Saturday, April 29, 2006

Day 4 Riversdale to Swellendam just under 7 hours

132 km 2175 meters

Because of our mildly better performance from the previous day, we were reinstated into the “C” gate. Carrie and I managed to stay pretty far forward in the group. We get passed a lot by stronger riders in the younger men’s group that start behind us. It’s a daily occurrence to get caught by Frank and Christen as well who are in the masters group and are moving towards the top quarter of their category. There are other teams that inevitably show up near us as the day wears on. We call them “our people” – or as Pete and I termed it “our peeps.”

Unlike the past days where there was a chill air and a headwind as we moved from east to west, today had no such obstacles. We rolled in bright hot sunshine and made pretty good time on the first half of the day. Then the bumpy sections came. Still dirt roads for the most part, but with large embedded stones that made us feel like we were riding the cobbles of Belgium. This was hard on my tender bum, especially as I’m riding a semi-hardtail bike (only an inch of suspension in the rear). Carrie had it much tougher as she’s riding a very light full hardtail. By the time we got to a section of actually paddocks, with clumpy lumps from farm animals, she was particularly tender down under. Altering ones riding style to absorb the shocks takes a toll, so we had to back off the pace and go in more of a survival mode. We had perhaps the nicest break – a proper one that let us appreciate the now brilliant scenery, before grinding out the last 30 kilometers. I actually welcomed the opportunity to ride below the heart rate range for a while as I needed some recovery time from having mashed my legs when the bike performed poorly on the earlier days.

I believe the difficulty of the course today led the organizers to shorten the route somehow (unless our GPS odometers were off). The km to go sign came about 10 km earlier that we expected. A welcome relief. Despite our difficulties physically. Our mechanicals were pretty good. I had a couple of chain jams, but no skipping or chain suck. Carrie had new brake cables and thus no longer had to back off descending when we had folks in front of us blocking the way.

Swellendam was a great arrival spot. Not threadbare like our previous night. Our inn was fantastic as was the host. Plenty of rose gardens and beautiful touches to the room (like flower petals in the toilet….that alas we gave little attention to when we arrived with our tender bums). We got in just under 7 ours at around 2pm so we had time to enjoy some of the town. We ended up having two full dinners – one at 3pm and another at 7pm. The late dinner with Frank and Christen was an education for me as they provided much information on what they believed made sense on the appropriate bikes given today’s technology. They are both riding full suspension top of the line Trek Flumes made out of carbon fiber. The frames way less that 2 kilos each. In fact, their water bottles weigh more than their frames. They educated me on the advantages of disc breaks and pointed out how my titanium bike would always be squeaky (true). I learned a lot about the new generation of self-sealing tubeless tires, etc. etc. After all the mechanical problems from riding a bike that is clearly a bit tired, I was an apt audience for their discourse.

But for now, I was just glad to be at the halfway point. With the exception of my bum, my overall body is actually starting to feel better – less stiff and more flexible in particular. This is in sharp contrast to Day 4 at the Transalp – when Pete and I were most wasted and had to ride the bulk of the day below our heartrate.

Gordon and Jeffra came in to day within the time limit. It was hard for everyone as the bumps took the fun out of it even for folks with fully suspended bikes (as they have).


The Official Results

Stage four of the Absa Cape Epic took the Epic riders up into the Langenberg and through one of the Western Cape’s gems: Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve and Bontebok National Park. Almost fifty percent of the demanding 132 kilometre long ride went uphill which meant an accumulative total of 2175 metres of climbing (that is equivalent to climbing one fourth of Mt. Everest in one day).

After yesterday’s climactic finish, the pro riders were concerned about too large bunches forming again between them and the amateur riders. Today’s route ensured that it would not be so easy for the same situation to occur considering the number of steep climbs involved. Still the pros didn’t want to take a risk and hit the gas right after the start to break the field up into ten smaller groups. At Heartbreak Hill, a climb that lives up to its name,
Christophe Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI) made their first attack showing the form that got them to where they are today. Only team Stevens Racing was able to match their pace uphill and through the technical terrain of the nature reserves. When they hit the long tar section right before the Barrydale turnoff they had a lead of 50 seconds over team Rocky Mountain Business Objects with Germans Karl Platt and Carsten Bresser, team adidas William Simpson with South Africans Brandon Stuart and Shan Wilson and the adidas Raleigh team with the South African-Namibian pairing of Mannie Heymans and Kevin Evans. In perfect road racing manner the six pros worked together to close the gap. By the end of the 15 kilometre tar section they had achieved their goal and caught up with the leaders. They had levelled the playing field once again.

Five hundred metres to the finish the fight was on. A short, steep torturous climb served as the battle field. Christoph and Silvio kicked off the attack. They showed no weakness or mercy and proved once again to be unbeatable. Now the sprint for the remaining two podium places began in ernest. Driven by their desire to finally step foot onto the winners’ podium, team adidas William Simpson drew on their last reserves to push through and
grab third place. “I saw Karl, Shan and one of the Stevens guys in front of me and Carsten and the other Stevens guy were at my side. So I knew I only had to beat one of them to get us on the podium.” Shan Wilson at 39 is the most senior of the pro riders in the Men’s division whilst Brandon at only 24 years of age is one of the younger professional Men’s competitors. When asked why they make such a good team Brandon replied: “We are very good friends, despite living far apart. We literally talk to each other every single day. Shan was the best man at my wedding. He brings maturity into the team. As a youngster you sometimes lose your head a bit, but Shan keeps me grounded.” Shan who has actually been leaning towards pairing up with a strong European master rider for the Epic was overwhelmed by today’s result. “It shows you what you can do when you are focused. Today I feel like a super man. There are not many people at my age that I can ride with. Brandon and I make a great pair. He is an expressive and aggressive rider. I nurse him, I talk to him and I try to channel into his aggression in order to achieve our goals.”

Another team working incredibly well together this year in achieving their goals is team adidas Fiat Rotwild featuring the female leaders Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER). Having gained such a comfortable lead in the first three stages they took the opportunity today to take it a bit slower and check out the competition. “We wanted to see how strong the other girls are in the climbs and also observe their team tactics”, Sabine stated.
“Mountainbike Revue and the Go Fast Girls used the opportunity to attack, but we managed to maintain our lead and to win the stage. At the finish we were quite surprised to realise that we had built up such a lead in the last few kilometres, but then we heard that Lisi had a bad crash and they lost quite a bit of time.” The German pharmacy student is not only facing the daunting physical challenge of riding The Cape Epic, she is also struggling with serious food allergies which make refuelling after each day quite complex. Sabine suffers from a protein and gluten allergy which severely restricts her diet. At the moment she is living off rice and dried fruit and her homemade muesli with powdered rice milk that she mixes with water. “I bake my own energy bars at home and I brought about three kilograms with me, but discovered they had spoilt just before we left for Knysna.” Today was the first time she really felt the impact when she had a complete energy slump. After crossing the finish line all she could think of was food. “I didn’t want to speak to anybody. I was just desperately looking for my lunchbox with rice that I saved from last night’s supper. At home I don’t have a problem, because we have easy access to organic gluten-free food. Being in unfamiliar territory as well as on the road, my choices are much more limited. In the race I fill my bottle with a mixture of corn starch and water instead of energy gels or shakes.”

Sabine gets moral support from her boyfriend Andi Strobel (GER) of team adidas Fiat Rotwild who has changed his diet to accommodate her allergy. Andi and his team mate Silvio Wieltschnig are currently in sixth place in the overall Men’s rankings and are very satisfied with this result. “For only having trained ten days on our bikes in the past months while the other elite riders have done ten road races or have spent weeks in training camps we are doing quite well.” Andi and Silvio have increased their endurance by participating in ski mountaineering competitions. Andi has just started competing in this growing winter sport and was immediately approached by the coach of the national team to represent Germany in international races.

Tomorrow’s stage will be the ‘easiest’ stage of this year’s Absa Cape Epic and lead the riders over 116 kilometres from Swellendam to Greyton.

1. Team Specialized: Christophe Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI)- 04:28:16
2. Stevens Racing: Johannes Sickmeuler (GER) and Christian Heule (SUI)- 04:28:18
3. adidas William Simpson: Shan Wilson (RSA) and Brandon Stuart (RSA)- 04:28:19

1. adidas-Fiat-Rotwild: Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER)- 05:50:31
2. Mountainbike Revue: Elisabeth Hager (AUT) and Sandra Lettner (AUT)- 06:15:30
3. Go Fast Girls: Barbara Kreisle(USA) and Christina Begy (USA)- 06:24:29

1. Absa Business Banking Services: Linus van Onselen (RSA) and Geddan Ruddock (RSA) – 04:52:34
2. Nico Vanaken (BEL) and Andre Hendrickx (BEL)- 04:55:14
3. Giant Willie Engelbrecht: M C Franken (RSA) and Bryan Strauss (RSA) – 04:55:56

1. GHOST International: Jorg Scheiderbauer (GER) and Anna Baylis-Scheiderbauer (GER) – 04:52:43
2. adidas/ W E Cycles/ Bianchi : Fourie Kotze (RSA) and Anke Erlank (RSA) – 04:55:16
3. Dolores Maechler (SUI) and Severin Rupp (SUI) – 05:12:51

Overall positions:

1. Sauser/Bundi – 18:03:48
2. Heule/Sickmeuler – 18:16:53
3. Bresser /Platt – 18:17:58

1. Grona/Brachtendorf – 23:44:12
2. Hager/Lettner – 24:40:34
3. Begy/Kreisle – 26:41:09

1. Ruddock/ von Onselen 20:14:18
2. Du Toit/ Muller – 20:53:35
3. Vanaken/ Hendrickx – 21:22:18

1. Baylis-Scheiderbauer/ Scheiderbauer – 20:27:42
2. Maechler/ Rupp – 21:06:30
3. Erlank/ Kotze – 21:15:57


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