Better Music at Spier for Race End
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.
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. radys.com: 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
116 km 2005 meters
Today was billed as one of the hardest days – partially because a mean and nasty loose gravel single track climb was tucked away at the 110 km mark. Consequently, everyone needed to have something left in the tank to get over this last obstacle.
We moved up a place to 14th in the mixed category, so got to start in the B group again, just behind the leaders. From the get go it was zoom zoom again with a couple of race packs forming to put the hammer down on the 32km of relative flat before the first major climb of the day. Carrie and I both question the wisdom of hopping on the back of one of these freight trains of aggressive riders because it drives my heart rate up to 10 beats over the top end of my target range. That extra effort during the first hour of the day often comes back to haunt some 5-6 hours later.
I also took the chance of wearing less clothes to start so that I could escape any clothing change early on and hand with the pack. The result was that the first 32 km passed in not much more than an hour. We were then “delivered” to the base of the first proper climb of the day further up in the finish order than we’ve achieved on prior days. After getting over the obstacle, both Carrie and I realized that we were a bit “overdone” and took it down a notch or two.
My bike worked fine today so I was able to just ride. Still, my heart rate when I put any special effort in on a climb. Carrie got to ride ahead while I tried to do damage control. We did some good drafting off of one of the other leading couples. The man was a hammer – but not so good at spotting the signs re: which way to go. When he kept almost missing turns, is gal would give him heaps of abuse in German (som things are universal sounding even if you don’t speak the langua I ge.
We ground it out in bright vibrant sunshine and in brilliant scenery – the best so far. Hard to tell just where we were overall, but it felt like the morning’s effort had put us up there. My left calve began to feel strained and I was getting over the limits on heartfate on any of the rolling climbs, so I continued to back-off.
Sure enough – the last climb was a big ugly loose rock and gravel mess. No one was in a mood for it by 110 km, but there was no way out. Carrie zoomed it, and I muddled along. We made up enough time to catch the 3rd place women’s team on the roll down to Hermanus. Fortunately, its very motivating seeing where one is ending up, especially against the beautiful backdrop of the Indian ocean.
In we zoomed to bright sun and a full-on Mediterranean (actually Indian ocean) endpoint.
Dinner tonight with Gordon and Jeffra’s crew. They’ve got one other experienced pair of American masters who are high up in the standings, and then two sad guys from England who crashed into each other 5km into the first day, and knocked each other out (they aren’t talking a lot!).
Tomorrow is the big day of the race: 3000 meters of climbing, lots of technical bits, and a long long stage. Urgh.!
The Official Report
Stage 6 of the Absa Cape Epic from Greyton to the famous whale watching town of Hermanus saw some of the best single track riding of the race so far. The route led across the historic 1820 Riviersonderend Bridge followed by long scenic fynbos sections with plenty of challenging technical riding. The highlight of the day – spectacular views over Hermanus and the Walker Bay – first demanded for hard work. The Epic riders had to climb one of the toughest ascents in the entire race with gradients of up to 25 degrees at certain points which seemed to go on forever. What made the climb even more difficult was the constantly changing terrain ranging from soft sand to lose gravel rocks. Up on top they enjoyed magnificent views before entering a fast and technical jeep track downhill section where riders hit top speeds up to 80 km/h.
Today’s stage saw once again different faces on the top of the podium. After another powerful attempt, team Stevens Racing with Johannes Sickmueller (GER) and Christian Heule (SUI) and Mixed team adidas/ WE Cycles/ Bianchi with Anke Erlank (RSA) and Fourie Kotze (RSA), finally achieved their goal and won a stage.
Early in the race, Silvio Bundi (SUI) of the leading team Specialized ripped off his derailleur. “In the first downhill a small stick got caught between my spokes of my wheel. Fortunately we were able to fix it, but it cost us about seven minutes. When we got back onto our bikes we knew we would have to ride very hard to close the gap. At the second watering point we had already narrowed the lead by thee minutes and eventually we caught up with the front bunch before we reached the third water point.” The tough final climb was made even more strenuous by the fact that the leading teams started to attack. Today it was team GT Mr. Price with Marc Bassingthwaighte and Arno Viljoen that made the bold first move of trying the break away in the technical climb. Stevens rider Christian Heule responded immediately stepping up the pace to follow them. Johannes was left behind with the rest of the pack. “We were pushed to our limits during that climb”, remembered Silvio. “Christian was very strong in the ascents today. They really deserved to win the stage that’s why we gave way at the finish line. We were also a bit tired from pushing so hard to catch up with them. We only had about 20 minutes to recover and the race was on again.”
“It was really hard today, like almost every stage”, Christian Heule said. “I am very impressed by the amateurs that participate in this race. We are pros; it is our job to ride our bikes. And we have five to six more hours time to regenerate. It is really cruel, by the time we have showered, have had our massage and go to eat some of these guys are still coming in. I admire their dedication and passion.”
Within its short lifetime, The Cape Epic has become a world class race. “It is now tougher and faster compared to the first two years”, commented Mannie Heymans (NAM) of team adidas Raleigh who won the inaugural Cape Epic in 2004 and who placed third today. “When you look at the overall results you can see that the leaders are literally minutes apart after more than 26 hours in the saddle. In previous years the gap was anything ranging from 30 minutes to an hour. You cannot come to The Cape Epic and be ‘unprepared’. If you want to make it onto the podium you have to be at the top of your game.”
This was exactly the case today for South Africa’s Mixed favourites Anke Erlank and Fourie Kotze who outpaced the Mixed leaders by more than six minutes when the crossed the finish line after 4:38:09. But it wasn’t all easy going as Anke crashed an hour into the race when the leading group single filed out on a jeep track and her front wheel overlapped with someone’s back wheel. “It was on a downhill single track. I was going down at about 55 km/h when it happened. Next thing I knew I hit a rock and thought ‘tuck and roll’ as I always preach to amateurs. You must relax when you fall.” Anke grazed her entire right hand side when she hit the ground and damaged her saddle in the process. Fourie, Anna Baylis-(AUS) and Jörg Scheiderbauer (GER) were caught up in the crash and went down as well. “In the collision the tow rope contraption that the Scheiderbauers are using broke”, Anke explained, “so we actually waited for them to fix it. Jörg is a master in improvisation. Then the four of us rode together for about 30 kilometres licking our wounds.” Going at a consistent pace the two Mixed teams got closer and closer to the leading bunch. In a very technical section of the route with demanding up- and downhills through beautiful fields of fynbos Anke and Fourie left the green leader jerseys behind. “I suppose they were tired and Anna was probably hurting. Maybe they had a mechanical problem, but I actually don’t know. We never saw them again”, said Fourie who at 51 years of age is the oldest competitor in the elite group. “I said to Anke we must go now and so we rode hard. We saw a group at the horizon and 15 minutes later we caught them and left them behind. We then caught Geddan and Linus around water point 3 and we stayed together until the last technical climb. At one point we passed Brandon Stewart (RSA) and Shan Wilson (RSA). I could see that Shan was feeling miserable today, he was so pale and sick on his stomach. Later they caught us up and we rode with them until the finish.”
Challenges behind the scenes
Burning up to 5000 calories and more during the strenuous stages, the riders must first of all refuel when they arrive at the finish. Feeding 1500 Epic participants and crew every day is a challenge for those who work behind the scenes. During the race week the riders consume almost 15 000 muffins and pastries, 2100 loafs of bread, 41300 pieces of fresh fruit, 1305 kilos of cereals, 11 000 juice packs and 2800 kilos of pasta, to just list a few. Each day, the dining marquee has to be equipped with 150 tables and 1500 chairs which have to be packed up again after dinner. The Cape Epic’s catering manager Andrew Dietrich of Spier Wine Estate has even created an incentive programme to speed up the process. “We’ve asked the local schools to send us their rugby team to set up the dining marquee and we turned it into a competition. The school with the fastest set-up times wins a trophy, cash and a weekend accommodation at Spier for a raffle. To date Swellendam has been the fastest with 1 hour 33 minutes offloading the truck and 57 minutes to upload.”
Andrew Dietrich faces yet another challenge: whilst in previous years the entire Cape Epic catering was supplied by Spier, this year the towns prepare the food for the riders. “We want the towns to benefit from The Cape Epic, that’s why we decided to hand over the daily catering to the respective stage locations”, he stated. “We are monitoring the food preparation and consult the towns with a team of five catering and banqueting experts as well as a health and safety officer. Day one is always the hardest day of the Epic, because everything is new and you have to find your routine. For us, every day is a ‘day one’ since we are working with a new town each day. But we have done several pre-visits so we knew about the challenges in each town and we have adjusted the menu accordingly. For instance, we discarded BBQs at places where a gravel road was close to the kitchen tent.” Andrew Dietrich’s team is supported by microbiologist Ian Scholtz of SWIFT Micro Laboratories who runs several hygiene audits with food and swaps (towels, gloves etc.) each day. “I work off a full hygiene checklist of four different kitchens”, Ian explained. “One of the most important aspects is temperature control; I check the fridges, the cooking process and the hot holding. If I have a concern, the food has to be dumped as we don’t want to take a safety risk. Imagine over 1000 riders getting a food poisoning. Events of this size should always have a health and hygiene officer. But the reality is that The Cape Epic is the first event that I am aware of to have put this important function in place.”
1. Stevens Racing: Johannes Sickmueller (GER) and Christian Heule (SUI) – 04:16:30
2. Specialized: Christophe Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI) - 04:03:26
3. adidas Raleigh: Kevin Evans (RSA) and Mannie Heymans (NAM) – 04:17:39
1. adidas-Fiat-Rotwild: Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER) – 05:37:54
2. Mountainbike Revue: Elisabeth Hager (AUT) and Sandra Lettner (AUT) – 05:48:24
3. Go Fast Girls: Barbara Kreisle (USA) and Christina Begy (USA) – 07:43:32
1. Absa Business Banking Services: Linus van Onselen (RSA) and Geddan Ruddock (RSA) – 04:37:04
2. dennis mccann: Ergee du Toit (RSA) and Corrie Muller (RSA) – 04:42:51
3. Marsilio Projects: Tony Conlon (RSA) and Lieb Loots (RSA) – 04:54:15
1. adidas/ W E Cycles / Bianchi : Fourie Kotze (RSA) and Anke Erlank (RSA) – 04:38:09
2. GHOST International: Jorg Scheiderbauer (GER) and Anna Baylis-Scheiderbauer (GER) – 04:44:15
3. radys.com: Dolores Maechler (SUI) and Severin Rupp (SUI) – 04:47:08
1. Sauser/ Bundi – 26:23:40
2. Sickmueller/ Heule – 26:36:49
3. Platt/ Bresser – 26:39:01
1. Grona/ Brachtendorf – 34:34:44
2. Hager/ Lettner – 35:30:01
3. Kreisle/ Begy – 39:38:26
1. van Onselen/ Ruddock – 29:01:54
2. Du Toit/ Muller – 29:53:44
3. Conlon/ Loots – 30:38:49
1. Baylis-Scheiderbauer/ Scheiderbauer – 29:22:23
2. Erlank/ Kotze – 30:04:37
3. Meachler/ Rupp – 30:17:59
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…..so 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.
* radys.com: 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
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. UnitedBikers.be: 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. radys.com: Dolores Maechler (SUI) and Severin Rupp (SUI) – 05:12:51
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
122 km 1800 meteres
Because of our poor performance on the prior day, we were dropped from starting gate C to starting gate D. The top 50 teams (and all the pro teams) are generally in the A gate, then the next 50 are in the B, then next 50 in C, and so on. They do it on a percentage of class basis – so in our case, the top 8 mixed teams are in A, the next 8 are in B and so on. The advantage of being further up is that one is not stuck behind any bottlenecks that might arise. Being in a gate at all is an improvement over my days at the Transalp, where each day started with the “walk of shame” bake to the gate that is just “general” (and usually at the back of that as well.
No matter about the start position as there was a stretch of paved road and it was easy to move up and or hold position. But my damn bike had clunky skipping gears despite all the changes I made. The chain suck was gone, but I clearly had no idea about adjusting the derailleur – either the night before, or manually as I rode. Clunk, clunk, clunk – clicking twice (or worse, twice and then back one) to get a single shift. And then the chain kept popping out. Worst of all the (now new) chain snapped again not far into the race. Thus I had to reign in any aggressive pedaling (probably not a bad thing anyways) and just struggle through the day. Because of the mechanical mess, its hard to even remember anything about the day, other than it was thankfully easier than the prior two.
Despite clunking around and not being able to spin my legs the way we wanted, we still limped in with a respectable time of just over six hours.
Getting in early meant we finally had some time to relax. We hooked up with Gordon and Jeffra for some outstanding lowbrow chow. And got to look around seedy Riversdale – which was threadbare and had definitely seen better days. Actually got to see some true Africans!
And my bike got checked in for proper repairs (hooray).
The rest is all a fog…. Very distracting thinking about bike mechanicals all day long instead of the riding itself.
Gordon and Jeffra wisely took a day off as they have been worn down by the late finishes. They aren’t alone as there was a pretty long list of folks who missed the time cut again on Day 2.
The Official Results
Stage 3 saw the tightest sprint finish in the history of The Cape Epic. In fact it was so tight that the race commissars had to analyze the television footage in order to determine the stage podium positions. Since the Absa Cape Epic is a team race, the time of the second rider in a team crossing the finish line is the time that determines the team’s performance. With a bunch of 20 riders sprinting down the finish chute and crossing the timing mats simultaneously it can get quite complex and the time keepers have to reconstruct the exact order of the finish line crossing to get accurate results.
Today’s 122 kilometre long stage also saw some new faces on the podium. Karl Platt (GER) and Carsten Bresser (GER) celebrated their first stage win. Rocky Mountain was the first team to cross the time mats, followed by team Texner-Stoeckli with Sandro Spaeth (SUI) and Thomas Zahnd (SUI) and team adidas Raleigh with Mannie Heymans (NAM) and Kevin Evans (RSA). With wide gravel roads, rolling hills and ‘just’ 1800 metres of climbing the third stage of the Epic was fairly easy and more of a ‘road race’ in comparison to the two previous stages. It was fast and tactical and ensured the top pro riders all worked and rode together, changing pace and pushing each other on. All top teams defended their leader jerseys.
“Today we started more relaxed and took an easy pace”, commented Karl Platt. “We were all riding in a big group. In fact we were going so slow that the group became bigger and bigger and we were joined by more and more amateur riders. That’s when we started to get a little bit nervous, because many of these guys are excellent mountain bikers but they don’t know how to move in a bunch. And that can actually be quite unfavourable. After all you don’t want to end a race because of a silly move resulting in a crash.” All top riders thought the same, thus they hit the gas in one of the climbs to get rid of the ‘dead weight’. “Not too long ago I was doing the same”, remembered Kevin Evans. “I was one of the amateurs who got excited if I could catch up with a top group. But I learned quickly that you must not ride all the way to the front if a few minutes later you get in the way and cannot keep up with the pace. You slow the others down, the riding is not consistent and doesn’t run smooth and it is also mentally frustrating if five or six guys have to do all the work and are dragging others along.”
On the last few kilometres of the race which resembled a road criterion, Karl and Carsten benefited from years of experience in city criterions knowing tactical skirmish by heart. Carsten opened the sprint followed immediately by the rest of the bunch. Karl stayed behind to use the focus on Carsten for a surprise attack; when they least expected it, he came sweeping past to cross the finish line in first place, followed by Christian Heule (SUI) and team mate Carsten to secure the stage win.
Riversdale welcomed the Epic riders with warm weather, blue skies and a festive atmosphere with hundreds of school children lining the finish chute to spur the riders on. For the third time, Langenhoven High School hosted The Cape Epic, once again making it a memorable stage enjoyed by the riders and the supporters.
Since the inaugural year, Langenhoven High School has created a project day for The Cape Epic; children can put into practice what they have learned in theory, for instance in home economics. Chrystal Ellis, a grade 11 student at Langenhoven High commented: “It’s fun for us, because we see how different countries can get together and work hand in hand.”
To visually express their excitement, the children formed a giant living bicycle image for the TV helicopter flyover. With a school programme initiative launched by The Cape Epic and adidas, schools in the stage towns have been encouraged to design large images using the scholars to represent their support for the event. The Cape Epic and adidas are striving to give back to the hosting community and this initiative allows them to do so by providing informative school flyers about the race, water colours pens for drawing various countries’ flags along with a soccer ball dribbling competition at the finish line in which the best player and the best school can win the official adidas Teamgeist matchball of the FIFA world cup 2006.
1. Rocky Mountain Business Object: Carsten Bresser (GER) and Karl Platt (GER) - 04:21:01
2. Team Texner- Stoeckli: Thomas Zahnd (SUI) and Sandro Spaeth (SUI) - 04:21:02
3. adidas Raleigh: Kevin Evans (RSA) and Mannie Heymans (NAM) - 04:21:02
1. adidas Fiat-Rotwild: Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER) – 05:11:53
2. Mountainbike Revue: Elisabeth Hager (AUT) and Sandra Lettner (AUT) - 05:16:57
3. Go Fast Girls: Christina Begy (USA) and Barbara Kreisle (USA) - 05:24:41
1. ABSA Business Banking Services: Linus van Onselen (RSA) and Geddan Ruddock (RSA) - 04:34:53
2. dennis mccann: Ergee du Toit (RSA) and Corrie Muller (RSA) - 04:35:01
3. Giant Willie Engelbrecht: M. C. Franken (RSA) and Bryan Strauss (RSA) - 04:35:02
1. GHOST International: Jorg Scheiderbauer (AUT) and Anna Baylis-Scheiderbauer (AUS) - 04:34:47
2. adidas/ Willie Engelbrecht Cycles/ Bianchi: Anke Erlank (RSA) and Fourie Kotze (RSA) - 04:35:04
3. radys.com: Dolores Maechler (SUI) and Severin Rupp (SUI) - 04:37:00
1. Sauser/Bundi – 13:35:34
2. Heule/Sickmeuler – 13:48:37
3. Bresser /Platt – 13:49:38
1. Grona/ Brachtendorf – 17:53:43
2. Hager/Lettner – 18:25:06
3. Begy/ Kreisle – 20:16:42
1. Van Onselen/ Ruddock – 15:21:56
2. Borne/ Moiroux – 15:52:02
3. Muller/ Du Toit – 15:53:47
1. Scheiderbauer/Baylis-Scheiderbauer – 15:35:01
2. Rupp/ Maechler – 15:53:41
3. Mosterd/ De Villiers – 16:08:24
116km 2020 meters
This day didn’t look too bad on paper, and it starts off well enough with an end to the rain. We even got a fair seeding, meaning that we get to start in the gated area “C” because we are close to the top third of finishers for the mixed category (male and female team). Unlike the Trans Rockies, there’s no “Masters Mixed” – which we would qualify for as our combined age is 80+. Instead, we have to ride up against the youngsters. The woman I sold my extra race entry to (Louise Kobin) is sitting with her male team mate in 5th position. Thus there must be some competition in this category as she’s a pro and has finished second in both the TransAlp and the Cape Epic in previous years.
We role along pretty well – but the day is still LONG. I’m riding a new chain, but its skipping like crazy – as bad or worse than the day before (but without chain suck). The racket its making is horrendous – and sure enough, after grinding it enough, the chain (new that it is) outright breaks about 2/3rds of the way through the day on a steep bit. URGH! Major mechanical, just when we are feeling like we are rolling along. By the end of the day, I ended up breaking the chain twice more – losing a total of six links, and sharply reducing the available gears for me to us. To add insult to injury, Carrie punctures on the last descent on some sharp rocks. Between our various mishaps, a couple of hundred people ride by and as a result, we’ll be downgraded to the “D” chute on the following day.
The day is also made difficult by a strong headwind.
The hotel was great – and we made the mistake of going to the race village for the South African version of the pasta party. The food was plentiful (always good) but not particularly tasty. Worst was all the loudspeakers blaring with the South African version of Polka music. A never ending banter of self-promotion for the race (arguing that it is bigger and better than any other – which is a backhand slap at the TransAlp) makes it hard to concentrate or talk at the dinner table. We did catch up with an exhausted Gordon and Jeffra. They came in less than two minutes after the cut-off time and thus, with their late finish on the prior day, are technically out of the race. As the Day 2 course was brutal as well (a lot of jarring), they made (a wise decision) to take a rest and recovery day on the following day.
I spent until late in the evening replacing the cluster and inner chain rings on my bike – under the assumption that a mis-match with the new chain, caused all the breakages. I also tried lubricating my shifter cable, as that was working in a very lame and clumsy manner as well. I’m kicking myself for not having come with a better shakedown on the bike (and more knowledge about swapping out mountain bike rather than road bike gear). It took me forever to swap out the parts. Fortunately, two of the other folks in our Premium Package (hotels rather than camps) had good tools and good knowledge. I had wanted the mechanics with the race to do all this, but they were so booked up that I had no choice but to tackle all this myself. And by 11 pm, there wasn’t much time to test the results of my effort. Didn’t sleep well as a result because of so much mucking around.
Stage 2 was very much enjoyed by the Epic riders as it was one of the most scenic stages in the history of The Cape Epic with a hint of African safari. The first fifty kilometers took the riders through forestry where they could enjoy spectacular crystal clear views all the way down to the sea. After traversing some rolling hills the more than 500 mountain bike teams entered Botlierskop, a Big Five Game Reserve North of Mosselbay. There, they did not only experience the best riding of the day with technically challenging up- and downhills but also wonderful views of the game in the reserve. Men’s leaders Christoph Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI) had to share part of the path with two elephants and wildebeest, Mixed leaders Anna Baylis- Scheiderbauer and Jörg Scheiderbauer came across a pack of hyenas, and the leaders in the Women’s category, Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER) were welcomed by a herd of impala.
Teams felt stronger across the board including the top riders who all defended their leader jerseys today. “I felt much better”, said Christoph Sauser who crossed the finish line first (4:33.03), hand in hand with his team partner Silvio Bundi. “But that was mainly due to the fact that the weather was nice. The wind, however, was tough especially in the flat sections. There we all worked together. We were riding with Mannie, Kevin, Karl, Carsten, Johannes and Christian. For the last hour we were on our own, because we attacked on a steep climb and tried to gain a bit more lead time over the others.” Christoph and Silvio had fun on the technical descents in Botlierskop. Both regularly go on freeride trips in the Alps where they ride from chalet to chalet and are outstanding downhillers. When Kevin Evans (RSA) and Mannie Heymans (NAM) crossed the finish line in third position today behind the Swiss-German pairing of Johannes Sickmueller (GER) and Christian Heule (SUI) one could literally see the weight falling off their shoulders. “Today I was riding like a different person”, Kevin breathed a sigh of relief. “Everyone has a bad day from time to time and yesterday it was my turn. I have been blessed with a great season to date so I can’t really complain.”
“Today was a joyride”, raved Jörg Scheiderbauer who is leading the Mixed category with his wife Anna. “That was the best stage I have ever ridden in a stage race. I had so much fun.” His wife who had to keep up with him saw it a bit differently: “Today was really hard for me, especially with the wind. We rode with the leading masters almost all the way until kilometer 90 and it was unbelievably hard for me to keep the pace of the bunch. But I also enjoyed the downhill sections and the game viewing. I am exhausted, but it was a stunning ride.” At one point, the strong German couple was only ten minutes behind the leaders. Anna and Jörg finished the second stage in 13th position overall in a time of 5 hours, 11 minutes and 42 seconds. As organizers of two mountain bike races in Germany, the Scheiderbauers appreciate and admire the detailed organization of The Cape Epic. “We know how much work is involved in setting up an event of this magnitude and seeing it all come together so smoothly is an inspiration to us.” When asked what their secret is for riding so successfully together and still being married Anna replied. “We never fight at home, we only yell at each other in a race. Jörg is a very aggressive rider and yelling at me makes him even stronger, I guess. But I hate to be yelled at so I shout back. And after we’ve crossed the finish line all is forgotten.”
South Africa’s local heroes in the Mixed category, Anke Erlank and Fourie Kotze had a very bad day. First they missed a turn-off and rode 5 kilometres in the wrong direction until they reached a dead end, then going full speed in order to make up for the lost time Fourie crashed and severely hurt himself which slowed them down for the rest of the day. They came in fourth after 5 hours 40 minutes and 51 seconds.
Finishing in 11th position overall today were the leading Masters Geddan Ruddock and Linus van Onselen who only found out three weeks ago that they would take part in The Cape Epic 2006 and be paired together as a Masters team. “When I received a phone call from Linus that Absa was looking for a strong team to potentially win one of the categories and he suggested that we ride as a Masters team with our combined ages being 85, I replied that is the best news I’ve heard all year”, remembered Geddan who had resigned himself to the fact that he would not be taking part in the third Cape Epic months ago. “Yesterday, on the first 10 kilometres I had an adrenaline rush. I was so excited. I couldn’t believe that I was actually riding the Epic. Linus and I work in harmony. We both cycled the Argus and finished in the same time. That’s how we knew that we can ride together.” Last year, Linus placed third in the Masters category being the stronger rider in the team. “Now I am the weaker link”, he smiled, “but it is actually working to our advantage. Geddan is a very supportive partner and he helps me a lot when I am going through a bad patch.”
Sean Kristafor, national merchandise manager of The Cape Epic Race Village sponsor Cape Union Mart, was proud to finish in 67th place in his category. “It is great to be taking part in an event that our organisation is involved in and it really makes me proud if I look across our orange tents in the Race Village.” Along with Cape Union Marts impressive selection of products that riders may have forgotten at home such as headlamps, sleeping bags or hydration kits, they also offer unique products to the riders as part of their service. One of the most popular products after yesterday’s rainy stage is the Sports Dryzone drying system for shoes, a sachet filled with moisture absorbent granules designed to dry out shoes over night.
Tomorrow’s stage will lead the Epic riders over 122 km and 1800 vertical metres from Mosselbay to Riversdale. It is quite possible that this will be another windy stage and team tactics will come into play during the gravel road sections and rolling hills.
1. Team Specialized: Christoph Sauser and Silvio Bundi (SUI) - 04:33:03
2. Team Stevens Racing: Johannes Sickmeuler (GER) and Christian Heule (SUI) - 04:36:54
3. adidas Raleigh: Kevin Evans and Mannie Heymans. (RSA - 04:36:57
1. adidas Fiat-Rotwild: Sabine Grona and Kerstin Brachtendorf - 06:03:22
2. Mountainbike Revue: Elisabeth Hager and Sandra Lettner - 06:11:17
3. Homebrew Lite: Anna Sutton (AUS) and Juanne Marie King (AUS) – 6:57:43
1. ABSA Business Banking Services: Linus van Onselen and Geddan Ruddock - 05:09:03
2. CEV- Centre des Carmes: Jean Michel Borne and Thierry Moiroux- 05:25:07
3. dennis mccann: Ergee du Toit and Corrie Muller - 05:27:51
1. GHOST International: Jörg Scheiderbauer and Anna Baylis-Scheiderbauer -05:11:42
2. radys.com: Dolores Maechler and Severin Rupp. - SUI - 05:24:30
3. Scott: Patric Mosterd and Yolande de Villiers - 05:27:20
118km 2940 meters
We woke up at 5am and started the chaotic gear organization to be on the start line at 6.45am. We each get one large black back to live out of that gets transported by our premium van (driven by Estevan or just “Van”). Popping out of the room confirms what the sound was all through last night – RAIN! The first stage is slated to be long with a good amount of climbing but is not rated as one of the most difficult. WRONG! With the rain, Day 1 turns out to be a death march with a large number of riders not finishing anywhere near the standard time cut-off (5pm – for a 10 hour day).
The rain stirs up the mud – which is really more a mix of sand and grit. This eats right through the lub on our bikes, and causes mine to immediately start having “chain suck” – whereby the chain won’t release from the grip of the crank….causing the pedals to lock up. The result is two-fold – we loose time to walking, and the chain takes a pounding. During the first six hours , the rain continues on and off. I end up trying to ride “bigger gears” by not using the small chain ring on my bike. This gets us through the day in just over 9 hours, but mashes my legs something awful. Carrie rides like a champ through all the rotten conditions. I finish pretty wasted. The day was longer than anything we experienced in the Transalp – where the first day is intentionally short (starting at 10am rather than 7am) to give people a chance to acclimate. Not so here!
To make matters worse, the one food stop (which we count on) was out of food (except for Orange slices) by the time we arrive. Uh oh. I came in riding on fumes (though Carrie, as a former crew jock who always had to starve herself to make weight, is much more adept at handling the sparse provisions. Gordon and Jeffra came in at over 11 hours. By the time we saw them, they were all cleaned up (and looking good)…but yikes, what a day.
We collapse hoping for a easier day to follow. We all got our butts kicked today – and didn’t have any fun. Our bikes are a mess and we’ve got very little energy to sort things out. I’m stuck trying to figure out the cause of my severe chain such and am up past 10pm swapping out clusters and chain rings, hoping that the next day will be better.
The third Absa Cape Epic presented by adidas has kicked off. At 7:15 a.m. this morning 1046 mountain from 37 different countries embarked on their gruelling and adventurous 8-day journey through the Western Cape. In just 8 days the 523 two-person teams will have to ride 921 kilometres and climb 16 605 metres – that is the equivalent of riding twice up Mount Everest – before they reach the finish line in Spier next Saturday to deserve the honourable title of 'Cape Epic Finisher'.
Riders have travelled around the world to participate in the unique Magical + Untamed African MTB Race, coming all the way from Canada, Brazil, Norway, China, and Australia. 282 teams are riding in the Men category, 19 in the Women, 61 in the Mixed and 161 in the Masters category for which the combined age of both team members must be 80 years or older. The youngest starter in the field is 18 years old; the most senior rider is 64. The female line up accounts for ten per cent of the total entrants.
Pouring rain at the start in Knysna was an omen for what the riders were confronted with on the first stage from the Knysna Quays Waterfront to Saasveld Forestry Training College. Heavy rainfalls and mud made the 128.5 kilometre long stage with several technical sections and strenuous climbs even more challenging. Riding through the Garden Route’s indigenous forests resembled mud-wrestling; all riders who crossed the finish line today were covered with a thick mud crust and had sore eyes, since poor visibility forced many of them to take their glasses off. Brake failure was another obstacle for most of the riders which was arduous on technical downhills. Mother Nature, however, was gentle. Five minutes before the winners crossed the finish line the skies cleared and welcomed the top teams as well as all the other athletes with sunshine.
Dual World Cup Champion Christoph Sauser (SUI) and his team partner Silvio Bundi (SUI) of team Specialized, the hot favourites to win this year’s race are the first riders to wear the yellow adidas leader jerseys of The Cape Epic 2006. When they crossed the finish line in Saasveld after 4 hours, 41 minutes and 31 seconds today, they had a 9.5 minute lead over second placed team Stevens Racing with Christian Heule (SUI) and Johannes Sickmueller (GER) who were the race leaders at one stage. “That was a tough day”, Christoph Sauser said. “Over four hours in the rain and we are in South Africa; but it was quite warm so it was actually ok. We were in the lead but we had a puncture after 25 kilometres. It took us three minutes to fix it and then an hour to catch up to the leaders. At that time team Stevens was in front. We attacked at the last technical downhill right before the second watering point and at the next climb we took off. It was our goal to get a comfortable lead on the first day. Now we must ride smart, safe and save energy. We have seven more stages to go through in “South Africa’s outback”.
Inaugural Cape Epic Champion Karl Platt (GER) and his Rocky Mountain team partner Carsten Bresser (GER) came in third today. “It was really hard”, stated Karl Platt who previously won all major MTB stage races in the same year. “I haven’t ridden Marathon distances for quite a while and after three hours I hit a brick wall, I had no power left. The mud was extreme. I couldn’t see, my eyes were stuffed and that is quite scary when you go downhill at 60 km/h on difficult terrain. In the end our brakes failed, but everyone had that problem. Fortunately there were no technical downhills on the last few kilometres.”
Two Cape Epic virgins snatched the leader jersey in the Women category. Transrockies Champion Sabine Grona (GER) and Kerstin Brachtendorf (GER) of team adidas Fiat Rotwild won the demanding first stage with a lead of more than 17 minutes over Sandra Lettner (AUT) and Lisi Hager (AUT), editor of the Austrian MTB Revue magazine. America’s Go Fast Girls Barbara Kreisle (USA) and Christina Begy (USA) placed third. The leading women raced two hours longer than the winners in the Men category. They didn’t expect to do so well on the first stage since Kerstin is suffering from a cold and their goal of the day was to ride at their own pace and to reach the finish. “Kerstin was amazing”, said Sabine. “She is so strong. I am actually worried that when she feels 100 per cent I will not be able to keep up with her.” Both girls raved about the cheering spectators along the route. “I was impressed how many people came out to watch the race despite the bad weather”, commented Kerstin. “Looking back it was actually a great ride. I just hope I will do better tomorrow.”
The Cape Epic’s second stage will lead the riders over 116 kilometres and 2020 vertical metres from Saasveld to Mosselbay. The long but fairly fast ride will award the mountain bikers with some spectacular ocean views and a finish line right at the beach. The highlight of the day is a section through Botlierskop – a private Big Five Game Reserve.
1. Team Specialized: Christoph Sauser (SUI) and Silvio Bundi (SUI) - 04:41:31
2. Stevens Racing: Johannes Sickmeuler (GER) and Christian Heule (SUI) - 04:50:37.
3. Rocky Mountain Business Object: Karl Platt (GER) and Carsten Bresser (GER) - 04:51:43.
1. adidas Fiat-Rotwild: Sabine Grona and Kerstin Brachtendorf - 06:39:40.
2. Mountainbike Revue: Elisabeth Hager and Sandra Lettner - 06:57:08.
3. Go Fast Girls: Barbara Kreisle and Christina Begy - 07:43:33.
1. ABSA BUSINESS BANKING SERVICES: Linus van Onselen and Geddan Ruddock - 05:37:54.
2. CEVA – Centre des Carmes: Jean Michel Borne and Moiroux Thierry - 05 :39 :49.
3. dennis mccann : Ergee du Toit and Corrie Muller - 05 :51 :13.
1. GHOST International : Jorg Scheiderbauer and Anna Baylis-Scheiderbauer - 05:48:51.
2. radys.com: Dolores Maechler and Severin Rupp - 05:52:27.
3. Scott: Patric Mosterd and Yolande de Villiers - 05:59:43.