It’s all about the beer

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.

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 3 Elgin to Worcester

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.

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 3 Elgin to Worcester

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.

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 3 Elgin to Worcester

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.

Follow Nic Lamond’s daily Absa Cape Epic column here, as he and Carl Pasio tackle the grueling race as Team RSAWEB-Biogen.
twitter: @niclamond @carlpasio @TeamRSAWEB

Images supplied by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

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My Stage 1 bogey continues…

Okay, so today was tough. I feel like I’m just summarising past cycling mishaps here. But the 2015 Absa Cape Epic seems hell bent on teaching me the same lessons of previous years – and I’m not entirely sure what the learnings are. The 113km of Elgin and Grabouw terrain today was a true test. Of everything.

The first test was trying to hold my partner’s wheel as Carl Pasio decided he wanted to play with the big boys. We summited the soaring Groenlandberg among the top 15 teams, with the lead riders in sight. Rather, Carl summited with the top 15, I summited with the top 18-odd…

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 1 Elgin

Then our second test presented itself as we dropped off the peak. Carl punctured his tyre. In three places! No problem. We carry all sorts of exciting tools to fix these things and I set about doing so. Only problem was that we diagnosed and operated on each puncture separately, so used three valuable high-pressure CO2 cartridges (used to inflate the tyres quickly) in the process. We had only brought four with us.

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Stage 1 Elgin

The next trial proved to be trying to flag down riders descending the Groenlandberg at breakneck pace, to ask politely for one of their ‘bombs’, as the CO2 cartridges are known among mountain bikers. Success, eventually, when a good mate recognized our speed-blurred riding jerseys and came to a stop.

Carl and the mountain bike gods had more tricks up their sleeves as we proceeded to use three more plugs (for sealing the punctures) and borrowed a further four more bombs and eventually a hand-held pump over the next hour of riding.

On a descent off the Groenlandberg toward Houwhoek Inn it became clear we would have to put a tube in the tyre. The tyre’s liquid sealant was no longer doing its job of plugging the holes we had fixed. The tube debacle was almost as comical as trying to sort out the first punctures as a faulty valve destroyed our only tube in minutes.

Finally, our last test: standing on the side of the trail, trying to look as attractive as possible, in order to convince passing riders to stop and give as a spare tube. It was only when I got to the finish four hours later and looked in a mirror in the shower cubicle that I realised why no-one seemed willing to stop…

Eventually, we bummed a tube and got to Waterpoint 2. There, we persuaded the race mechanics to just replace Carl’s entire rear tyre. The old tyre ended up looking like a piece of biltong from all the work we had put into keeping it inflated. As we laboured our way out of the water point we passed another team we asked how far we had come?

57km, was the answer. Fantastic. Half way.

It turns out I will not be posting my musings on the 2015 Absa Cape Epic daily in the Cape Times as previously promised. As I was poised to send my first column after the Prologue on Sunday I received a strange email from the newspaper’s sports editor, lets call him Ed:

I’m very sorry to tell you that I have been informed that the Cape Times will not be able to run your column this week. Thank you for your efforts, and we will obviously be paying you for the column delivered last Friday.
Best wishes

It’s never been about the money. I hate to break it to you, kids, but writing as a profession is now slightly less sustainable than attempting to carve out a future for yourself as a chimney sweep.

Minutes after getting the above message I responded:

Hi Ed
Please let me know why?!
Column attached.

I attached the article because, well, although it may seem like I make this stuff up in a few minutes in my head, writing actually takes time. Maybe they could run it after all? Seeing as it was written. And they had actually asked for it. I had come across the finish line in a very respectable 23rd position, and within an hour I was tapping out the column to my imaginary Cape Times readers in the media tent. Without having first showered, or hung out with my wife, family or friends. And I had all but finished it when I got Ed’s email informing me of the Cape Times’s inability to run my column.

The response to my plea:

Sorry Nic, can’t provide any further detail on this 

So there, you go. Sorry, I tried. Print is dead anyway. If you feel inspired kick up a fuss to #bringbackthecolumn.

I would but I’ll be riding…

Follow Nic Lamond’s daily Absa Cape Epic blog here as he and his riding partner, Carl Pasio tackle the grueling race as Team RSAWEB-Biogen.
twitter: @niclamond @carlpasio @TeamRSAWEB

Images supplied by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

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Finally nailing a Prologue!

The Absa Cape Epic Prologue is traditionally an exhibition ride. Designed to deliver heart-stopping action to fans on the slopes of the most iconic of mountains. On Sunday the 20km dash across Table Mountain lived up to all our expectations. And then some.

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Prologue - UCTThe day dawned overcast but the fierce mountain biking chased the clouds away as the pace got quicker, with the fastest two-man teams starting around midday . Our nerves reached a crescendo around 11.32am, when my partner Carl Pasio and I rolled down the start ramp in front of a packed crowd at UCT.

The seasoned Absa Cape Epic riders will tell you that you can’t win the Epic in the Prologue, but you can certainly lose it.

In the 2013 event Carl really wasn’t up to scratch at the Prologue in Meerendal near Durbanville. I was surprised but not worried – Carl has a reputation as a power rider, and maybe these relatively short trails just didn’t suit the big guy.

For most of the hour the route took us I was staring puzzled over my shoulder while Carl labored around the course, unable to hold my wheel for even the briefest moment. This was unusual. He was going flat out, sweating and bobbing heavily on the pedals. An expression of equal parts pain and bewilderment in his eyes.

It was only at the finish line that Carl realised he hadn’t tightened his rear wheel, so when he pushed his first pedal stroke off the start ramp he inadvertently caused his brakes to lock. He had ridden to the edge of his ability at snails pace, because his brakes were on. We laughed about it but we agreed that it was a less than ideal start.

Incredibly, my 2014 race partner, Hannes Hanekom outdid this performance. He took a sleeping tablet half an hour before our starting time. His wife had put painkillers for his injured shoulder in his bag alongside his regular sleep medication. Easy mistake to make. Also not ideal.

Unlike Carl, Hannes realised what he had done before we set off but was too afraid to tell me. He told his wife and they just decided to wing it. Hannes’s seven hour post-Prologue nap was the dead giveaway and they ultimately confessed. We never bothered to check with the anti-doping authorities, but we assumed it wasn’t considered performance enhancing!

Needless to say I was pretty relieved to look over my shoulder and see Carl tucked behind me looking comfortable as we climbed up to Rhodes Memorial today. From the saddle it was a pleasure and privilege to be cheered along the route, delivering power to our weary legs with each shout of encouragement.

We felt strong on the jeep track climbs around Devils Peak and above Deer Park. Mostly, we are excited to have survived the steep dusty descent off the Kings Blockhouse, where many riders took a tumble. A solid 22nd position is a great place to look forward to the 719km remaining…

Absa Cape Epic 2015 Prologue - UCTTomorrow (Monday) is when the real racing starts, and it will be a rude awakening. None of the crowds, only the towering Groenlandberg high above Elgin to keep us company as we push through 113km and 2800m of vertical ascent.

Follow Nic Lamond’s daily Absa Cape Epic column here as he and Carl Pasio tackle the race as Team RSAWEB-Biogen. twitter: @niclamond @carlpasio @TeamRSAWEB

Photos by Gary Perkin/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

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Butterflies and matching socks

It’s here. The Absa Cape Epic circus is in town. No hiding now. While I shifted between bouts of delight and nausea at the thought of tackling my ninth Cape Epic I glanced around the room. We were at the V & A Waterfont yesterday for the traditional pro press conference. An opportunity to see who the contenders were for the coveted zebra-striped race leaders’ jerseys in all the categories – Men, Women, Mixed, Masters and Grand Masters.

Some of the pros were agitated and twitchy, others serene. A few more chose humour as their disguise, over stating the punchline or laughing at their own jokes. Whatever the veneer, butterflies were evident everywhere – inevitable, mostly unavoidable. The key is going to be getting them to fly in formation on race day, this Sunday. I found tangible comfort in knowing that pre-race nerves are the same for everyone. We are all in the same boat. The only difference being how fast that boat negotiates the tricky passage from start to finish line each day.

The Absa Cape Epic is really two races. And that’s part of its magical attraction. On the front line of the starting grid are the world’s best mountain bikers paired up, all eager to claim a share of the R1,6 million prize purse on offer. These are hardened professional riders whose training calendar and racing commitments are carefully composed each year, with the Epic an important feature early in their seasons. The biggest stage race on the planet, with valuable exposure for their sponsors. 739km around the Western Cape. Covering over twice the vertical ascent of Mount Everest in the process.

Behind the high-tech bikes and matching socks of the pros are the rest of us. Over 1100 excited amateurs, who have found a willing partner and made sacrifices to face eight tough days in the saddle. We have dragged our tired bodies into the hills before sunrise and shoehorned training sessions into our humble routines. We have had countless discussions about training techniques, skills improvement and equipment choice. Part of the inspiration to endure this daily torture for months comes from understanding what a rare privilege it is to cover the same challenging terrain as our cycling heroes. And we want to prepare ourselves to at least enjoy the experience.

Another motivator is more closely aligned to those of the pro field. We are keen to do our sponsors proud – the work colleagues, wives, husbands, children and friends that have made the journey to a Cape Epic, and through it, possible.

Sunday’s opening stage of the 2015 Absa Cape Epic will be a fantastic showcase of Cape Town’s hospitality and rugged beauty. The 20km Prologue course will be furious for the top teams, and a chance to ease into the race for those with more modest ambitions. From UCT we will climb to the base of Devils Peak, traverse across to Deer Park, head up to Tafelberg Road and drop back down from Kings Blockhouse to UCT again via some fast and flowing single track trails. The route offers plenty of places to share a piece of the action.

Follow Nic Lamond’s daily Absa Cape Epic column in the Cape Times, as he and his riding partner, Carl Pasio tackle the grueling race as Team RSAWEB-Biogen. twitter: @niclamond @carlpasio @TeamRSAWEB

2015 CTCT

This column appeared in the Cape Times on Friday, 13 March 2015.

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Team RSAWEB-Biogen – Tackling the 2015 Absa Cape Epic [video]

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Absa Cape Epic – Take: 9

I’m going to casually avoid dealing with the fact that I haven’t posted anything to this blog for almost a year, okay? Ta. Moving swiftly along…

I’m stoked to be partnering up with my old mate Carl Pasio for this year’s Absa Cape Epic. And when I say old, I mean we have raced the prestigious event twice together. I don’t mean he is old. Actually he is disturbingly young. I, on the other hand, am starting to feel my 37 years and eight previous Cape Epics!

Early on Stage 4 cruising the descent off Babylonstoring, Caledon.Carl and I rub Adamatium cream on our bodies before the start of Stage 7

I made a bit of noise about him when we rode together for the first time in 2012. Check it out here. Some of the same fear is creeping back at the thought of riding with a man nine years my junior, who routinely clocks up 150km rides before lunch and calls the Spanish Pyrenees his training ground.

But I am quickly comforted by the fond experience of facing this crazy ordeal together before, and conquering it. We didn’t have it easy. In our first outing together Carl spent Stage 3 soft-pedaling while I spent the day stoically trying to hold onto his rear wheel while throwing up on my handlebars. In 2013 it was his turn – Carl caught an evil race village bug before Stage 4 that brought him to his knees. I dragged him over the Bainskloof Pass and into Wellington in 150th position that day, convinced our race was over. But Carl had other ideas and we stormed back into the top-20 on Stage 5. We have laughed out loud often and shed more than a few tears in the 1,479km and 31,900m of vertical ascent so far.

But the ultimate proof of our success as a pairing was when I asked Carl if he’d like to square up to the adventure again. His answer was unhesitating – yes. If we were nervous in 2012 before we decided to team up, we are mountain bike stage racing Zen masters now. We know it’s our friendship (and a bit of luck) that what will carry us through.

I am equally proud to be riding for Team RSAWEB. The Cape Town-based IT company is owned by two friends of ours, Mark Slingsby and Rob Gilmour. These guys have an innovative approach to business, and an industry-leading understanding of the tech world they operate in. But, even better, they love bikes. They just get it. RSAWEB has been proudly supporting the cycling industry and aspiring athletes for years. Carl’s early career as a pro triathlete and cyclist was made possible by their sponsorship. My brother Simon and I rode the our fourth Absa Cape Epic together for Team RSAWEB in 2009.

Another long-standing partner that we are very fortunate to have is Biogen. As with RSAWEB this South African nutrition company has supported Carl and I for years. While Biogen products keep us powered up and hydrated out on the trail it’s their support team back in the office who really make working with them such a pleasure. Biogen is sports-mad and its marketing head is Brandon Fairweather, another sports fanatic who understands the many demands of pro and amateur bike racing.

I am getting flippen excited about charging through the Western Cape on 15 March, with Carl by my side. And I’m amped to take you all along for the ride – on this blog, as well as via the Cape Times, where I will again be writing daily columns from the trenches of the race.

I also can’t wait to introduce my new bike, which has a couple of interesting race tweaks to the setup…

For a quick idea of what we’re signing up for this year, watch the 2015 Absa Cape Epic route video:

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Five by Chris Akrigg [video]

Funny, I’ve got five bikes too. Somehow, after watching this, I feel like I’m not doing them justice!

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