Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 22:01 | No comments

Cape Epic - Stage Eight

Date: 28 March 2010
Start/Finish: Oak Valley to Lourensford
Distance: 65km
Climbing: 1640m

The final stage of the 2010 Cape Epic had arrived, and it couldn't have come any sooner for those still in the race. We had endured 7 days of some of the toughest and most technical mountain biking in the Western Cape, certainly the toughest riding in an Epic to date. A general air of excitement and anticipation filled tent city - we were just 65km away from Lourensford and the finisher's medal that awaited us.

While there might have been a carnival atmosphere in the hours leading up to the start of the final stage, the final stage was not one that could be taken lightly. It really was the sting in the tail of what had been a tough Epic, and was the kind of stage that could ruin one's hopes of finishing.
Good bye to tent town
As is customary, the stage started a little later than previously, giving us some extra time to sleep in, enjoy breakfast and fiddle. The extra time flew by, and before we knew it the stage had started and we were climbing once again on tired, cold legs up the towards the old Viljoen's Pass. Lady Luck was smiling on me, and for the first time in three attempts I was able to ride up some steep concrete jeep track instead of having to push my bike up the climb.

We made good progress up the old pass, and crossed over to the foot of Nuweberg. There had been a general sigh of relief that we weren't going to be climbing this monster, but Dr Evil wasn't going to let us get away without a little bit of pain and suffering. He had found a new climb that was higher, steeper and rockier than Nuweberg - Buysepad. Once again we found ourselves riding with the usual suspects, the Coach, the DropGoal Hero, the Pretty Boy, and Mr Stander. The more I saw of Mr Stander the more respect I had for him - he is not a small fellow, and yet he was climbing as well, if not better than the rest of us - doing his own thing at his own tempo. Very impressive.
The Mountain Bike and I crossing the line
The final section of Buysepad kicked up quite steeply, and we were forced to carry/push our bikes. I was riding Nelly once again, and so far everything was going well. We were climbing well, we were fast on the flats, and relatively fast on the smoother descents. And then I found her weakness - the otherside of Buysepad is a rocky technical descent with no real line at all. I am embarrassed to say that The MountainBiker rode away from me on the descent, and did so looking like he was a natural. In fact, I think he even gave me a "what took you so long" look at the bottom. While he still hadn't found his elusive climbing legs, he certainly had found some technical skills and was making good use of them.
We made it!
A short stop at the only water point of the day where bumped into the Coach and we were off - 30kms to go. We got to the compulsory portage just ahead of our competitors, and had a leisurely stroll down Gantouw Pass, to the railway line that awaited us. Thankfully, it was nothing in comparison to the railway line of Stage One, and we were soon off it and flying downhill towards Vergelegen and the ridiculous "no over taking zone". If we could get into that zone ahead of our competitors, we would stand a good chance of finishing ahead of them. To do that, we would have to get over the horrible little climbs that preceded the zone. With my hand planted firmly on The MountainBiker's back we flew up the hills and managed to open up quite a nice gap.
Happy to be finished
Walking past the gallery - everybody is a winner
After leaving the "no over taking zone" we had a short flat time trial to the finish. With The MountainBiker tucked in behind me we flew over the wide flat dirt roads, past a rather grumpy and tired Yolanda (who had done a 50km race in Lourensford and was probably close to being in last place) and onto the finishing straight.
The stage winners handing us our medals
It is quite a strange feeling riding up the grass finishing straight - it is not a thought you want to entertain at any time during the Epic in case of jinxing you race, and yet when it finally happens it feels a little weird - almost unwanted. Just like that, the Epic is over - eight long hard tough stages, some good times, some bad times - all come to an abrupt end. While the finish is most welcome, it also signifies the end to yet another great adventure through the Western Cape.
The MountainBiker and I - 2010 Finishers.
The MountainBiker and I had survived - there were definitely times when we both thought that he wouldn't make it, but being the tough little rider that he is, he stuck it out, gritted his teeth and crossed the line like a true champion. Well done Russell, and thanks for a great Epic.
Medal number 4

168. Cat
238. GC

181. Cat
261. GC

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 18:31 | No comments

Cape Epic - Stage Seven

Date: 27 March 2010
Start/Finish: Oak Valley to Oak Valley
Distance: 99km
Climbing: 2160m

We awoke on the morning of the second last stage of the Cape Epic and were greeted by some cool, cloudy, windy weather. It was hard to believe that just a couple of days ago in Ceres we were dying from temperatures well into the 40s. I think everyone was quite relieved to be riding in some cooler temperatures. In addition, there was a general buzz about tent town as we were heading towards mountain biking Mecca - Lebanon - home of some great single track. While the idea of doing a loop of 99kms didn't appeal to many, the thought of the single track and party atmosphere afterwards was enough to get everyone motivated, including The Islander.

A grey and chilly tent town
First hill of the day
Getting to grips with Nelly
I had said farewell to Svalbaard, my Maverick mountain bike, and thanked her for the 4 Epics that she survived with a near perfect record of reliability. It was time to ride Nelly the Niner. In hindsight, this wasn't such a good idea, particularly on this stage. There were just too many hills, and my legs didn't have the power required to climb them comfortably. This levelled the playing fields for The Islander a little.
Team Burger Kings
With all our warm weather gear on, we set off for the penultimate stage of the 2010 Cape Epic. I had to pay particular attention to what The Islander was wearing, as we were no longer wearing our 5339 tops, and he is quite easy to lose, being small and all. The first 30kms passed by quite uneventfully, except for a highspeed fall that The Islander had, and a slow speed topple over that I had.
Keeping an eye on The Islander
Single track heaven on Oak Valley
After reaching Botrivier and stocking up on some snacks, we turned onto some district road and this is where Nelly came into her own. We had caught a largish bunch of riders, but as there was quite a stiff headwind no one was really prepared to sit on the front and do any work. I made sure The Islander was nicely tucked into the bunch, and then went to the front. For the next 10kms or so Nelly and I pulled about 20 riders along, not one of them offering to help. As we pulled off the district road and onto some jeep track, one rider thanked me at least.
I am smiling - inside
With the "fun" part of the stage now over, we had to pay our dues and started climbing. This climb was The Islander's worst nightmare - it had several steep sections, and was littered with lots of sandy patches. Just imagine the swearing. Luckily, the steep sections soon quietened him down. After what seemed like an age of climbing, we finally made the next water point on the top of the mountain. The Islander had requested a extra long break - he was taking strain. Since we weren't going to catch the leaders any time soon we had a nice leisurely stop - snacking on muffins and rice cakes and enjoying the coke and Energade on offer. We had 40kms to go, and some great single track ahead of us.
Leaving the final water point
The stop had done The Islander good, and we made good progress towards Lebanon. Just like on previous days - no matter how bad you think it is going, there is always someone a little worse off. Today we passed a guy running next to his bike - his free body had given up the ghost and so he could only free wheel on the down hills. And there is nothing much that us fellow riders to do - he was all alone in his private hell, so close to the end of the Epic, with only his partner for company.
When we finally made the single track of Lebanon I was expecting The Islander to ride like he rode the previous day and be all over my back wheel. Unfortunately, the climbing and the Epic in general had dented his enthusiasm. It was just as well, as I was still learning how to ride Nelly, and had some rather scary moments where I overcooked some corners or misjudged some obstacles.
1200 riders and all alone
After leaving the single track of Lebanon, we had the gradual climb back to Oak Valley and the finish to look forward to. It was around this time that our new nemesis caught and passed us - The PrettyBoy and The Scrummie. The Scrummie was amazing - towing The PrettyBoy up all the hills. If he could do it, so could I, and so I started to push The Islander at every opportunity I got. We made such good progress that we ended up catching The Coach. Hill after hill we struggled on, The Islander digging deep and doing a great job of satisfying my competitive streak. And before we knew it, we were once again at the finish line. Seven stages down, one to go.
The Giant and The Dwarf?
Crossing the line
Nelly had performed well for her first Epic stage, but not nearly as well as The Islander. It hadn't been an easy stage that we were all expecting and he had done a great job in ticking off the kilometers, one by one. We had 60 something kilometers to go to Lourensford - and for the first time since the third hour of Stage 1, I think The Islander believed he could make it.
Thoroughly exhausted from the day's riding

174. Cat
253. GC

Overall: 44:44.46,7

Lights out on Stage 7

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 21:27 | 2 comments

Cape Epic - Stage Six

Date: 26 March 2010
Start/Finish: Worcester to Oak Valley
Distance: 123km
Climbing: 2240m

With the end almost in sight, the Epic was slowly heading towards Lourensford, one stage at a time. Today's stage was going to be a long one, and just to make sure that we couldn't accuse Dr Evil of being soft, we would be venturing over his favourite mountain in the whole world - Groenlandberg. The Terrier was in a good mood, and looking determined. If we survived this stage, the Epic was practically over.
Even the Pro's look nervous.
As always, we started off on tar, and I had be on the alert as The Terrier dodged and weaved around, between and, given his lack of height, under other riders.We hopped from group to group, finding the best possible people to wheelsuck. With some clever moves, we managed to put in some distance between ourselves and the rest of the bunch, so that when the bottlenecks came, we were, for once, on the right side of the bottleneck.
The view from the back, where we started.
I had been hatching a plan in my mind to ride my new 29 inch bike - Nelly the Niner - for the next two stages. Svalbaard, my Maverick somehow got wind of my plans and on several occasions tried her best to through me off. On one occasion I had pretty much resigned myself to a high speed crash, when, just inches from the ground she relented and kept me upright. I should have taken the hint and banished all thoughts about Nelly, but I didn't, and Svalbaard would make me pay later.

The high speed nature of the first 30kms also brought another problem to light - I had no legs. For whatever reason, I wasn't riding nearly as comfortably as I had been for the previous stages, and I was feeling quite uncomfortable on the bike. I couldn't let The Terrier know as he might have used my sudden weakness to seek revenge for all the pain and terror I had inflicted on him up to this point. It was a case of putting on a brave face and gritting my teeth, and secretly hoping that either I got some legs, or that The Terrier lost his before he could exploit his advantage.
Go Svalbaard Go!
The only secret weapon that I had was that I don't mind hills that much, whereas The Terrier is hillophobic (my request to add hillophobic to the Oxford dictionary is currently pending). And thankfully Dr Evil had obliged and given us a hill to climb that we'd both ridden before - The Terrier and I rode it in 2007, and Craig and I rode it again in 2009. I think its unofficial name is Cow Patch Hill, and from the top you get a good view of Villiersdorp. Previously, The Terrier had ridden several minutes into Julian and I on this hill, but that was when The Terrier was younger, fitter, and stronger. He put up a good showing again, climbing well, and the hill was just what I needed to get the legs going. On the way down the other side, as I was enjoying the tricky technical descent, Svalbaard acted up again, and this time she didn't relent at the last moment. I went down in a cloud of dust - nothing too serious, but enough to take the skin off my elbow and knee, and let me know who the boss is. I made sure no thoughts of Nelly entered my head for the rest of the stage.

We made good progress over the rolling hills of the middle section of the stage, riding with people we'd never seen before. The Terrier was still doing a great job - gritting it out on the climbs and riding with more and more confidence on the descents. We eventually arrived at the foot of Groenlandberg, and faced a 17km climb. The mood on the route had changed, and everybody slowly withdrew into their shells as they prepared to face their demons for the next hour and a half.
Mountain bike heaven.
The Terrier and I had worked out a way to ride the hills - it really came down to both of us riding at our own tempo and pace, and we'd "reconvene" every now and then so that the gap didn't get too big. A snack stop a quarter of the way up the climb went down well with The Terrier, and once again he had to be pried away from the Woolworths rice cakes. Slowly but surely we inched our way up the climb, always half expecting a steep section at every turn. But it never materialised. The second most talked about climb of the 2010 Cape Epic turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. After all the hype and fear scaremongering that had been going on, Groenlandberg passed us by like a damp squib. At least we had some great downhill to look forward to, and boy did we fly down that hill. It's always easy to spot the roadies - they are the guys who really can't go downhill fast, and using this classification, The Terrier was no longer a roadie - he flew down that mountain!
A pretty boy doctor TV personality - aka The Competition!
With a handful of kilometres to go, we entered the single track at Thandi. I kept looking over my shoulder for The Terrier, and couldn't see him behind me. Where was he? I eventually spotted him - I was looking too far back - he was right on my wheel, and being so small, I was looking right passed him. Try as I might, I couldn't go fast enough to ride away from The Terrier.
Our final tent town.
A couple more hills and descents, some single track in Oak Valley, and the finish awaited us. Once again, we rode past the finish, which drained the last drop of strength from The Terrier's legs and cracked his moral, but it didn't matter - we had not only survived Stage 6, but ridden one of our best stages so far.
Another stage, another finish line

Stage 6 finishers - a job well done.
With two relatively short stages left, the mood had changed quite considerably in tent town - the Chill Zone was full, beers were being drunk, people were relaxing. After she had been cleaned, I took Svalbaard aside and thanked her for behaving for 6 days of rather tough riding, and for the 3 previous Epics I had done on her. Yolanda had brought Nelly through, and I was going to finish the rest of the Epic on her.

Tired, weary, but one stage closer to Lourensford.

148. Cat
207. GC

Overall: 38:01.55,9

Friday, 4 June 2010

Posted by Velouria Posted on 19:55 | No comments

Cape Epic - Stage Five

Date: 25 March 2010
Start/Finish: Worcester
Distance: 27km
Climbing: 860m

The Pocket Rocket looking good in blue
Stage Five was a bit of a strange day for most people. It was time trial day, which for most people meant a rest day, unless of course you were a pro and your life depended on winning the Epic. For the rest of us Stage Five was just another way of saying "A chance to sleep late and then go for a bit of a ride, and then spend the rest of the day chilling in Worcester". That's exactly what The Pocket Rocket and I had in mind for today.

Blue kit, blue socks, blue gloves, blue bike - where are the fashion police now?
Queuing for our 9:30am start 
 As usual, we were going to take it easy, I was going to follow The Pocket Rocket blah blah blah, but really, who were we kidding? We both knew I would stick to the plan for about 10 minutes, and then my competitive nature would get the best of me and I would end up making The Pocket Rocket suffer on the climbs.
 Looking cool, calm and focussed.

Dr Evil had found another perfect location for an impossibly tough route, 860m of climbing in just 27kms was going to be a killer. This was going to be mountain goat heaven with short steep climbs and crazy descents. I couldn't wait, but I could see that The Pocket Rocket was nervous.

And we're off.
Stick to the plan!
After getting a Tour de France style send off down the ramp we quickly got into a good rhythm. We had both neglected the option of a warm up ride - what is the point when you are sitting in 300 and something-eth position. As I expected, The Pocket Rocket set the pace initially, and I just latched onto his wheel. As the road started to tilt up, I started to get a little restless, and when we spotted the team that started 2 minutes ahead of us my will power crumbled. I had to chase them. The one thing about the Epic is that no matter how bad you are feeling on a bike - there is ALWAYS someone worse off, and today we found that someone quite early on. At about 5 kilometres into the ride we road past a team that had stopped by the side of the road. My initial assumption was that they had had a mechanical, and as I was about to mumble the obligatory offer to help, the paler of the two riders looked across to us with desperation in his eyes and proceeded to projectile vomit while his partner looked on helplessly with fear and trepidation written all over his face.

At least The Pocket Rocket hadn't tested our partnership like that yet...

Up up and more up
The "flat" part of the route.
The course for the time trial really was brutal - really steep climbs, loose descents and washed out corners. The technical nature made the riding tough, and a lapse in concentration could easily have ended the race right there, but both The Pocket Rocket and I made it through successfully - The Pocket Rocket's technical skills improving with each descent, as well as his resolve to suffer up the climbs.

Like a moonscape
Getting ready for the downhill.
Me - making lots of dust as I fly down the hill
MTB Heaven.
Our spectator was on hand to take a some photos and videos of us as we neared the halfway mark - I am always amazed at the lift a friendly face can provide.

After initially just wanting to survive, we ended up putting in quite a good effort and moved up several places. Whether or not we had been a little silly would be answered by our performance in the following stage.
Racing for the day almost done.

I think The Pocket Rocket had a good day.

178. Cat
247. GC

Overall: 31:03.04,7