Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:30 | No comments

Pipe dreams?

How cool would it be to have a cycling culture like they have in Copenhagen in any of the big South African cities? Maybe the fuel price is the first factor that might kick start such a culture. I have already noticed a lot more people on bikes commuting to work and back (and in most cases riding away from me, but I will save the tales of my lack of fitness for another day).

I admit, I did have ulterior motives in checking out the second site... ;)

Friday, 23 May 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 12:59 | No comments

The Giro

Well, we are almost halfway through the second biggest bike race in the world. And this weekend promises to mix up the general classification quite considerably.

We don't get much mainstream coverage in the media here, which is a pity. Anyway, I found this little ticker which at least gives me an idea of how things are going:

Friday, 9 May 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 10:40 | 2 comments

Cape Epic - Stage 8

The final morning of the 2008 Cape Epic dawned on us in Oak Valley, and although the organisers had given us an extra hour and a half to sleep in and relax, most people were up by 5am anyway. It is quite hard to break a routine that you have worked so hard to perfect.

Looking tired

For the last time we queued for breakfast, queued for the toilets, queued to get our bikes out the bike park, and Craig queued for the bum repair doctor. The mood around tent town was quite varied, some people were quite ecstatic at almost being finished, others a little sad that the adventure was almost over. Generally, people were still nervous - it might only be 60kms to the finish, but a lot can happen that might be race-ending.

An hour and a half and it is still a rush!

It was quite hard to ignore the profile today when you are riding in areas you know quite well. Today was going to be the most climbing per kilometer traveled of the entire Cape Epic - 1760m in 68km, over some hills that in the past had almost brought me to tears. Lourensford seemed so close, yet so far. Our plan for the day was to adopt the previous day's "no-plan-but-race-as-hard-as-we-can-up-the-initial-hills" plan. As I was the one now struggling - I would be the pace setter.

There's the roadie again!

I had been in two minds about getting my bike seen to by the mechanics - it was only 60km - what could go possibly go wrong. I was more concerned about my legs. We really wanted to have another great day like the previous day's stage, but I was worried that it was just too short for me to get going.

Last start for 2008

For the last time, the wives came to see us off - when we saw them next we would be finished - we hoped. Finally, after 7 days of lurking in the lower seedings, our great ride had got us back to B. We would be racing our contemporaries today, not passing slower riders. As the start time approached, the casual and festive atmosphere dissipated, and the normal pre-race tension took over.

Words escape me

Right from the start we started climbing, and I pushed hard. With my heart pounding and my legs screaming we were making good progress. A couple of hair raising descents through apple orchids and vineyards kept us on our toes. We were going well - I set the pace going up, and Craig set the pace on the flats and downs. A couple of times I had to hop off on the really steep sections and push, but it didn't cost us too much time.

And we're off

Good bye tent town

By now my bike was starting to act up - gear changing had become a bit of a lottery, and it was starting to play on my mind. We had found a good bunch to ride up the rather steep Nuweberg climb with, and it was just a little bit easier following someone else's pace, than trying to set my own. I was suffering, but the climb would soon be over.

Going over the top of Nuweberg pass Craig disappeared down the other side, I am sure with a big smile on his face. Something didn't feel right though. Looking down, I could see my back wheel was quite soft. I had two options - stop and pump it immediately, or get to the bottom and get Craig to bomb it. I decided on the latter. With all my weight over the front wheel I made my way down the pass, all the time yelling for Craig to slow down. My already fragile mental state wasn't enjoying this.

At the bottom, Craig bombed the tyre, and everything seemed fine. We hadn't lost too much time. Shortly after entering some single track I could feel the back wheel playing up again. We stopped, and Craig took over. Out came the wheel, off came the tyre, in went a tube, back on went the tyre, and he used a bomb to pump it up. All this time I was a quivering wreck, fiddling with bits and pieces in my Camelbak.

By now were were quite well entrenched in the midfield, and what had promised to be some lovely ridable single track became a frustrating walk. Once the congestion cleared and we were back on the forest roads, I could see that the tyre hadn't seated in the rim properly. We had two choices. Stop and fix it now, or wait till the waterpoint just around the corner and visit the neutral service people. We decided to wait.

On entering the waterpoint I recognised several familiar faces, but was too frustrated and annoyed with my bad luck to put on a friendly face. While the Shimano mechanic was quite helpful, his pump was clearly showing signs of aging, and we struggled to get it to seal on the valve. Eventually after much improvisation we were able to pump the tyre super hard, and managed to get it to seat properly.

Back on the road, I tried to make up for all the delays, but I was really starting to suffer. Craig's encouragement, while appreciated, just couldn't get my legs to perform. We laboured on to the Gamtou Pass, where an enforced portage section awaited us down the national monument. What a welcome relief! I tried anything to get some power back in the legs - I took a Gu, and sucked down liters of juice. I just hoped we could make up some of the time we had lost.

At the bottom of the pass we had several kilometers of railway line to deal with. Like the corrugations on day 6 into Hermanus, our plan was to ride in the middle of the tracks, as fast as we could. Unfortunately our plan was foiled by a couple of slow riders who were just out for a leisurely ride.

My gears were now a total mess, but I had found that a combination of wiggling the levers, and a well timed thump usually got them to do what I wanted. I was going ok on the flats and downhills, but just did not have the legs on the hills which was frustrating for everyone. Craig was now paying me back, and had taken to pushing me up the hills. What a difference it made! This is the first time I have been pushed, and if I had known how good it was, I think I might have been doing this from day 1!

What is taking them so long - it's just 60kms??

We were approaching the ridiculous section through Vergelegen where we weren't allowed to overtake and so wanted to pass as many people as we could before then. For 980km, every other land owner doesn't have issues with a race coming through, but Vergelegen are worried about liablity etc, and so stipulated the no overtaking rule in a bid to make the race safer. You don't need to be overtaking someone to have an accident, as the poor Epic Day Tripper with the broken wrist can attest to.

We eventually got caught behind a mixed team in this section, and Craig was eager to sneak past. I really didn't want to be disqualified so close to the end, so I just bit my tongue and slotted in behind. Craig was even kind enough to push the lady in an effort to get them to go faster.

The gathering friends - all patiently awaiting our arrival

With the silly section almost over, and the finish just around the corner, disaster struck. Well, not really disaster, but just another incident to add to my frustration. My gear lever broke clean off and went flying into the bushes. I now could not change gears at all at the back, and was stuck in the easiest gear, which I suppose was quite fortunate. It just wasn't that fortunate when you wanted to go fast on the flats! Yet again, I grabbed onto Craig, and he did the pedaling for me.

We finished the Epic to the cheering and encouragement from the crowds, but the frustration of the day somewhat dampened what should have been a joyous occasion. It was great to see all the support from friends who had made the effort to come out and see us, and of course, from the wives. We went and shook Kevin Vermaak's hand as he gave us our medals. We had survived.

Even with our various incidents we managed to finish 104th after 9 days and 76th in our category.We had spent 50h42.31 sitting on a bicycle. We had experienced the highs and lows of Epic riding, almost to the extremes. And we are still speaking to each other.

I was quite relieved to see the Wielopolska sisters finish - I had heard that they had had an incident on one of the scary downhills, and it would have been a cruel twist of fate if it had been race ending.

Without the help, support and encouragement from our wives, this would have been far tougher than it already was. And I don't think we even knew half of the torment and anguish they went through. And a big thanks to Russell, who did a great job on the bikes (most of the time), and made our lives a lot easier, while keeping an eye on the ladies.

Plans are already underway for next year's Epic - we have some unfinished business to take care of. The hunt for sponsors has begun, and our training programs are in the process of being drawn up. I don't think I can wait till then though!

STG 8 82. Cat, 110. GC

Monday, 5 May 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:50 | No comments

Cape Epic - Stage 7

After a good night's sleep, although it was a little bit strange to sleep in a real bed, we arose to total chaos. The routine we had so carefully worked on for the last 6 days was useless. We didn't have our usual pre-race tasks and chores to do.

There was no big dining tent - instead we had to make our own breakfast. There was no bum strapping tent, so Craig had to get Bonte to assist. I have photos, but I don't want to chase away the other 4 people that read this blog. At least there was a porcelain toilet! My stomach was still acting up, but Bonte had done a good job with her ginger and mint tea. I was even tempted to put that in my Camelbak for the day. For good measure, I took an imodium and valoid - I was not going to be stopping unnecessarily today.

For the first time in 6 days we were going to be doing less than 100kms - 91kms awaited us, with 1985m of climbing. As an added bonus, they had thrown in many kilometers of single track through Lebanon forest. We would spend the night at Oakdale farm in Grabouw.

All set to go

Lining up at the start, I really did not feel up to the day's racing. I even said that I would prefer to go to work than ride my bike. Looking back, I blame all the stomach drugs - what was I thinking.

For a change, cyclists came first

Craig's local fan club was once again out in force, offering final words of encouragement. Every little bit helped. We were starting in C again, but the wide tar section out of Hermanus would give us plenty of room to get around the slower riders. But did our legs have it in them? We didn't have a team plan for today - secretly my plan was to get through the day in one piece, as fast as possible.

Up the tarred climb or Rotarty Way I still felt good, and we quickly moved up through the bunch - Craig letting me set the pace. The view was amazing from the top, and while I would have loved to stop and enjoy it, we had other things to do. We safely navigated a tricky section down through Hamilton Russell, before climbing back up on to the Karwyderskraal road and heading towards the Babilonstoring Nature Reserve.

An Epic institution

Here we were met with lots of sand and some rocky, technical jeep track. Craig had a tumble, and although he had drawn some blood, seemed ok. Before long, we were back on the farm roads, where Craig took up his position for the day - on the front. We had been caught in no man's land, and were trying to ride across to the group ahead of us. Slowly but surely we were getting there, and just as we bridged the gap, we arrived at the first water point. Craig was eager to push through without stopping, but I needed to tend to my belly.

I sneaked in front for the photo

At the other side of the water point the ladies were waiting for us, and were as enthusiastic as usual. We crossed the R44, and were greeted with some very soft sandy conditions. Once again we were off our bike and pushing. I learned later that even the pro's pushed that section. We were now at the base of the big climb of the day. It wasn't a steep climb, just a long climb with a couple of steep sections. We made good progress up the climb - with me walking where it got too steep, but still keeping a good pace going.

The chopper having fun

At the top we were a short way behind a promising looking group, and Craig once again drove us onto the back of the bunch. I had to work hard to hang on, and when several of the other riders started to get dropped from the bunch I started to wonder when my turn would arrive. Rather miraculously, and with some hard work we were able to stay with the group until the next water point.


Craig was busy playing mind games with me - he was reading off the distance we had done on his computer, and from the readings he was giving me, we were flying. I would come crashing down to earth at each watering point as they told us just how far we had really gone. At the second water point Craig was about 12kms out. That was 12kms he said we had already done, but we still needed to do!

As we entered the Lebanon single track, I got a scare and thought I had a puncture. After reassurances from Craig we were on our way again, and making up some good time on the single track. There is nothing that a mountain biker enjoys more than downhill single track. I heard afterwards that several of the pro's went back to Lebanon after the Epic, just to ride the single track again and again.

All smiles

I quickly lost sight of Craig, but still was keeping up a good pace. Before long we popped out of the forest, and once again were greeted with the sight of our wives, and several other familiar faces. We got the loudest cheering by far. Little did we know that just up ahead of us, one of the teams from Hermanus had just gone through.

Shower time

With the joys of the singletrack now a distant memory, we slowly start climbing our way back up. We dipped under the N2, and for the first time, I was tempted to grab onto Craig's CamelBak. But I didn't. We couldn't have much further to go. Could we? After what seemed an age of teeth gritting up farm roads, we once again turned off into some forested single track. while not as nice as Lebanon, it was still fantastic. Craig disappeared again, and I had to work hard to catch him.

When we finally popped out of the singletrack, we could see two riders up ahead in the distance, one with a very distinctive riding style - the Hermanus riders. The gap took forever to close - they were holding us on the hills, and we were closing in on the flats and downhills. On a particularly steep descent we caught and passed them. I thought that was the last we would see of them, but as we turned a corner, another uphill awaited us with 5km to go. They passed us on the hill, but a slight wobble gave us a second chance.

I don't think Craig even broke a sweat

My second best move of the Epic followed. I knew that if we could get to the top of the hill in front, we would have a good chance to stay away. Using every last bit of strength in my legs, I gave one last effort to get to the top. I think I surprised everyone - myself included. As soon as Craig joined me we made good progress in opening up a gap. Just to be extra sure we weren't going to be passed on the run in to the finish, I managed to position myself such that a media motorbike behind us was unable to get past, and in the process was kicking up lots of dust. Sneaky and devious - I know.

What an awsome ride

We crossed the line in 45th place, and suddenly, all the pain and suffering of my hardest day so far was worth it. This was the kind of riding we had been expecting to do from day one. At least we knew we could ride well.The troubles of the first few days seemed a distant memory.

A good kind of tired

The rest of the day was spent milling around with our wives and other riders - chatting, eating, chilling. We had our last massage, and Karen and Niki didn't disappoint, finding new spots to prod and poke that caused us to squirm and wriggle about on the table.

Tent town

We were 60kms away from home, but for many, the race was over. Tomorrow was just a technicality, or so we thought.

Russell sacrificed himself today in an offering so that we wouldn't have any mechanical issues. He was hit by a car just outside Hermanus - the driver didn't see him. Thankfully the bike was ok, but he didn't come off so well. Quite a few nasty scrapes and bruises.

Blood everywhere

Feeling better

STG 7 37. Cat, 45. GC

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:28 | 1 comment

Cape Epic - Stage 6

Today was the big one - we were going to Hermanus. Craig was going home, and I was going to my holiday home (which just happens to be Craig's home). For the first time in almost a week we were feeling confident of riding well.

Today's stage was 130km's long and included 2095m of climbing. We had a 14km climb waiting for us in Salmonsdam Nature Reserve, but we knew what to expect from various training rides in the area. The only question was - did we have it in our legs to put in a performance like yesterday's?

We had been reseeded into C - and could almost see the front of the bike race. The rain overnight gave everything a crisp, fresh feeling - perfect for a day of bike racing. Once again the start was rather chaotic and fast on a tar section out of town, but we quickly got into a comfortable rhythm. After yesterday's crashes, we took care to avoid any riders who looked a little suspect in their bunch riding skills. We are so judgmental. :)

I want to be a spectator

We turned off the tar, and headed across some farmlands towards Napier. For the second day in a row we were passing people, and for the second day in a row, Craig was setting the pace, and I was hanging on. This was how the Epic was supposed to be - Craig is a strong starter, and I am a good finisher. Somewhere in the middle we meet, and then we ride exceptionally well.

By now I was getting quite edgy - small things were starting to bug me, and in particular the behaviour of the riders around us. On rider had the cheek to pat me on the bum to get me to move out of the way, so he could follow the wheel I was on. If I had something to throw at him I would have. I was pretty sure I could ride away from him if he decided to chase me. At least these incidents were gobbling up time, and shortly afterwards we pulled into water point one.

I had my usual, Craig had nothing, and we were off up the first climb of the day. We did ride away from the bum patter, and a lot of other riders, up that hill. A short, fast descent through a cow field, and we were back on a district road. It was times like this that I am extremely glad I ride a dual suspension bike - the road surface was awful - very rough and uneven. Thinking of some riders we knew who rode hardtails brought smiles to our faces!

We now found ourselves in a good looking group that contained several people we knew, amongst them Erica Green (our coach from DaisyWay Coaching Systems). She took one look at my scrapes and grazes and recommended that I attend a skills workshop she was hosting after the Epic - so rude! After several kilometers in the bunch, both Craig and I were getting restless, and on a short little hill just rode away from the bunch. We were now approaching the big climb, and wanted to keep the gap in order to get a head start. We pushed quite hard and before long could barely see the bunch. We rode past the Lighthouse Cottage and were greeted with cries of support and encouragement.

At the base of the climb was water point two, and we quickly restocked with fluid, and then set out on the climb. We know this climb quite well, and so rode rather intelligently up it. I was suffering quite a bit, but Craig did a great job of setting a tempo that I could keep up with. I had to get off and push several times - the power just wasn't there on the steep bits anymore, but we didn't loose too much time. The climb was long and incredibly hot, not a breath of wind, and airless. The sweat was pouring off of me.

On the long, fast, and quite technical descent we caught those riders who we just couldn't catch on the climb. Not a single rider passed us going up or down, which gave us both a warm and fuzzy feeling!

Approaching the waterpoint - courtesy of Peter Wright

Approaching the waterpoint - courtesy of Peter Wright

Water point three awaited us, and it was now possible to spot more and more familiar faces in the crowd. I ran around like a headless chicken - getting juice and snacks - hoping something would give me legs to get to the end of the stage. Back on the tar, I was gritting my teeth, hanging on to the bunch for dear life - it was taking an enormous amount of effort to stay in the bunch. Looking back, it wasn't that my legs were bad, it was just the pace we were going at.

As we left the tar, our supporters suprised us with a rare appearance, and seemed to be having a great time. The cheering and encouragement was enough to give us both a second (or third or forth) wind, and yet again we road away from our bunch, in search of faster companions. Finally, I was starting to feel good - it had only taken me 4 hours of pain and suffering to get to this point, but now I was ready.

Russell working hard - bike related

Russell working hard - not bike related

We settled into a comfortable, yet fast pace with our new cycling buddies, and whizzed through the town of Stanford. For the second time that day I was grateful for my full suspension bike. The road from Stanford to Wortelgat is atrocious! It is a dirt rode with severe corrugations from side to side, in soft sand. There is no line. You can choose the smaller corrugations and deal with the sand, or face having your bones rattled loose on the larger corrugations. Like Paris-Roubaix, the best technique seemed to be to ride as fast as possible and keep the pace high.

We were making good progress when disaster struck. Craig got a puncture. Not a puncture that takes 5 minutes to go flat, one that goes from fully inflated to nothing in about two tenths of a second. I was right behind Craig, and we put a gator and tube in as quickly as possible, all the time cursing our bad luck - if we could have hung on to that bunch we would have had a great finishing time. After loosing about 7 minutes and seeing about 20 teams go past us we were back on the road.

The adrenalin of the puncture gave me a new found motivation, and for the first time that day I went to the front to set the pace. Very soon we were catching and passing riders again. In retrospect I probably went a bit too hard, but I just wanted to get to the finish. In doing so, I started to kill Craig. What a nice way to thank him for looking after me all day!

Spectators waiting eagerly at the finish

We got to the end of the Wortelgat road, only to be greeted with more thick sand as we approached the Kleinrivier river mouth. The sand seemed to go on forever, and just when I was beginning to lose hope we popped out onto the beach. Any hopes of the riding being a bit easier on the beach were quickly dashed though.

Back on good old tar at the other end of the beach we motored the last 5kms towards the finish at the old Harbour. We were greeted with a good turn out of friends and spectators, and I could have sworn the announcer said something like "And here we have two of our top road cyclists in the Western Cape" - I checked behind me to see who he was talking about. Turns out it was us! We will excuse his exaggeration just this once, because it did feel quite good :)


The top road cyclists finished

Craig got a hero's welcome - many of his mates had made the effort to be at the finish, and I am glad we did well. For the second day in a row we finished 64th. That is 240 places higher than our stage 3 finish!

Craig and the predominantly female fan club

The wives had prepared some fantastic snacks yet again, and had bought us some champagne. We basked in the glory, and what might have been but for the puncture. Craig spent the next half an hour signing autographs for all his fans.

The riders

The bikes

The mechanic

The wives

I am not sure if it was something I ate, or if it was the yogurt of stage 4 getting its revenge, or just the efforts of the day, but I suddenly didn't feel well. My stomach was aching and churning. I had to get home (the holiday home) as soon as possible.

After lots of TLC, drugs (Bonte's charcoal tablets, and Yolanda's anti-cramp tablets) and a bath I felt a little better, although by no means 100%. That afternoon's massage session was one of the tougher ones all week for both Craig and I. Niki found a spot on both of Craig's legs that got him to squeal, and Karen got me to wince several times as she dug her elbow into my thigh!

South Africans on the top step of the podium

We were joined by some of the Hermanus locals for supper (they watched as Craig and I polished of two well laden plates), and the company was a welcome change. Not that I was getting tired of Craig or anything ;)

We slept at home that night, and after some late night mechanical issues, were soon fast asleep. I almost missed the sound of Johan and his partner, and the endless sounds of tents being unzipped and rezipped all night long. At least I had a toilet near by.

STG 6 49. Cat, 64. GC