Saturday, April 29, 2006

Day 5 Swellendam to Greytown 5 hours 20 minutes

114 km 1500 meters

Today is billed as the easiest day of the race (besides the final day) because there is just one main climb in the middle of the race – and even that obstacle was not particularly technical. Despite our backing off the pace yesterday, our more trouble free mechanical situation meant that our steady pace moved us up in the ranking for mixed riders from 21st to 15th, allowing us to start in B gate with the the 50 teams just behind the pros and other top riders. This proved to be good today as the first 42 km were on fast smooth dirt roads where road riding technique rather than pure brute force were paramount. This means riding at speed in packs that form to beat the wind rather than terrain. Unfortunately, 5 minutes into the race my front derailleur cable began to fray and I lost the use of my large chain ring – GRRRR! as that meant all my top gears were out of reach on the precise day when putting it into a big gear, especially for downhills, would be useful to stay with the mini packs forming. I had just replaced the front cable to reduce friction and stupidly didn’t have the mechanics do the front again as well. The cable I had was less than 2 months old, but I should have known that the stress and abuse from the prior days might have left it weak. I only dared to shift down into the small chain ring of little gears three times for the day, lest I snap the remaining strands and be left with only small gears (the position the bike reverts to if there is a total failure of the cable) for the rest of the day.

Carrie was well recovered from her pains of yesterday and going strong. Thus I became the governor on our speed for most of the day. That girl also does well with few food breaks, water breaks, or pee breaks… almost any and all stopping today was on account of my needs. We really didn’t make use of the rest stops and just paced along with our peeps. We were clearly a bit further up today despite my mechanicals as we came in with the mixed team who is five places ahead of us. They are a fit young couple that we rode with a bunch today. They long like German uber-beings. And they’ve got the stretch cable setup all rigged whereby the woman can grab a retractable cable attached to our partners seat post, hook it to her stem, and literally be dragged along. They do it smoothly and seamlessly to maximize their overall efficiency. And the dude stops at the breaks, while the woman keeps on riding (at a restful pace) while he collects water and food to bring up to her so that they keep on powering on.

Our steady pace and avoidance of a total breakdown got us in early at 5 hours and 20 minutes (hooray). The town was small and appreciative. Local vendors were trying to keep up with our needs but were woefully unprepared. When I ordered my chicken and chips, the ladies started peeling the potatoes while I stood in line. African efficiency is not paramount, but the service is friendly. Hundreds of school kids from the shanty towns we passed (for the first time today) turned out with outstretched hands to touch us as we rode by. Very motivating to see them in such glee…all turned out in their perfect color uniforms – the little girls on what part of the road and the boys on another.

My bike went right back to the mechanic. In addition to loosing the front derailleur, the free hub on my back wheel began to freeze up. This necessitates me to pedal down hill lest my chain go slack and get thrown into my spokes. That’s bad when you have a big ring, but its even worse when you don’t because you’ve got to pedal, with no resistance, precisely when you want to be coasting, and resting off the saddle. Thus today, despite the short ride and assistance from the packs in the beginning, took a lot out of me. I also confess to riding a lot of the first two hours at moderately above my target heart rate limit of 125. With a heart rate in the low 130s, my recovery for the next day may be lacking. The payoff of course was the early stage finish.

Gordon and Jeffra came in at about 8 hours – pretty beaten up from the sun and still suffering the effects from their hard ride on the prior day. Gordon had a spate of heat exhaustion the previous day which prevented him from having much appetite at dinner. Consequently, he didn’t start the day with a “full tank” of fuel – and suffered as a result. Its damn hard when you can’t get rehydrated and fueled up. I’m almost too tired to do so at times, so you have to force yourself to compensate. Frank and Christen had another good day, and I believe they even beat the top women’s pro team in today. But they were a bit shattered – and Christen (who is very meticulous about his bike) actually turned it over to one of our guides today to look after.

Dinner tonight was limited to the camp offering as there were virtually no other options in this small town. As with the small towns in the Transalp, its tough to entertain this crew with “local talent.” Once again, we were treated to a performance of the local aerobics class doing their dance workout on stage. Had to get a movie of this one…..

Turned in early and prayed that my butt is not too bruised up for tomorrow. Had another full rehash with the mechanics on my bike. Hopeful that everything is now sorted.


The Official Post

Stage five of the Absa Cape Epic saw the first victory of a South African pairing and the first time in the history of the Magical + Untamed African MTB Race that a team managed to maintain a lead for 100 kilometres. Fueled by their first podium placing yesterday, team adidas William Simpson with Brandon Stewart and Shan Wilson of Durban and Cape Town respectively, attacked in a way that most cyclists would call suicidal. At kilometre 10 Brandon hit the gas and tried to break away from the pack. Shan had no other choice but to follow. “I thought that this was suicide and that he was crazy, but we had agreed before the race that I will allow Brandon to time his attacks”, Shan Wilson said. “We were very lucky, because no one responded to the attack. And by the time they realised how far ahead we were they knew it was futile to chase us. Winning a stage in such a competitive field means a lot to us.”

While South Africa’s heroes rode at their pace, fast and consistent, sharing the work, the riding of the pack behind them resembled a ‘stop-and-go’. Whenever the top men hit a single trail they increased the speed to break up the bunch which at certain times consisted of up to 50 riders; once this was done they slowed down again. “We are about eight elite pro teams who try to break away from the pack and ride together. That way we can take it easy, stop at the watering points together, have a ‘team pee’ or slow down if one of us has a mechanical problem”, Karl Platt explained. “You actually don’t attack when another team is in trouble; it is against cycling ethics and will not be tolerated, almost like an unwritten code. This is a lesson in cycling that everyone has to learn one day. Besides, it is so much more fun to finish a race in a sprint. You work out your tactics beforehand and if you win all the better. Since The Cape Epic is a stage race, it actually doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work perfectly every day as long as it doesn’t affect your overall results.”

When Mike Mike made the announcement that two South African teams were amongst the top 5 and that a South African team was in the lead the spectator crowd in Greyton went crazy: they were banging on the branding boards that lined the finish chute, clapping their hands, cheering, singing and generally working each other into a frenzy. The moment the blue jerseys of Shan Wilson and Brandon Stewart appeared around the corner, the atmosphere peaked. Team adidas William Simpson were given a true heroes welcome. Shan was visibly moved and close to tears. “It actually hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t believe that we won the stage. Our dream has become an unexpected reality.”

“It was a great chance for them to show what they are capable of”, said Silvio Bundi (SUI) of team Specialized and it was an unspoken agreement today amongst the leaders to allow adidas William Simpson to shine. “They deserved to win, because they worked hard for it. I just hope that today’s win hasn’t cost them too much energy which will be needed in the next few days as the toughest stage is still to come.”

Today’s brave attack was strongly reminiscent of the inaugural Epic’s stage five from Swellendam to Greyton when team Imperial Logistics with the two Kenyan riders David Kinjah and Davidson Kamau who had just learned how to ride a mountain bike a few weeks prior, surprised the leader bunch by hitting the gas early into the race to break away. They managed against all odds to maintain this lead right up until a few kilometres from the finish when the leader bunch – including Shan Wilson - caught up with them. In the final sprint they had to admit defeat and allow the more experienced riders to overtake them.

“When Shan and Brandon broke away today, we wanted to follow them, but our legs wouldn’t allow us”, David Kinjah recapped. “This stage brought back memories of our first Epic. Since then the race has become so much more competitive. I’d say the level of competition has increased by at least twenty percent. And we are not trained well enough to match the pace of the top teams. People expect so much from us. In order to compete seriously with the dedicated professionals we would need to make a serious commitment which is of course entirely sponsorship dependant.” Currently David’s and Davidson’s sponsorship is directly related to The Cape Epic and only temporary, therefore their pre event training is limited. Due to the current economic crisis in Nairobi, the two talented riders who are positioned on 10th place after five stages, don’t have the luxury of free time to train as making a living has to be their number one priority, for example David works as a bicycle mechanic. “Unfortunately there are not that many high end bikes that need proper servicing in Nairobi”, he said. Davidson works as a temp in Nairobi earning a living whenever he gets the chance, for instance occasionally in a slaughter house. Whilst some may see this as a reason to pity the Kenyans they are quite content with their status as sporting heroes when at home and exotic cyclists when abroad. “We are used to having to adjust to any circumstances”, David stated. “When I have to wear a suit and stay in a fancy hotel room I behave accordingly. We can just as easily adjust coming home to our normal lives.” David who is 34 years old has recently adopted an 18 year old orphan, Samson whom he calls ‘Samstrong’, an exceptionally talented cyclist who he hopes will carry on the legacy that he and Davidson have created.

Sandra Lettner (AUT) and mountain bike magazine editor Lisi Hager (AUT), who came to South Africa to experience The Cape Epic firsthand in order to write an authentic report, found herself on the top of the podium today, in spite of having had a bad crash in stage 4 that ripped up both of her elbows. “We didn’t even expect to place at the Epic, let alone achieve a stage win”, Lisi said. “The success of our first few days, however, seems to have given us an additional boost.” When they crossed the finish line in Greyton, Lisi and Sandra had a lead of 11.5 minutes over the female leaders Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER), who still have a comfortable overall advantage of more than 45 minutes.

Once again the husband-wife team of Ghost International, Anna Baylis- and Jörg Scheiderbauer proved to be unbeatable in the mixed division, but hot on their heels were the South African Mixed team of Anke Erlank and Fourie Kotze who despite having had such a bad day in stage 3 managed to fight their way back up to claim overall second position thus far.

The leading Masters team, Absa Business Banking Services with Linus von Onselen and Geddan Ruddock also rode a phenomenal race today gaining an additional seven minutes advantage over their competitors. Their total lead time is now 45 minutes, quite a hard gap to close. The top Masters teams behind them fought a tight battle for positions two and three which were decided in a sprint finish.


1. adidas William Simpson: Shan Wilson (RSA) and Brandon Stuart (RSA) – 03:52:18
2. Rocky Mountain Business Object: Karl Platt (GER) and Carsten Bresser (GER) – 04:03:26
3. Team Specialized: Christophe Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI) - 04:03:26


1. Mountainbike Revue: Elisabeth Hager (AUT) and Sandra Lettner (AUT) – 05:01:04
2. adidas-Fiat-Rotwild: Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER) – 05:12:39
3. Go Fast Girls: Barbara Kreisle (USA) and Christina Begy (USA) – 05:13:46


1. Absa Business Banking Services: Linus van Onselen (RSA) and Geddan Ruddock (RSA) – 04:10:36
2. dennis mccann: Ergee du Toit (RSA) and Corrie Muller (RSA) – 04:17:20
3. Marsilio Projects: Tony Conlon (RSA) and Lieb Loots (RSA) – 04:17:21


* GHOST International: Jorg Scheiderbauer (GER) and Anna Baylis-Scheiderbauer (GER) – 04:10:30 2.
* adidas/ W E Cycles / Bianchi : Fourie Kotze (RSA) and Anke Erlank (RSA) – 04:10:34 3.
* Dolores Maechler (SUI) and Severin Rupp (SUI) – 04:26:01


1. Sauser/ Bundi – 22:07:13
2. Sickmueller/ Heule – 22:20:22
3. Platt/ Bresser – 22:21:23


1. Grona/ Brachtendorf – 28:56:50
2. Hager/ Lettner – 29:41:37
3. Kreisle/ Begy – 31:54:54


1. van Onselen/ Ruddock – 24:24:53
2. Du Toit/ Muller – 25:10:54
3. Conlon/ Loots – 25:44:38


1. Baylis-Scheiderbauer/ Scheiderbauer – 24:38:11
2. Erlank/ Kotze – 25:26:30
3. Meachler/ Rupp – 25:32:30


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