Friday, 24 July 2009

Posted by Velouria Posted on 10:34 | No comments

Epic 2009 - Stage 7

Date: 28 March 2009
Start/Finish: Oak Valley to Lourensford
Distance: 60km
Climbing: 1760m
Cut-off time: 15:30 (Start at 08:30)

The last stage of the 2009 Cape Epic couldn't have come at a better time. After the tough stage the previous day, I was beginning to think that I was on the downward curve of my fitness. And the memories from last year's final stage were also running around in the back of my head. I remember not having the best of legs, and struggling quite a bit on the steep climbs. In addition, I also punctured, which completely took the wind out of my sails, and my gears finally gave up about 10 kms from the end. I really didn't want to go through all that again.

Me with number one supporter

Pre race nerves

Third place ladies - Sarah and Nolene

I had eaten well the previous night, and again at breakfast, but had given up trying to match Craig. He is in a class of his own when it comes to eating. We enjoyed the last couple of meals at the Epic and soaked up the atmosphere. The vibe around tent city was quite festive, with the finish line just around the corner (and over several mountains). Most people could finally relax a bit, knowing that they had almost survived an Epic, with just one day remaining.

Sarah - eager to start the stage

DCM Chrome nervously looking around for us

The previous evening in the eating tent Christoph Sauser had taken to the stage to promote the charity that he and Burry Stander are riding for. He also offered his opinion on their time penalty they received, making the comment that sometimes he wished politics would stay out of cycling, and that the legs would just do the talking. The eat tent erupted in applause for about 10 minutes. It was plain to see who the "ordinary" cyclists supported.

Burry Stander

My trusty steed - Svalbard

The final day of the 2009 Epic arrived, and again this year we were given the opportunity to sleep in as the start was delayed to 8:30 to give the people at the finish in Lourensford enough time to get organised. It didn't really help though - by now the routine of getting up at 5am was firmly entrenched, and most people went about their usual pre-race business. My father had flown down to see the last stage, and to try and get some sort of idea why it is we put ourselves through events like the Epic. This would be the first time he has seen me race in person. To non-cycling people (and probably cycling people as well), I think events like the Epic really are quite spectacular to see - the organisation, the cyclists, the determination, the stories.

Empty tent town

Yolanda and the empty tent town

As the start time approached, Craig and I lined up in B for the last time. We had decided to ride without hydration packs - after 7 days of lugging around several kilograms on my back I was only to glad to leave the thing behind, and instead rely on bottles for juice, and pockets for spares. Although everyone was excited to be heading off to Lourensford, there was still an air of nervousness as we lined up for the final time - one silly mistake and it could all be over. I think most riders were opting for discretion, rather than ending their Epic within sight of Lourensford.

Right from the start we went up!

As this was the same route as the previous year, Craig and I knew exactly what to expect, and right from the start we went quite hard up the first hill. We knew we could get a nice head start, as the hill wasn't that steep, and many people would take a while to get going. I think Craig and I ride the best when there is a hill right at the start - it slows Craig down just a bit, and lets me use my climbing skills to keep up. Stage 1 and Stage 3 were clear evidence of this.

The photographers eagerly awaiting our arrival

For one of the few times at this year's Epic I set the pace as we climbed up the old VilliersDorp pass, heading towards the monster of the day (and one of the monsters from the first stage) - Nuweberg. We made good progress, passing riders as we slowly climbed the pass - it is a great climb - not too steep, and just goes on and on - exactly what Craig and I are good at.

The Crazy German - Mike Mike

We were riding around the usual suspects - Auric Auto, and several other teams we had spent most of the Epic battling for supremacy. Missing from this mix were the faffers, and Benedikt and his partner. As the road kicked upward on Nuweberg and the going got a little tougher, Benedikt made an appearance. I really wanted to get rid of him, but the steepness of the climb was taking its toll on my legs, as well as on Craig's. We got into a good rhythm and slowly ground our way up the hill - so far this year's final stage was going a lot better than the previous year's. I hadn't had to walk yet, and my legs were feeling pretty good.

DCM Chrome finished in second place

As we crested the top of the climb, Craig came through and vanished down the hill like a maniac. I tried to keep up, but the traffic on the downhill was making me nervous. Our favourite team of downhill-challenged riders were ahead of us (Team Cyclelab Supercycling Racing MTB A Men's Team or something like that) and I just couldn't get past them. I was also a little nervous as there was a lot of dust, and it was quite tough to pick a line, and I was not going to take any risks just to make up a minute or two. When I eventually got to the bottom, Craig was waiting for me, and pointed out that a girl had ridden the downhill faster than me. Thanks.

The winners, and the people's champions

With the monster climb of the day over, and about 35km to go, we slowly started the gradual climb towards the Gamtoe Pass. We took a little longer than planned at the water point, and as we left we were greeted with the familiar sight of the faffers. They had obviously flown down the hill, and made up all the time we put into them on the climb. And they looked good - well, at least Etienne looked good. He was riding like a man possessed, and poor Cillie was doing his best to hang on for dear life.

Bulls - overall winners

Auric Auto, the faffers and us were locked in a 3 way battle, each team trying to shake the other two, but also trying not to over do it. Craig rose to the challenge well, and I started to pay for my earlier efforts. I don't remember too much about the section up to the compulsory portage, except perhaps giving Cillie that knowing look as I dug deep and tried to stick on Craig's wheel.

Kevin Evans and David George

The compulsory portage down the pass gave me a chance to stock up on fluids and have a Gu - the run into the finish was not an easy one, and I didn't want to fade completely. As we were about to leave the portage section and hop onto the railway line, a train came through, forcing several cyclists to jump for their lives into bushes to avoid having a rather embarrassing accident. One or two riders tried to slip the train, but riding over the sleepers in the middle of the tracks is hard work, and they were unable to keep up. Nice idea though. When we finally got down onto the tracks Craig and I chose to ride in the middle - this was the third year we had ridden this route, and we reckoned that it was quicker to ride in the middle than try to find a line on the edge of the tracks. The tough thing about riding in the middle is that you can't really get a rhythm going as you are continually being bounced all over the place as you ride across the sleepers. Our plan did have two flaws - by riding in the middle we just motivated the riders on the edge to ride a little faster to keep up with us, and when it came to leaving the tracks we would have to get off our bikes and hop over the rails. All in all it was a zero win effort - we left the tracks in the same position as when we started. To add to our disappointment, Benedikt had been sneaky and made up some time somewhere, and now was just ahead of us.

Doug Brown and Bärti Bucher - Masters Winners

Another long downhill lay in front of us, and again Craig disappeared as I tried to keep up. Thankfully, there was some traffic which kept him within range. We were know chasing the faffers and Benedikt, and not making up too much ground. With Lourensford around the corner, and some short, sharp horrible climbs still to come before the neutral zone through Vergelegen we had to make our move. Craig pushed hard on one of the little climbs, and had me right on my limit. It was enough to shake off Benedikt. As the road flattened I realised that we had one last chance to catch the faffers before the neutral zone in order to stand a chance of beating them. It was my turn to push hard, Craig hooked on, and after passing several teams we entered Vergelegen behind the faffers. We still had to make up some ground, but at least we wouldn't be hampered by the no overtaking rule and could close right up on Etienne and Cillie, as they were now stuck behind a mixed team.

Etienne and Cillie

All three teams stayed together, obeying the rules, but I could see that Etienne still had plenty left and was starting to get edgy. I knew that once we left the neutral zone the final 5 kilometers of the 2009 Epic would be flat out. As predicted, the faffers made a move and got a gap on us as we had to try to sift our way through traffic. I was on the front, trying to close the gap with not much success when Craig came passed and tried to have a go. He was closing in on them - only problem was that he had left me behind - I just couldn't get on his wheel. We tried bravely for the next couple of kilometers, before easing off to enjoy the last few kilometers as we approached the finish straight.

Team Spot on Bevan

Eight days earlier, the finish line at Lourensford seemed so far away, and yet here we were. Things hadn't gone quite as expected (show me a race where they do), but I think we had tried our hardest and raced pretty well for a snail farmer and a computer geek. The true test of an Epic partnership is to still be friends with your partner afterwards, and we had achieved that twice.

Post stage analysis

Epic finishers for the third time

It was great to spot all the familiar faces in the crowd and to be cheered by friends and family as we crossed the finish line for the last time. At the same time it is a little sad - the Epic adventure was coming to an end, and on Monday morning it would be work as usual. For those 8 days we were mountain bikers, tackling one hill at a time, completely oblivious to the happenings in the rest of the world.

Benedikt and Joaquin

We spent the next couple of hours relaxing with friends and family, eating and chatting. It was great to know that there were people supporting us each pedal stroke of the way. Although we didn't achieve our goal of a top 50 finish, we gave it a good shot, and I don't think there were any sections of the 800kms that we could have ridden better.

Me, with number one supporter - Yolanda

Off to the showers

It did bring a smile to our faces to hear that the team we had beaten the day before - DCM Chrome, had finished second.

Highlights of the day: Cruising up the hills, racing the faffers, finishing the Epic
Lowlights of the day: Forgetting how tough the bit from the country club to the pass is

GC 83 Cat 63 3:34.33,0
Total Time

GC 93 Cat 64

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:12 | No comments

Epic 2009 - Stage 6

Date: 27 March 2009
Start/Finish: Oak Valley
Distance: 86km
Climbing: 1546m

The thing about stage racing is that you never quite know what sort of legs you are going to wake up with the next morning. There are some indicators though, like if you have a good day and rode a little too hard because you felt quite strong, chances are that the following day is going to be a killer. That was my worry after Stage 5 for Stage 6.

Today's stage was another loopy affair in and around the forests of Grabouw. I really wasn't looking forward to the stage, and the only thing getting me through was the thought of some lovely singletrack in the forests of Lebanon and Oak Valley.

First water point - getting some lube

I was suffering from some saddle sores - nothing I hadn't had before, but still pretty uncomfortable. Thankfully, they only hurt for about 10 minutes once on the bike, because after about 10 minutes, my legs started aching more than the saddle sores, and I was able to completely forget about them.

Craig having a look at the bent link in his chain (and me having a rest)

As I suspected, my legs were nowhere, and the fast start out of town didn't do much to help me either. I was only too glad to turn off the tar, but my relief was short-lived as the mass start had seen us lose quite a lot of places, and we were now sitting way back in the traffic. To make matters worse, my awesome sand skills from a few days before had mysteriously deserted me, and I was riding like a 10 year old girl through the sand (wait - that's being unkind to 10 year old girls - I am sure they would have done a better job than me).

Having fun? Craig is, not sure about me!
(Race founder and director Kevin Vermaak on the right looking on)

The first hour of the race was filled with lots of waiting (for me) - Craig spent half of that time looking over his shoulder to see where I was. The short sharp hills that I usually love were killing my legs. I wasn't having fun. Luckily, after the first hour Craig started to slow - just enough that I could hang on to his wheel, and that is pretty much how we stayed for the rest of the day - Craig on the front, with me tucked in right behind.

The first half of the stage was spent climbing up short steep climbs with loose rocks and sand. We did get a few downhills to enjoy, but had been warned that some might be a little dangerous. Being the second last day of the Epic, we chose to walk the downhills, and each time we did, our choice would be justified when a random rider with bravery levels far outweighing his skills levels would come flying down the hill, misjudge an obstacle, and end up in a heap of grazed skin and shattered ego. Just goes to show - sometimes discretion is the better part of valour (I was just glad for the opportunity to rest as we walked down the hill!).

Fueled up and back on the go.

The funny thing was that, because of our (ie. my) bad start, it felt like we were passing people all day long. This ended up giving us the false impression that we were actually riding quite well, yet the people we were passing were riders that should never have been in front of us in the first place. The only reassurance that things weren't that bad was that we were still ahead of the faffers (funny story - Yolanda had foxed Etienne into taking an anti-histamine for a bee sting, and he blamed the tablet for making him weak).

Probably the only time I was at the front!

With the race now firmly in our backyard, it was great to spot many familiar faces in the crowds, and the encouragement and support did loads to lift my spirits. Occasionally there would be so many spectators at a check point that it would be hard to spot our dedicated supporters. The crazy screams of "Craig and Dane" usually gave them away though! I made sure to match Craig snack for snack today - I didn't want to feel any worse than I already did. It was at one of the waterpoints that Craig discovered Energade's Jelly Babies. Fifteen minutes after wolfing down a whole bag of EnerJellies, Craig was like a man possessed. Thankfully I had some Gu's stashed away for emergencies just like this, and had to gulp down two just to stay on level terms. At the next water point I made sure I grabbed a bag of EnerJellies as well - I wasn't going to let a supercharged Craig do that to me again!

Keeping an eye on Craig's snack intake

We eventually made it into the single track of Lebanon - our hearts almost sank as our favourite pair of mountain bikers who can't ride downhill (CycleLab MTB Racing Team - grr!) were just in front of us, with about a kilometer to go to the single track. I was not going to let them ruin the only enjoyable highlight of my day. They must have sensed my bad vibes, and pulled over to let us past. There is nothing quite like the single track at Lebanon - it has the perfect mix of flowing technical sections, gradient, surface etc. Just perfect!

My bubble was burst slightly - I thought I was doing a great job, hanging onto Craig's wheel, flying down the single track, when out of nowhere Brendan Stewart and Max Knox of DCM Chrome came flying past - they had had some awful luck all morning, puncturing every 10 kms. It was quite amazing to see how effortlessly and controlled they rode.

Craig had bent a link in his chain earlier in the day up on of the steep inclines, and the big worry was that the chain was going to break. As it was, he had to be quite careful not to put too much power into pedaling, as the chain was skipping and slipping quite a bit. Again, this helped me out a bit, and made my ride a little easier.

Going into the some of the singletrack on Oak Valley, I got stuck behind a mixed team, while Craig had managed to sneak ahead of them. DCM Chrome had punctured again, and once again they were behind me. I can't begin to explain how nervous they made me feel. When we eventually got out of the single track, I had hoped to pass the mixed team, only for my plans to be dashed - a steep uphill awaited us, and Craig was taking a bit of strain. DCM Chrome also decided to do the gentlemanly thing of pushing the lady up the hill, so I just settled down to ride behind them - there was no way I my legs would last a sustained effort to get away from the mixed team.

Last downhill before the finish

We eventually did lose the mixed team in some single track, and it was left to Team Spot On Bevan to dice it out with DCM Chrome (the sneaky bit was that we hadn't really told DCM Chrome that we were dicing), and in the home straight, in front of our adoring fans and supporters, we pulled of a daring coup as we jumped past DCM Chrome and held them off to the finish. So if anyone asks how our stage went, we can at least say we beat DCM Chrome, and have the pictures to prove it!

DCM Chrome eating our dust!

I haven't been so relieved to see the finish of a stage at the Epic in a long time. Today was a day I was glad to have behind me, and hopefully I would find some legs overnight for the final stage into Lourensford. My worst stage of 2009 by far.

Benedikt and partner were getting stronger and stronger

Benedikt was chuffed to have beaten us, although he finished behind us

Giving orders for the final bike wash and lube

Glad that it's over

Highlights of the day: Finishing the stage, beating DCM Chrome ;)
Lowlights of the day: The bit at the beginning, the bit in the middle, and the bit at the end.

GC 113 Cat 83 4:50.12,3
Total Time

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