit was being awakened. I was quite impressed that I had been able to keep it under control for so long. I went to the front, and let Craig tuck in behind me, as we set a steady pace up the climb. Where the road steepened a bit, I got Craig to hang on to my Camelbak as we ground our way up the pass, passing some of the people who passed us earlier.

We love tar!

A fast, sweeping descent awaited us on the other side, and with the help of two Spaniards we flew down the pass at speeds of around 80km/h. As the road flattened out we were hit with a gusting South Wester - which for us was a headwind. With Craig hanging on again, I put my head down and pedaled for the finish line in Riversdale. We caught some groups along the way, and each time ended up riding away from them as the pace was too slow. Also, these groups contained people that would have just loved to finish ahead of me. That was not going to happen!


We crossed the line after 7h15 - a long day for anyone. Craig was still feeling dizzy and nauseous, and was whisked off to the medics by Bonte, in the hope that they could repair him overnight. Today's stage had claimed several riders, one of them being the partner of the guy I rode with last year. It didn't seem to matter how much training you had done - this race could get to anyone.

Yolanda was quite glad to see me - her eyes lit up when she saw my wounds. Finally, she could do something that she enjoyed - clean wounds and apply dressings. So apart from the usual feeding and watering, bottle washing and bed making, she got to pick grit out of wounds, and apply honey soaked dressings. I just think she forgot that I am not an ICU patient - I was conscious and not on morphine - I could feel pain.

Craig received 2 liters of saline from the medics, and the doctor told him was dehydrated, and wasn't drinking enough. When we checked his Camelbak the previous day, he had barely had 5 mouthfuls from it, in 7 hours! From now on he was do finish a bottle an hour, and I was to be Bonte's enforcer. A job that I didn't want to fail at!

Having missed his massage because of his stay in the medical tent, Craig had a late night massage, and afterwards got lost in tent city. He could not find his tent again, and did not have his phone on him. I had gone to bed after dinner, and had my earplugs in and had taken a sleeping tablet. Together with the security guard, Craig spent about an hour trying to find his tent, and eventually had to borrow a phone to call Bonte to get instructions on where his tent was. Afterall, they all do look the same. It was a good thing he had had a nap while he was on the drip.

The riders are in bed, time to open the wine!

The drip seemed to have done some good, as for the first time in a couple of days Craig was looking quite cheerful the next morning. Were we about to turn the corner?

STG 3 194. Cat, 303. GC

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 08:25 | 6 comments

Cape Epic - Stage 2

With the events of the previous day still fresh in our minds, we lined up for the start of Stage 2 in Saarsveld, a little nervous of the day ahead of us. Will our bikes make it? Will Craig's legs make it? With 137km ahead of us with 2518m of climbing we had every reason to be nervous.

We had discussed a plan over dinner, and the idea for today was to ride conservatively at first, stay in our zones, and see what happens. We still had another 6 days to go.

Having the wives around made things seem a little more bearable - at least we knew there were people looking out for us.

The view from the back - our new start position

The stage started off at a rather brisk pace yet again, but we quickly got found a comfortable pace as we meandered around the outskirts of George. Before long we were nestled between two mountains, with the Old Montague Pass ahead of us as the only way out. Quite a long pass, but by no means a tough climb - I went to the front and set a reasonable tempo - having learned our lessons from the previous day. Before long we climbed over the summit, and got to enjoy a fair bit of downhill. I took up my position on the front, and proceeded to hunt for any targets up the road.

The closer the chopper, the closer the leaders. We very rarely saw the chopper today.

It is often quite amazing how alone you can feel in a race like this. For about half an hour, the only other cyclists we could see were two dots in the distance ahead of us, and no one in sight behind. Yet they must be there. Somewhere. Eventually we were caught my a rather large bunch, and we slotted into the back - enjoying a bit of a rest as we traveled across the rolling hills towards Calitzdorp.

That roadie was still hanging around! Wasn't he embarrassed yet?

We eagerly awaited spotting our rent-a-crowd supporters, but at every vantage point we passed they were nowhere to be seen. Were we that slow? Did they have a problem?

After yesterday's mechanical issues, every odd sound that my bike made had me thinking it was about to fall to pieces. Craig was adamant that it was just the lack of lube on the drive train that was making the noise, but I preferred to think it was far worse. At the second water point we got some lube, and my bike breaking sounds vanished - I should have listened to my older and wiser Epic partner. While the bikes got lubed, we indulged in some fruit and juice at the water point, and I don't think I have ever eaten a banana that tasted so good, even though it was brown and squishy and warm. I would make a point of having some bananas every day at the waterpoints.

Chaos at water point two. We were already long gone by this stage though.

Things were going ok - we had been dropped by the bunch, but we were still making good progress towards the big hill. The temperature had climbed to the mid 30's, and I was starting to feel sorry for the real back markers - it was going to be a long, hot, tough for them. Turned out it was a long, hot, tough day for us too!

As we neared the third waterpoint which marked the beginning of the big climb, the road meandered next to a refreshing looking river. I could see Craig was getting distracted by the river, and with temperatures now near 40C, it took a lot of focus and self control to resist the urge to stop and swim. By now we were starting to experience similar problems to the previous stage - nothing mechanical, just physical. Craig was taking strain again, and so the pushing and pulling began.

While the climb might have been ridable, we walked most of it. I was still feeling good, and so would ride on up ahead, leave my bike, run back down to Craig, ride his bike on up ahead (that bike climbs fantastically), and then repeat. I hadn't worn my "walking" MTB shoes, so walking was giving me blisters.

After several "You're almost at the top" comments from spectators we eventually got to the proper top, and a nice long downhill awaited us. The organisers had put everyone off this descent by saying how dangerous it was, and so in addition to having to deal with the tricky descent, we had to negotiate slow riders as well (who had all passed us on the way up). We had chosen to wear Maverick kit today, and on the descent I was passed by a lady who knew the Maverick people in Natal, and proceeded to have a massive one sided conversation with me. When she realised I couldn't keep up, and was struggling to talk and concentrate at the same time, she just upped the pace and disappeared down the hill. A little humiliating...

On the descent my rear brakes overheated, and I lost them completely. That didn't bug me as much as the thought that I might lose the front ones at any second, and so I took it a little slower until the rear brakes cooled down. Speaking to people afterwards, several people suffered from the same thing, and quite a couple had rather serious crashes.

Once at the bottom of the hill we had about 20kms to go to the finish, and I hoped we could knock them off quite quickly. Unfortunately, by this time Craig was finished, and was suffering quite a lot. I told him to hang on to my camelbak, put my head down, and rode for the line - trying to get another bad day behind us.

The excited and cheery faces of our wives had been replaced by ones of concern and anguish. If they didn't have an ulcer yet, they weren't far away from getting one. The wives did a fantastic job of feeding and watering us, pampering to our whimsical needs, and stroking our rather bruised egos. Craig was feeling nauseous and dizzy, and in hindsight should probably have gone to the medical tent. I was beginning to wonder if we were going to arrive in Lourensford together.

Nikki managed to get Craig to squeal. I don't think she was the only cause though - the waves of cramps up and down Craig's legs were doing a good job on their own.

We didn't discuss the next day's stage at all, and preferred to focus on the tasks at hand. That was tomorrow's challenge, and we would deal with it then.

STG 2 122. Cat, 171. GC

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 13:50 | 8 comments

Cape Epic - Stage 1

Although we had already started our Epic adventure, Stage 1 signaled the real beginning of the Epic. After the success of the Prologue we were quite confident that we were going to do well. How wrong we were.

After some last minute checks, several nervousness induced toilet stops, and last minute goodbyes we headed off to the start chute. The Epic started with its usual break neck speed, with all our prearranged plans of taking it easy being chucked out the window. We pretty much flew up Simola hill at full tilt, and I was already getting used to seeing the back of Craig. The first hour was fast and tough, through the spectacular forests around Knysna. We had 123km of riding with 3091m of climbing to look forward to. Stage 1 was being described as the toughest stage of the Epic yet.

We made good progress, and eventually got into a comfortable rhythm. The first surprise of the day was to hear Craig's bike make a terrible sound whenever he tried to freewheel - there was a very unhappy bearing somewhere in his rear wheel. As a result, he had to pedal on all the downhills just to keep the bike quiet and in one piece.

Crazy road cyclists!!

The route meandered around the Kynsna forest, and eventually popped out in the Homtini area, the sight of Brenton's brush with death at the hands of a rather large tree. I took it a little slower on the downhills, but this didn't stop Craig at all as he flew down the hill - I just hoped he would be in one piece at the bottom.

And we are off!!

We skipped the first water point, preferring to get the jump on the people we were riding with. In hindsight - this might not have been such a good idea. Things continued to go well, we were still passing riders, Craig's bike hadn't fallen to pieces and before long we were at the second water point. We had a rather quick stop as we spotted some competition arriving just as we were getting some juice. Yet again, this was going to cost us. It was great to see the wives, although I think we caught them by surprise with are speed.

That was soon to be rectified though, as the earlier efforts caught up with us, and Craig bonked quite suddenly and quite spectacularly. Five minutes later, and I would have been the one to bonk. We quickly went into survival mode, and tried to get to the finish in one piece - the hopes of doing well quickly slipping away.

To add to the misery, it was now Svalbaard's turn to have mechanical issues. The bearing in my lower dérailleur wheel had seized, and each pedal stroke caused a blood curdling noise. It sounded like my bike was about to break into a thousand pieces, but there was nothing we could do. We would have to fix this at the end. By this time Craig's legs were in constant cramps, and if you have ever experienced muscle cramps, you will understand the agony. Same thing - not much we could do here. Hopefully we could fix his legs at the finish too.

After several rather annoying uphills and downhills we could sense that we were rather close to the finish at Saarsveld, but in true Epic fashion, we would not see the finish right away. We would have to meander around the forest for just a while longer.

We we did eventually see the finish line, the excited faces of our wives had been replaced by ones of worry and confusion? What had happened in the last 50km that had taken us so long? We had literally been "left for dead" out on the course, and I don't think we thought we could have a bad day. At least we didn't end up on our backs in a ditch!

Russell whisked away our bikes and got them cleaned and serviced - replacing all the dodgy bearings and giving the bikes some TLC. Yolanda and Bonte got us fed, and nursed our wounded egos. We also got lots of TLC, and they did all the chores for us - clean the water bottles, mix the juice, made our beds, carried our bags. I could tell that there were many cyclists that were jealous of all the attention we got.

Nothing like a farm stall for breakfast.

I got my first encounter of Nikki and Karen - our masseuses, and what a proper full-body massage felt like. Craig promised me that by the end of the week they would have me crying like a baby. They almost achieved that on day 1!

Saarsveld put on a good spread, and the spirits in tent town were still rather upbeat after a grueling day on the bike. I managed to bump into Amanda and Sarah Wielopolska - people I had gone to school with, and they seemed to be having a great time.

STG 1 85. Cat, 125. GC

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 13:06 | 4 comments

Cape Epic - Prolgue

This year's Epic saw the introduction of a prologue to seed riders before Saturday's Stage 1 got under way. The prologue consisted of 18km of rather hilly forest road riding in and around the beautiful Pezula Estate. Teams set off every 30 seconds, so there were plenty of targets up the road to aim at, as well as being a target for other teams.

Quiet confidence

Pezula Estate's cricket pitch

Our Epic about to get under way

From the start the ride was a flat out sprint - maximum effort for 40 minutes, which certainly doesn't suit my style of riding at all. Gasping for air, I did my best to hang onto Craig's wheel, and apart from a silly fall I had on a rather steep uphill corner things went quite well. We had set ourselves the goal of finishing in the top 50, and we also wanted to beat the team starting 4 minutes ahead of us. We finished 50th in our category, and 59th overall, and just managed to beat our 4 minute men. We had a slight mechanical at the end, with Craig's outer gear cable breaking, which meant he couldn't change gears.

Catching our 4 minute man within the last kilometer

Just look at those leg muscles!

The thing that really blew us away was the fact that the pros finished a whole 10 minutes ahead of us. I don't know where we could find another 10 minutes on that course.

So far things were living up to our expectations, the training had paid off, and we were going to have a great Epic.

STG 0 50. Cat, 59. GC

For the Epic theme song this year, play the following:

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 12:53 | 4 comments

Another year, another Argus.

It is amazing how every year the Argus sneaks up on us. It really shouldn't though - there are enough warning signs out there warning us of its imminent approach.

1. The larger Summer League participation. In the Spring League I was finishing in the top 10 of each race, and feeling quite unstoppable. Come the Summer League, and I don't think I finished in the top 25 once.

2. Colleagues riding to work. Apart from the sky-rocketing petrol price, the only other reason people ride to work is to get some much needed Argus training.

3. Bike shops with no stock. If you need a special thingy dooh dah from the bike shop in the months of January and February, you can be sure that you will be clean out of luck. Almost everything is sold out.

4. Radio DJs going on about cyclists. It seems to be very trendy these days to be very anti-cyclist, and I think this reaches its highest point around Argus time.

5. Congested cycling routes. Your normal route that you take, where you seldom see another cyclist in 2 hours suddenly resembles a mass participation event - cyclists everywhere, in various shapes and sizes.

6. Bike mags reusing their "How to do your best Argus ever" articles. Never mind the fact that certain 24hr events only get one photo and a small blurb - pages and pages are dedicated to providing the definitive advice on how to do that elusive sub [3/4/5/6] hour ride.

This year was no different. Before I knew it I was waking up at 4:45 to get ready for yet another Argus. We had spent the night at the Betts' flat in Sea Point, where we gorged ourselves on tasty pasta and rice pudding.

I thought I wasn't nervous - but when you wake up at 3 in the morning and can't sleep anymore, perhaps the nerves are showing. A quick breakfast and cycling to the start, and the Argus was about to begin.

As usual, the A bunch (with far too many people taking this cycling thing far too seriously) set off at breakneck speed. I have perfected my bunch riding skills, and now sit right at the back, out of trouble from crashes and testosterone fueled agro Gautengers. And just before the hills I move forward in the bunch. Quite simple really. And if all goes to plan, you finish in a time of 2:42 (I was a little annoyed at losing the front of A, but I did have rubbish legs).

Craig had a good ride too, although because he was chatting so much, he road through some glass, and ended up having to deal with 3 punctures. Well done to all the Hermanus riders who didn't stop to help/offer a tube - I am now going to feel the brunt of Craig's wrath as we go about setting the record straight.

The real stars of this year's Argus (sorry Robbie, after winning a TDF stage the Argus pails in comparison) were Bonte and Yolanda. Starting WAY down in T, the time trialled most of the way to a well deserved 3:30 (or so we are led to believe - we have no photographic evidence of them actually out on the course).

Craig and I did another lap, starting about 10 minutes after the last group went off. We had a rather leisurely ride, helping out back markers, waving at spectators, and helping ourselves to Coca-Cola that we had missed out on the first lap. We stopped in Glenn Cairn for a beer, and finally caught Steph and Kannas just before Chappies.

And then it was time to retire to the Dulux tent - for the last time. I don't think the Argus is ever going to be the same without it :(

Monday, 3 March 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:15 | No comments

Fun in the Sun

Saturday saw Craig and I doing our last long ride before the Epic. We needed one last tough weekend, and the next day's Argus MTB ride would give us a good indicator of how the training had gone. To add to matters - we were going to be riding with some of the other teams from Hermanus, and it was safe to say that each rider would be sussing the next one out.

The result of the ride is that we have sowed fear and panic amongst the competition. We rode every single one of them off of our wheels, and at the same time still felt comfortable.

Bonte decided to impart some of her stretching knowledge on us - the dogs we not too amused that we were using their cushions.


If anything, I had been more nervous about the long ride on Saturday, than I had been for the race. Yolanda, on the other hand, was very nervous. All her other cycling buddies had instead decided to do the 35k, leaving her to do the 55km on her own.


The weather had been perfect - for going to the beach. It was hot and windless, and the conditions proved quite testing. Yolanda finishing the race - in much better spirits that last year.


The dirtier you are, the more fun you had. Looks like Yolanda had a lot of fun :)


Very proud of her medal. She even wanted to go to bed with it. I had to draw the line at that!


Craig and I both rode well, and had good legs, and once again beat all the Hermanus guys. We both rode new personal best times, and finished together, which bodes well for the Epic.