Saturday, April 29, 2006

Day 8 Boschendal to Spier (45 minutes from Capetown) 4 Hours 20 Minutes

67 km 1090 meters

The day began with more reports of the severe events of yesterday. Coming down the last descent, which was paved, a large tractor trailer lost control of its breaks and went zooming by a bunch of the riders before jack-knifing and taking out a van full of local laborers, killing six people. The folks with us at breakfast has been there when the truck sped by – their recounts made me queasy and mindful of all the danger and tragedy always lurking around.

Other news was that Gordon and Jeffra had wisely abandoned yesterday at the 70km mark, after the descent from the big loose rock climb of the day. Many other people towards the back of the race had to abandon as well as the second water spot ran out of liquid – in part because some of the former people coming down were using the water their to douse themselves after overheating. Between injuries and the 144km, quite a few more teams were disqualified.

My start to the day was tentative because my saddle sores make it impossible for me to sit on my seat and pedal smoothly – especially if there’s any chop to the road. If I then alter my position, it aggravates my strained calve – so basically, I’m a hurting dude. Carrie has a number of ailments as well that make her visits to the bathroom an agony session. Basically we (and most all the other teams) are glad it’s the last day. Unfortunately, despite the short length, we’ve heard that there is a lot technical single track today – both down and up, so that this will be no cakewalk.

We started the day in 12th place in the mixed category with little prospect of moving up or down in the standings as more than an hour separated us from the team in 11th and the team in 13th. While we both wanted to take it easy today, we also heard that it was wise to get to the front as the number of single track sections were expected to cause bottlenecks. Consequently, we hammered along pretty hard up the first 10km gentle climb. Once we crested that, we backed off some and let some of the other hammers push on by. We immediately came to scene of semi chaos with a bunch of folks off the trail. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was due to a severe crash with broken bones of the lead team in the mixed race – which had won every stage so far this year (and had won the triple crown last year of the Cape Epic, the TransAlp and the TransRockies). They had a huge lead over all the rest of the field in this race, and only needed to finish before the time limit to win again. But somehow (possibly because of a failure of their tow rope system), they had a disastrous crash that would eliminate them from the race and end their stream of victories. Terribly sorry for them.

The rest of our race was just a hurt fest for me – not because of the pace, which was modest, but just because I was too tender to enjoy the technical descending. Also, my calve would tighten up when I descended and it was getting harder and harder to ride my way back into spinning shape. Scores of other riders are taped up for achilles injuries, so I’m not alone in being in the riding wounded category.

We had a few mishaps today. Carries handlebars came loose on one of the most technical sections – fortunately up/down rather than right/left. So she was able to stop safely and we tightened them up. Then, at the stop, Carrie paused for a refilled while I just free wheeled up the road. I then decided to grab some food and had just started rolling again slowly without my bad strapped up when I saw Carrie zoom by on the back of two other teams in a pace line. She clearly had missed me as she was heads down and the group she was with was flying. By now my calve had tightened up again so it took me a while to get going and get on the back of another group that could chase. I called out, but she couldn’t hear me, and within about 2km we entered a bunch of single track that further split us up. All the time she was hammering to catch me up the road, while I was simply falling further and further behind. If you cross a time check without your partner close by, you get disqualified. Fortunately, there was another traffic jam after the second water point (which she bypassed in her rush to mistakenly catch up with me). At a culvert full of stagnant water that we all had to walk through single file, I saw her coming out on the other side of the highway and caught her attention. Finally, we were back together for the last 15km of the day. This proved obstacle free. We rode in just ahead of the second place women’s team, once again giving a good indication of just how strongly Carrie is riding relative to the rest of the field.

Apparently, one of the other top mixed teams crashed out today as well – as we moved up to 10th place overall and I can’t imagine that we made up enough time on anyone to simply gain a position through the speed of our riding. The overall carnage from injuries, crashes and general exhaustion have meant that about 40% of the field have been eliminated (though many of those teams, or at least one team mate still ride). The much longer length of the race has certainly worn everyone down.

The race finished in a huge wine growing complex called Spier. Its full of pretty cool boutique shops with local crafts (and ya gotta have pretty good stuff to impress a cynic like me). And the banquet in the evening is truly a first class affair, with great private seating arrangements and booming bonfires and local live music. The whole setup here if first rate – I’m glad we booked in as I’m in serious need of decompression.

The bikes are already broken down and boxed up. Mine is pretty beat and I can’t see that I’ll be riding anything other than a full suspension bike in the future. Its an extra couple of pounds, but its clear that my butt rules in this situation – and it demands more comfort!

Gordon and Jeffra (who finished well within the time limit today) and Carrie will all be hanging out here in the Capetown area for the best part of another week. I’ll be zipping out to join up with the fam in Italy for a week before making it all the way home.

Glad that all four of us made it out without any of the major injuries that took their toll on much of the rest of the race population. The result leaves me foolishly curious as to what a good next effort might be for 2007.


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