Saturday, April 29, 2006

Day 7 Hermanus to Boschendal 8 Hours and 12 Minutes

144 km 2920 meters

Today was described as the “Monster Day” of the Cape Epic – and it lived up to its billing. The day started warm – enough for me to start in just my short sleeve jersey for the first time. There were three major climbs today including two highly technical climbs. And at 144km – this would by far be the longest kilo day I’ve ever spent on a mountain bike (the longest Transalp day was 120km and that had a lot of pavement).

Because of our higher finishes, we again had a good position in the starting dock (about 60th team). That was good as right off there was a medium paved climb that allowed us to stay close to the leaders and then find a good pack to deliver us to the first technical climb of the day – sandy single track. Because we are further up, the people riding “in the line” on the technical sections are smooth and don’t “come off.” Though the pace is faster, its steadier as there are fewer mishaps.

Between this technical climb at about 30k was about 40km of flatish to rolling terrain that we were transported across with another pack. We knew we were far up because some of the top placed women teams and mixed teams were with us. Also, some hammer head big guys were knocking down the wind.

At 67 km the main “difficulty” of the day began – more than a 1000 meters of jeep track. Most of it was (painfully) rideable, but it took a lot of energy if one had to go slow (i.e. for me). It was slower still for those forced to walk. This effort, in the blistering sun now, knocked the stuffing out of me. I had to break for food well before the top, and downed water at a non-stop pace. About two thirds of the way up – my three liters of water was completely gone. Lots of other folks using smaller capacity packs were in an even worse state than me. Carrie motored ahead as she excels at handling these “Australia-like” conditions. By the top, she had zippor water as well, so we both decided to descend immediately and stock up at the next water stop. I was light headed and my rear shock absorber has given up the ghost laterally – so my whole back end shifts around with a feeling like the frame is going to break in two when one hits the rough stuff. And on the big descent of the day (and the whole Cape Epic) it was all rough and loose fist sized sharp rocks….intermixed with patches of sand that one has to float rather than steer through.

At the base we found water….but for me it was too late as I was already pretty cooked. I ate as much as I could stuff in, but the damage was done. At 80km, I was pretty well done for. We found a few other souls to drag us through a long flatish descent on a very rocky road into a desolate valley that reminded me of Las Vegas riding. I didn’t have the energy or presence of mind to be able to sit on anyone’s wheel and ended up having to ratchet things down so that I could just grovel through. Carrie was riding strong and just had to put up with pathetic pedal pace.

By about 100 km we were deposited onto a tar road and began the final big climb of the day. Here now I was truly cooked. My heart rate would not go down and I could only put out a pathetic amount of power. I had to start desperately ingesting food and water to keep this from turning into a full fledged bonk. Into the headwind, Carrie dragged my carcass up to the pass and then put it in the big rim to suck me down the other side. Cries from spectators of “its all downhill” were welcome – but were far from true. The other hassle is that my strained left leg tightens up when descending so my leg spin drops to a negligible quotient at the base of the descent. Carrie patiently waited for me to regain a little bit of juice, and then continued to drag me through the undulating hills at the bottom of the descent. Surprisingly, hardly anyone passed us through all of this – an indication that many were having the same or worse problems behind us. We watched our GPS devices click off the kilos – hoping that the actual figure of 120km stated in the magazine was accurate for the race distance. No way! I kept looking, as we approached 123 km, for the 5 km to go sign. Then 128 km came and went and still no joy. We reverted to our expectation that 140 km was the actual mileage. But painfully, when 135 km came, still on 5 km sign (as on other stages). Finally, at 139, we get a 5 km sign. Urgh. I limped in, slightly recovered from the miserable state I was in back at the third climb. Carrie was a complete stud today – dragging me through the worst of it. We are both just so glad this is over. Its like what crew jocks say: “something that feels good when you stop doing it.”

Now we are back at our lovely Inn, far away from the race finish….but even from here there is a constant din of ambulance sirens. Clearly there’s a lot of damage out there. Our usual van crew has been diverted to take a Spanish rider to the local hospital where his partner has been taken via helicopter from the course after suffering kidney damage in a bad crash. Frank and Christen are now in – the first day finishing after us…. Having suffered two crashes that have forced a replacement of a front wheel and a large chain ring. They looked beat! I haven’t heard anything re: Gordon and Jeffra yet at this point, but I’m hoping they’ll be picked up at one of the last checkpoints as they will have been out there for a horrific number of hours. Ouch!


The Official Race Report

Toughest stage of Cape Epic - ever

Today mountain bikers from all over the world competed in what would prove to be by far the toughest stage of the Absa Cape Epic to date. Long, steep, rolling climbs and fast descents characterised stage 7 as the Epic riders climbed up 2920 metres from the coast in into the Franschhoek valley.

Today belonged to the climbers - the ‘goats’ of mountain biking – with a high percentage of steep and technical ascents. Riders spent almost half (48%) the route from Hermanus to Boschendal fighting against gravity to conquer the hills. As they neared the end of the race, temperatures soared to 32 degrees challenging the pros and amateurs alike both mentally and physically. Most pro riders plan their strategy in advance - but implementing these strategies and maintaining them throughout the day’s ride is mentally draining. In addition top riders usually endure numerous interviews and photo shoots once they have finished each stage.

Top Men’s riders, Christoph Sauser and Silvio Bundi of Swiss team Specialized proved their worth today by gaining an overall lead of 13 minutes in stage seven increasing their total lead time to 32 minutes and confirming their 2006 race victory. They are very aware of not becoming too complacent about their win though, as according to Christoph, “If you get too comfortable with your success that is when unexpected things happen, you must enter each stage with a racing mentality in order to perform your best”.

Although they were really proud of their massive lead from so early today, at the same time according to Christophe “It is not as enjoyable when a stage win is such a sure thing from so early on. This is why we both consider our stage four win the most satisfying in this race. A photo-finish will always be more gratifying and exciting for a rider than an early one, as you are only really sure when you have crossed the finish that it is yours. On a day like today you know from way before the finish line when you look back and see how far the other riders are behind you, that is really when you get the ‘rush’ of winning and not when you physically ride across the finisher pad”, he said.

Making today’s tough route look easy is no mean feat, but this is exactly what team Specialized managed to do. The fact that they train on similar terrain in their ‘backyard’ of the Swiss Alps explains it. In the technical climb they broke away riding at their own fast pace and not as part of a group. Christoph compared it to driving on the highway – passing a truck, needing to stop at a rest point, and having the truck fly past. It is only when you get back on the road that you realise how much time you have lost by stopping. This is what happens when you are riding as part of a group because of the mountain biking ‘code of conduct’ that dictates when one rider stops so do all the others. For this reason by riding on their own today they managed to break ahead and stay ahead. It also helped that Christoph has been coming to South Africa to train in and around the Stellenbosch area for about seven years, hence giving them the advantage of knowing parts of today’s route inside out like Franschhoek Pass.

Arno Viljoen and Marc Bassingthwaite of team GT Mr Price came in second, winning their first podium position of the event. The Namibians are also based in Stellenbosch making this terrain a part of their usual training routine. This helped them to avoid making the same mistake as in stage six – attacking too soon and running out of steam for the tougher, more difficult climbs ahead. Their attacks bore no fruit as the other teams were just as aggressive not yielding an inch especially during the last 15 kilometres. Today’s race was the most prestigious in this year’s event, and the results at this point decisive which explains the top teams’ reluctance to relax even for a second.

Arno decided towards the end of the race to change the strategy and staged a solo attack. “I said to him I’ll go ahead, that’s the only chance we’ve got. I didn’t focus on checking Marc’s progress during the race, but rather concentrated on the game ahead and hoped that he was keeping up. As I slowed down at the gates of Boschendal I looked over my shoulder for the first time. I was thrilled to see Marc riding over the horizon.” The team have persevered for the duration of this year’s race but had never managed to place in the top 3. “Today’s result has made the whole experience worth it”, reported Marc “we have now finished in the top six”.

Master’s division winners Geddan Ruddock and Linus van Onselen of team Absa Business Banking Services found today’s ride extremely tough but worthwhile. “Today was the hardest stage; I had to do a lot of pacing. Considering it is day seven we have already worked so hard. The terrain was rough but it is an incredible feeling to have won our division. It was very emotional to ride past the respective vantage points and hear complete strangers chanting your name. It really lifted our spirits when we needed it most”, said Geddan.

Carsten Bresser and Karl Platt of team Rocky Mountain Business Objects said that they too struggled to secure their third place ahead of team Stevens Racing. Johannes and Christian of Stevens Racing still have more than two minutes on the overall time of Carsten and Karl. “We were unsure of what to expect of them”, said Carsten, “they had just finished the Cyclocross season so their fitness was hard to gauge. Both have ridden a strong race though and there are some times in competitive sports that you just have to admit defeat and realise that another team is performing better or stronger than your own. This has been the case with team Stevens Racing. As long as we leave this race with a podium placing we are happy.”

It seems that the majority of backmarkers underestimated the route and the harsh South African climate, even though it is autumn. Waterpoint 2 ran out of water at one stage as riders were using water to cool themselves down and fill up their bottles. Absa Cape Epic Logistics Manager Richard McMartin responded quickly – arranging for additional water to be flown in via helicopter. He also sent mattresses in the sweep vehicle to provide additional comfort for riders waiting to be collected. Joerg Scheiderbauer was impressed by the amateurs – especially the women. “They ride on average for two hours longer than the top Men’s, Mixed and Master’s riders and still finish before cut off time. Their endurance is amazing”.

Tomorrow sees the last stage of the 2006 Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas and most participants should enjoy it. It is a true mountain bike ride in the traditional sense of the word with many single track and technical stages. So watch this space tomorrow to find out the overall winners of this Epic mountain biking experience.


1. Team Specialized: Christoph Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI) – 05:35:24
2. GT Mr Price: Marc Bassingthwaighte (NAM) and Arno Viljoen (NAM) – 05:49:02
3. Rocky Mountain Business Object: Karl Platt (GER) and Carsten Bresser (GER) – 05:49:06


1. Absa Business Banking Services: Linus van Onselen (RSA) and Geddan Ruddock (RSA) – 06:26:50
2. dennis mccann: Ergee du Toit (RSA) and Corrie Muller (RSA) – 06:36:48
3. Marsilio Projects: Tony Conlon (RSA) and Lieb Loots (RSA) – 06:46:31


1. Dolores Maechler (SUI) and Severin Rupp (SUI) – 06:26:58
2. GHOST International: Jorg Scheiderbauer (GER) and Anna Baylis-Scheiderbauer (AUS) – 06:38:25
3. adidas / WE Cycles / Bianchi: Fourie Kotze (RSA) and Anke Erlank (RSA) – 06:40:25


1. Homebrew Lite – Anna Sutton (AUS) and Joanne Marie King (AUS) – 7:41:59
2. adidas-Fiat-Rotwild: Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER) – 07:46:57
3. Mountainbike Revue: Elisabeth Hager (AUT) and Sandra Lettner (AUT) – 07:59:40



1. Sauser/ Bundi – 31:59:03
2. Sickmueller/ Heule – 32:25:57
3. Platt/ Bresser – 32:28:05


1. Grona/ Brachtendorf – 42:21:40
2. Hager/ Lettner – 43:29:40
3. Kreisle/ Begy – 48:17:56


1. van Onselen/ Ruddock – 35:28:43
2. Du Toit/ Muller – 36:30:30
3. Conlon/ Loots – 37:25:18


1. Baylis-Scheiderbauer/ Scheiderbauer – 36:00:46
2. Meachler/ Rupp – 36:44:55
3. Erlank/ Kotze – 36:45:01


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