Monday, 15 June 2009

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:00 | 1 comment

Epic 2009 - Stage 5

Date: 26 March 2009
Start/Finish: Greyton to Oak Valley
Distance: 111km
Climbing: 2233m
Cut-off time: 17:00

Stage 5 would see us leaving Greyton, and heading off to Grabouw. The end was in sight, and we were heading home. After the terrible adventure in and around the hills of Greyton, I was more than glad to leaving.

Almost time to start the stage - the chopper is warming up

As we were entering the food tent for breakfast there was a guy dishing out little pieces of paper. Always keen to see if we had won something for free, each cyclist read the little piece of paper. No prizes, but just some words of encouragement like "God is with you". Unfortunately, after 4 tough stages most cyclists had become quite cynical, and more than one rider wondered aloud if God was going to help push up the hills. Another indicator of the mood of the race was the near silence people ate their breakfast in. I was focused - trying to subtly match Craig in terms of quantity, a task I realised that was certainly easier on paper. To put it bluntly, Craig eats a lot. I am now convinced he is a cross between a human, a cow and hamster - he is able to eat enough to fill his seven stomachs, and then still has some space to stash some extra food for later in his cheeks! No wonder the Epic is running at a loss - Craig is eating all the profit. I was quite proud of myself - I though I had been able to match him in quantity, although I was completely stuffed. The wind was taken out of my sails when Craig then went back for a plate of seconds - bigger than the first!

Heading out of town

Anyway - back to the race. We were in for another fast start out of town, and I was hoping that they would get the route right this time around - I didn't want to get the scenic tour of Greyton again. As expected, we set off quite quickly, although in comparison to the previous day's first hour, it felt like we were out on a leisurely ride, with 1200 of our closest buddies. Before long, we turned off the tar, and headed towards the mountains. Craig was setting a nice pace, and I was tucked in behind him, feeling the effects of my big breakfast!

We made good progress, and got to the bottom of the first climb with the usual faces around us - the faffers were just behind us, and Auric Auto were just ahead of us. Another team that had forced it's way onto my list of teams we had to beat was Benedikt's. We had completely written them off in the first couple of stages, but they were getting stronger and stronger - particularly in the early parts of a stage, and if the stage was a short one, we would be in for some trouble trying to beat them. Benedikt's girlfriend Sarah was in a battle for third place in the ladies section, and it was great to offer her some support as we caught and passed her each morning.

Sarah - doing a last minute tyre pressure check

The first climb had us heading up towards some UFO like tower object thing - apparently it is well known in the area. Craig and I climbed like demons, and found ourselves passing people left right and center. The climb suited our riding style, and we could both power up. I kept half an eye out for the UFO tower thingy, but the hills were covered in some low cloud, and I wasn't quite sure where I was supposed to be looking. The end result was that I missed it completely. After a nice fast downhill, we found ourselves back on the valley floor, heading towards Botrivier. We had some hills to get over before we got there however.

Matching pants

Formula One repairs!

We had hooked up with a nice bunch, although they were probably going a little faster than both Craig and I would have liked. At the bottom of the next climb we waved goodbye to the bunch, and climbed up the hill at our own pace. For the first time so far at this year's Epic my bike was giving me hassles - we had treated the bikes to a service the previous day, with the result that now my bike was struggling to change into the small blade on the front - a vital requirement when climbing some of these hills. Some fancy footwork was required to convince the chain to drop down to the small chain blade, and at the next water point I fixed the problem - half a turn of the end stop screw and everything was back in business. That was the sum total of my mechanical issues. After a quick wave to the supporters, and some coke and Powerade, we were back on the bikes. I think my mechanical change would have put a Formula One team to shame!

Evidence that Craig does in fact have hamster cheeks - that is some breakfast

Leaving the water point - bike fixed and all snacked up

Craig - making the mistake of letting me go in front

We were on the sort of terrain that I love - long gradual climbs and descents on wide open roads. Unfortunately, we found ourselves in the middle of no man's land - there were no riders we could hook onto and share the work load. For the first time that day, I went to the front and took a turn, letting Craig take a bit of a breather. However, this happened to coincide with my stomach starting to digest the monster breakfast that I had had earlier, with rather unpleasant results, particularly for Craig! The end result being that my turn on the front was limited to about 5 minutes, before I was relegated to the back!

We made good progress - riding along the railway line, as we headed towards Botrivier. This was the same part of the route as the race that Craig won here, about 4 months earlier, and I was struggling to keep up with him on the downhills. Before long, we arrived in Botrivier, with the final water point of the day. Once again, our spectators were there, cheering us on. It is hard not to feel inspired to give a little extra when seeing and hearing them.

Botrivier - still feeling good

Ahead of us lay the old pass to Houw Hoek, and some ups and downs in a Cape Nature Conservation area. We made good progress up the old pass - Craig setting the pace, as we climbed through the fynbos in the midday heat. It was hot and airless up the climb, with the sun baking down on us - the cold coke and water of the previous water point a distant memory. We got to the top of the climb, and for once I regretted not looking at the stage profile - I expected that to be it for the day, and for nice flowing single track to take us to the finish. How misinformed I was. We had several short sharp leg killing, lung busting climbs ahead of us - some of them too steep to ride (although they are quite ridable if you didn't already have 100kms in your legs).

Team Spot on Bevan approaching tent city

We were passing people, and being passed - it was difficult to get a good idea of what a good pace was, we would feel good passing riders, only for our egos to take a knock when we got passed. The only thing keeping us going was the lure of the singletrack at OakValley. I half expected to see it around every corner, only to be greeted with yet another killer climb. Eventually the mythical single track appeared, and all the pain and suffering seemed worth it - this was pure mountain bike bliss. Craig was off like a rat up a drain pipe - leaving me for dead, and I was having to work hard just to keep in touch, but enjoying every second of it.

Stage 5 almost finished


After one of the cruelest detours in cycling history - we practically rode through the camp, out the other side, before turning back towards the camp - we crossed the finish line. I really enjoyed this stage - it had been tough, but good. We rode well together, and the big breakfast had certainly helped. And home was just a stone's throw away.

Where's the coke?

A good day at the Epic

Jayne had left us, to be replaced by Wendy, and we spent the afternoon chilling, getting massaged, eating, and cheering in the riders. All in all, a great day at the Epic.

Wendy, sorting out my legs

Highlights of the day: Singletrack, singletrack, singletrack
Lowlights of the day: The obscured UFO and the soul crushing finish.

GC 89 Cat 65 5:48.33,5
Total Time

Friday, 29 May 2009

Posted by Velouria Posted on 10:24 | 1 comment

Amarider 100 Miler

A couple of weeks ago we did the Amarider 100 Miler. We thought it would be a stroll - 100 milers of flat, wide open roads. No real climbing to speak of. And with our legs still in good shape from the Epic, it was supposed to be a great ride. We had entered a team of 4 - myself, Craig, Etienne (from Team Faffers), and Marius. We were all expecting to have a great ride, until we checked the weather report. It just so happened that the Cape was to get its first cold front of the season, and not just any cold front - a MONSTER. High winds, chilly temperatures and lots of rain.

There had been some calls to cancel the event (there was supposed to be 100 mile road race the following day, but that had been cancelled), but we all know that mountain bikers are a tough, fearless lot (and probably slightly mentally challenged as well), and so the organisers had decided to let the event go ahead.

Waking up at 4 in the morning to the sound of our roof straining against the wind had me wishing they had cancelled the race. By the time we got to the start venue the rain had started, and while my bed would have been a warmer and cosier option, deep down each of us looked forward to the self abuse of a long cold, wet and thoroughly miserable day in the saddle.

Bonte had entered a team as well. Just being brave enough to rock up at the start deserved a medal. Only 200 of the 400 entrants bothered to show up, with only about 90 of those finishing the event.

A little after 7am the race started, in the cold dark pouring rain. It wasn't too bad, once you were wet, which took about 37 seconds. The rain was so hard you could barely see where you were going, and for about 10 minutes I rode behind a guy who I thought was Craig, only to realise that it wasn't, and that the rest of my team was somewhere up ahead. I don't remember too much of the first hour and a half, as it all felt the same - there was only about 5 meters of visibility, and you just followed the rider in front of you. I do remember seeing a boat, and thinking that that was probably the preferred means of transport for the day.

I experienced a lot of firsts on that day - riding upstream against the current of a flooded road, hating tar sections, actively seeking patches of water to clean the drivetrain, sediment build up in my shoe. Probably one of the most trying days I have had on a bike. The weather just didn't let up at all. The rain and cold wasn't nearly as bad as the wind, and for the first 5 hours we rode straight into it. We had to pedal on the downhills just to keep moving. It was unrelenting. And to make matters worse, Marius decided that he wasn't going to wait about as one of our riders went through a bad patch. So much for the team idea.

We eventually finished, 9 hours later (I had initially thought we would do it in around 7 hours), in 4th place in the team category (even though we were effectively a 3 man team!). Definetly tougher than an Epic stage, and most certainly the worst weather conditions I have ever ridden in. Thankfully the race the next day was cancelled - I don't think I could have gotten on a bike the next day. Svalbaard (my bike) also took quite a bit of strain, and is still currently receiving some must needed attention at the LBS.

Will we be back - I think so. It certainly was a great event, and the weather just added to difficulty.

A handful of cold and wet supporters


Marius the team player waiting for us at the second water point

The rest of Team Harden Up arriving at the second water point

Time to restock on the snacks

The view we had when it wasn't raining.
Pity you can't see the wind on this photo.

Team Harden Up (minus one) arriving at the halfway mark

Still enjoying it, after 5 hours of ickiness

The worst tar section of the ride - straight into the wind!

Etienne's wife, escaping the cold and wet at a coffee shop in Riebeck West

Yolanda enjoying a cappachino indoors, waiting for us

Deon, Etienne's brother, was asked to take off his muddy shoes

Checkpoint 4

Giving Etienne some time to faff - it was his wedding anniversary today, so I made an exception

Chatting to the race commentator, Francois, while still waiting for Etienne - he had 3 cups of soup, which probably explains why he road the last section so well, and why I faded so badly.

Sally glad to be out the rain and cold.

Bonte, nervous of Yolanda's driving, always wears her helmet. They had to pull out, but still braved 80 kms of hell

20 kms to go, and I was struggling. Should have had more soup!

Conditions at the finish - miserable!

Glad to be done - another tough event over.

As I said - "Tougher than 5 Epics in a row!"

I was frozen onto my bike!

Trying to get warm and dry.

Dry, for the first time in 9 hours.

Ready for bed, another medal for the collection.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:00 | No comments

Epic 2009 - Stage 4

Date: 25 March 2009
Start/Finish: Greyton
Distance: 114km
Climbing: 2202m
Cut-off time: 17:00

Yet again, we would be going on a big loop, starting and ending in the same place. And unlike the previous days, this route didn't sound particularly exciting. Wide roads and jeep track was about all that we had to look forward to.

Our good effort the previous day had boosted our starting position, and we were now in B. This meant that we should get off to a nice fast start, and be able to ride in a bunch of similar ability. Or so we thought. The mapless motorcyclist of Greyton had other ideas. We were expecting a quick exit of the town, out onto the country roads, and on with the stage. Unfortunately, the lead motorcyclist got completely lost in the 5 streets that make up Greyton, and after heading up and down each one a couple times, he proceeded to lead us into a ditch. Now I am not sure if one of the pro teams (or for that matter a back marker) had paid him off, but in the utter chaos that ensued, the natural order of the race was thrown on its head.

The supporter's accomodation

More white horses - I can't wait to have the hiccoughs

Backmarkers suddenly found themselves mixing it with the pros, as several had climbed over fences, pushed through hedges, hiked through gardens, and suddenly found themselves at the front of the Cape Epic. Craig and I opted for the more gentlemanly approach of waiting our turn, and it was this gentlymanlyness that would ruin the rest of our day.

Hanging on, the faffers behind just behind us

Finally - some uphill

As we emerged from the ditch, we found ourselves surrounded by D and E group riders, and suddenly Craig switched into overdrive mode, and looked to make amends. I had no problem lurking with the back markers, but when your partner puts his head down and dissappears up the road, you have little choice but to suck it up and follow.

Me in my usual position - on the back and gasping!

My only reassurance was that I was not alone - Etienne was doing the same thing to Cillier. As we jumped from bunch to bunch, Craig and Etienne egging each other on, with Cillier and myself gasping for air, desparately trying to hang on for dear life as our legs had yet to get going. In between scoffing down my morning banana, and gulping down a Gu, a very strange thing happened. Cillier and I formed a union - and I don't mean something like a gay marriage. More like a Suffering Epic Partner union. And we did it without saying a word (mostly because we couldn't say a word!). It just took a look, and a nod of understanding - our partners really were hurting us, and we were taking strain. But if we stuck together, they couldn't exactly leave us - could they?

A pleasant surprise was seeing our coach Louise from DaisyWay through the lactic haze, cheering the race on from the side of the road. Under the circumstances, I tried to be friendly, but I don't think I succeeded.

Bonte had the best seat in the house!

Eventually, after what seemed an age of high paced suffering, we turned off the fast, wide gravel road, and onto some slightly uphill jeep track. I don't think it is normal, but I was enjoying the hills far more than the flat stuff, and was far more comfortable keeping up with Craig as soon as the trail went up.

Focussed and determined

The Epic route went straight past the guest house where Yolanda and Bonte had spent the night, and it was a pleasant surprise seeing them on the side of the trail, cheering us on with great enthusiasm. After the morning's hardships it lifted the spirits quite a bit.

With Craig's effort in the first hour, we were back up amongst the rest of the B riders, and slowly my legs were getting into the riding. The route had also gotten quite sandy, and my new found sand riding skills were being put to great use.

Ready to tackle the last 40kms

My list of teams to beat had acquired a new team - and I didn't even put them there. I think it was a Hermanus inspired addition, but the new team to beat was Auric Auto. With our mishaps of the previous couple of days, they had beaten us quite comprehensibly. Yet, there they were, just in front of us. It was around this time that I went from feeling like I was surviving, to feeling good, after about 3 hours of riding. There were some climbs, there were some targets up ahead. I was happy. And I also thought that it was time for a bit of pay back. Craig's turn to hang on. Unfortunately, that only lasted about 20 mins, and then I had to concede defeat again, and return to my spot, on Craig's back wheel.

Thankfully, my legs diud get better, and I was able to do more and more of the work. We eventually caught the Auric Auto team, and while they tried to hook on, we succeeded in riding them off our back wheels. By this time, I really needed the second water point to appear. After flying through a wet mielie field, and then a patch of really wet and smelly cow poo - we both looked and smellt a little worse for wear. And thankfully, just al ittle bit further and the waterpoint appeared. Time to gulp down some cokes, wipe the cow poo from my face, and clean my glasses.

Leaving waterpoint 2

We had a short 40kms ahead of us, but nothing at the epic is ever easy, even if Dr Evil says the following:
‘This is the easiest day except for stage 7. Save something for the end though. It all looks deceptively easy and fairly fl at. So push, but don’t overextend.’

Yet again, Craig and I were going in opposite directions, I was getting stronger, and he was starting to feel the exertions of the morning rush, and our positions changed. I was now on the front, with Craig on my wheel. We were heading back towards Greyton, and the stage was almost over. Or so we thought. With Greyton in view up ahead, and a nice flat fast gravel road leading towards it, we made a sharp right turn towards the mountains, and away from our desired destination. The riding was tough - rutted, steep jeep track with only one line to follow. I rode on up ahead, letting Craig ride his own pace.

We found ourselves riding with Tom Ritchey and his Team Rwanda team mate. On one of the downhills I thought I would show this old ballie how to ride a bike, and snuck into the downhill before him. Next thing I see is this handlebar mustache flying past me, on the bad line, looking far too comfortable and in perfect control. After all, he is one of the fathers of mountain biking! Plenty of years to practice.

After a few more twists and climbs, each one sapping the moral (and legs) more than the previous one, we found ourselves on outskirts of Greyton. We were ahead of Auric Auto, and the faffers, yet we both felt quite knackered. There hadn't been too many things to enjoy about the day's riding, and were both only too glad to cross the finish line in 6 hours and a couple of seconds.

White line fever - just a little too slow for the photographer!

Suffering from brain fail - what was the question again?

Time to eat, relax, get a massage and chill. As a treat to our bikes they too were getting some attention - new cables, and filling up on the slime in the tyres, along with the usual wash and lube. Hopefully the next stage would be more exciting.

Covered in cow poo and mud

Moaning to Louise about the fast start!

Just to keep us on our toes, the organisers had decided to play mind games with us. Usually, the truck that contains the single-source drinking water is in an easy to find location. Not today. They kept moving it around. Just when you though you knew where it was, they would move it, and make you have to hnt for it. Great if you are a 5 year old, but after a hard days riding, hunt-the-water-truck is not a game most cyclists enjoy playing!

Coke or recovery? Two hands, one mouth!

Highlights of the day: Passing Tom Ritchey as he ate an apple.
Lowlights of the day: Fast starts, boring riding, being passed by Tom Ritchey

A hedge jumping, garden wrecking German.

GC 90 Cat 63 6:00.09,6
Total Time