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

Friday, 25 April 2008

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:04 | 2 comments

Cape Epic - Stage 5

We were halfway, and the atmosphere in tent town reflected that last night. Even though we still had some frightfully tough stages ahead of us, we had made it this far, and it was all downhill for here. Figuratively speaking. Dr Evil had other plans.

Our supporters stayed in style

Today we faced the challenge of 146km, with 1819m of climbing, from Swellendam to Bredasdorp. We would also get to ride through De Hoop Nature Reserve, and get our first sighting of the sea since leaving Knysna.

We had given up looking at the route profile, but the plan for the day was to ride according to how we felt. This is the longest stage in Cape Epic history - so everyone was a little nervous. Just how tough was it going to be?

Last minute bike check

Where is my shirt?

The race started in the main road of Swellendam, and we were still lurking down in D. Mountain bike chaos ensued shortly after the start, and the very limited bunch riding skills of many mountain bikers were put to the test, with a couple of casualties within sight of the start. Today was going to be a long day, and there was no way we wanted a handicap so early on, so Craig and I just relaxed, dropped back, and shook our heads at the carnage up ahead.

All smiles before the start

Before long we left the tar and and began a two hour journey over the rolling hills of the farmlands outside Swellendam, to water point one. I wasn't having a good time. I am not sure if it was the fast start, or the efforts from previous days, or the crash, but I just could not get into a rhythm. Perhaps what I was worried about was that I was due a bad day sooner or later. I just hoped it wasn't today. I later said to Craig that if someone had offered to take my bike there and then, I would have quit. But thankfully it was nothing more that a couple cups of Coke, a Gu and toilet stop couldn't fix. We were a little disappointed not to see our supporters at the water point again, but there were enough other people cheering for us to make up for it.

Proof that our supporters were at the water point, but just a little late to see us

We finally entered the nature reserve, and got to say goodbye to the rolling hills that were messing with my mind. We had a good pace going, Craig was on the front towing me along, and for the second day in a row we were passing people. And the first time this Epic, I had to walk up a hill, while Craig rode.

True dedication

We had been promised sandy, rocky roads with plenty of thorns in the nature reserve, but up until now, I had found the going quite easy. Just when I thought it had all been a tactic to scare us, we turned off the main road, and the sandy, rocky trail lay before us. I like to think I am quite a good rider of soft sand, but 20kms of soft sand is enough wear anybody down. Although the thought of quiting didn't enter my mind again, I was more than relieved to turn onto some tar, and be welcomed by the second water point. By now we were a stone's throw from the sea - and it was rather inviting. We gulped down some coke, got the bikes lubed - this was becoming a highlight of the day, had a banana or two, and we were on our way.

Russell's road bike looking dirtier than our bikes

We made good progress on the tar, and had settled into a nice pace when we turned off the tar and onto some gravel. Thoughts of sand ran through our minds, but we needn't have worried. The only thing that was bugging me were the dense reeds on the side of the trail that were hitting against my wounds. I could hear Craig chuckling behind me as I tried to take evasive action.

We got to see some of the local wildlife - some rather interested baboons, and some totally oblivious Blesbok. The foreigners must be loving this.

Spectators doing what specatators do - waiting...

Back on the tar we faced a rather steep climb, and I was extremely relieved that I was able to climb it without having too many hassles. Perhaps I was just taking longer and longer to warm up. The upside of this nasty little climb was the fantastic bit of technical jeep track that would take us back down to the valley floor. We flew down there, only to be slightly impeded by Nolan Hofman who was still coming to grips with this mountain bike thing.

All smiles today

If I am to be remembered for one thing in cycling, I want it to be the following tale:

Once through the valley, we turned onto a long, straight, slightly uphill dirt road, with a gusting wind coming slightly off the front to the left. I took up my spot on the front, some other lone rider behind me, and Craig at the back, all echeloned to the right looking for any slipstream there might be. We could see a group of about 6 riders up ahead, way way up ahead, but it didn't really look like we could catch them. Riding at a good tempo, we made good progress, and before long got to the water point. As we arrived, the group ahead of us were leaving, and we could see that it contained two riders we knew from Hermanus and Somerset West. When they saw us they immediately left the water point without saying hello and disappeared. I gulped down some coke for the belly, and we were off. The single rider had decided to go it alone, and now was lurking halfway between us and the group ahead. Slowly, over about 10 minutes, we first caught the single rider, and then the bunch, and we getting ready to settle down in the bunch when the games began. No one wanted to work on the front in case everyone else got a free ride so the pace was dropping. Craig and I had a chat, and we reckoned we could get away from this group with some very devious road tactics. We swung over to the right of the road, me on the front, with just enough room to the edge for Craig to get in my slipstream and no one else. I then slightly increased the pace, and we proceeded to ride away from them. After about 5 minutes we had about 100m on them, and that was all we needed as we caught and passed more riders ahead of us. I have never guttered anybody before, and it felt especially good to do it in a mountain bike race.

Now it is time to relax (and bask in some glory)

Me and my collection of dirt for the day

Before the Epic, I had never been to Bredasdorp before, so I had no idea how much further we had to go, but my white line fever was kicking in, and I wanted to get to the finish as quickly as possible. Thankfully Theunis was following our progress on SportsTrack and was able to tell the wives that they had to get to the finish as we were about 5km out of town. I don't think anybody expected us to bounce back as suddenly, and as impressively as we did that day. I would never have said I was riding with the same partner, who, two days ago, was a walking (bike pushing) zombie. We had gone from finishing 303rd, to finishing 64th!

Another finish line crossed

Amanda and Sarah in good spirits after a long day

As a reward for our good ride, the wives had bought us a roast chicken to share, although Craig thought he ate a whole chicken on his own. As usual, we were pampered and fussed over, and Russell whispered sweet nothings into the ears of our bikes - telling them to keep up the good work and praising them for 3 days of no mechanical issues.

Some running repairs to get to the finish

They start them young in Breadasdorp

Analysing the day's events

We were treated with a fantastic thunderstorm that evening - lightning all over the sky, and just enough rain to settle the dust and cool the air. The next stage was to Hermanus - Craig was going home, and we wanted to have a good ride for all the fans.

STG 5 48. Cat, 64. GC