You’ll have noticed that I didn’t post anything after Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic on Tuesday. It was a slow news day. Everything went according to plan. We were staying at the Arabella Hotel & Spa, outside Hermanus and were treated like royalty. We ate steak, drank beer and were in bed by 9. As a direct result Carl and I tore up all the single track that the Elgin area has on offer.
When I’m in my element I ride fast, and I was loving the serpentine trails of Oak Valley, Paul Cluver and Grabouw. After our admin with blown tyres on Stage 1 we rode conservatively over the rocky stuff, and let it rip when the trails were less likely to shred our rubber. The wind nearly blew us to a standstill on a few occasions but it was the same for everyone, so I figured it wasn’t worth getting too upset about. Team RSAWEB Biogen finished 23rd in Men and 26th Overall. Solid. Happy with that.
Onto today’s Stage 3 and the 128km odyssey from Elgin to Worcester…
Thankfully, yesterday’s wind had dropped off and the start line was warm, dry and festive. Until the gun. Then it was the usual heart-stopping dash through the orchards and vineyards as we tackled the eastern slopes of the Groenlandberg – our nemesis from Stage 1.
We had drunk a carefully calculated quantity of beer overnight so we were ready for this. Carl and I felt strong and we settled into a steady climbing rhythm a few minutes adrift of the top pro teams. We made short work of the jeep track climb and as we neared the top we prepared to make contact with the leaders on the descent. Unfortunately, a team we had pulled up the mountain with us had other ideas.
At an innocuous uphill turn one of our fellow riders rammed the back of my bike with his front tyre. I’m sure it was an innocent mistake, a momentary lapse in concentration, a glancing shot that intended no malice. Yet the damage was anything but innocent. He had cracked my rear derailleur. It brought me to an instant stop, as he rode over the saddle of the climb apologising.
I jumped off immediately and assessed the damage. We don’t carry spare derailleurs, so I was going to have to MacGyver a solution here. I took the derailleur apart and rebuilt it with the carbon shards neatly arranged back in their rightful place. Then I just tightened it as hard as I could, hoping that the force of the bolt clamping the carbon together would get us to the finish line – still over 110km away.
We rejoined the race 20 minutes later, in 60th-odd position and began the chase back. We quickly got into the groove, pulling up to bunches of riders, resting in their slipstream for a few moments, before making our way onto the next group.
Along the way we rolled through some spectacular scenery, up some horrific climbs and over some pretty dreadful terrain. 128km is a long way on any bicycle, on a mountain bike it is epic. Into the wind it is ugly. As the day wore on we built up steam, but so did the elements. A steadily increasing block headwind pummeled us most of the way.
With 90km complete we ran into long stretches of beach sand. Sand is the most soul-destroying thing to encounter on a bike. It saps you of your energy as you pedal through it. If it’s thick enough, you’re walking. Even on a descent. We were walking. I shudder to think how tough the backmarkers, who would have been on their bikes for almost eight hours by this stage, would have found this. It nearly brought us to tears…
But still we picked off teams as we weaved our way closer to Worcester, including the guys who rode into us early in the day. The final run into the town was first over a causeway of loose fist-sized rocks, then alongside the Brandvlei Dam. Scenic, for sure, but also downright disrespectful after 100km in the saddle. The finish line could not come soon enough.
I don’t think I have ever been as proud of our result after a stage of the Absa Cape Epic as I was today. Carl and I turned ourselves inside out to come home in 5 hours and 47 minutes – 19th in Men and 23rd Overall. That puts Team RSAWEB Biogen 22nd in Men and 26th Overall, heading into Stage 4 tomorrow. More beer tonight. Can’t wait.
Images supplied by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS