ABSA Cape Epic video courtesy of TDA Boulder
For more than one reason, today wasn’t all that Will and I had hoped it would be. But for the sake of clarity, I’ll start at the beginning.
After listening to the course overview last night, Will was certain that today’s stage was one for us. 143km with about 2900m climbing – the Queen stage, certainly. But it had a road start, with a lot of farm trails and double track, and minimal stupidly steep climbing. I was inclined to agree.
The start wasn’t manic, but we did have a few kms of road on the way out of town, with the usual bottlenecks as the race cars out front push oncoming traffic to the sides. Nothing massively out of the ordinary, you just need to watch for riders diving into the bunch as their sneaky line up the outside is cut short by a bumper bar.
Once we hit dirt roads we were also hitting private property, which means gates. There are security fences around everything in South Africa. So we had a few more bottlenecks, and the bunch was splitting. Being a mass start today, as opposed to small gaps between blocks, the Pros were keen to pump enough riders to make it safe upfront.
There were a few splits, and I was redlining more than I wanted to to stay with Will. I was pretty sure things would accordian on the first climb, but I was getting tunnel vision to stay with Will anyway. We got on the back of the front bunch as it eased up into the climb.
My climbing wasn’t super, and a bunch from behind did start to ride through us. A pee stop at the top saw the Justins Big Nuts of Hogan and Dooley pass by to boost down the descent. We followed suit once I’d put everything away.
Our run of mechanical luck came to an end then, as will gained a small tear in his tyre. It sort of sealed, with some faffing and a top up with CO2. We got going again, but there still wasn’t really enough in there. Will stopped again, and used his pump to add a few more psi. I rolled on, as he didn’t expect to be long. To be honest, this was probably stupid. I’d say I hit the transponder mat at Water Point 1 well infront of Will.
We would have lost about 10 minutes in total by now. That’s a lot of teams rolling by when it has been a fast start. Although I have been under the pump since the 2nd hour of Stage 2, I can still ride ok when on the front. I guess I have become accustomed to riding just below my threshold. The mental advantage of riding on a team mates wheel is lost on me. I’d rather have my nose in the wind.
We did come across Jose Hermida, everyones favourite XC World Champion/Comedian. We rode as a group for a little while, until his and Ralph Naefs sit-up tempo had us dagged on a climb. Plus Will was losing air again.
More chasing, through orchards and farm tracks, another feed zone, and then into the circular headwind around a reservoir. We ended up alone here, foolishly. It was hard work, which Will did most of.
This must have been about 3 hours in, and I’d had enough of riding like an unfit overweight team mate. I knew I had strength, just no proper cardiovascular fitness or race form. There was a splintering bunch ahead.
“I reckon we just race boost up to them” I said to Will, nodding at the tail end of the group about 250m up the berg.
I hit it, and got up to the pair who had just been dagged off. Will came up soon afterwards.
“Where on earth did that come from?!”
I figured from now on, I’d just ride on strength. At least it may get me through the day. Queen stages are normally what I do well with team mates. We usually have our best finishes there. And despite the flats, and early over red-lining early, Will and I were riding well. The major climb was at about the 104km mark, and we rode steadily up, with amazing views back down the valley.
We passed two motorbikes on descents.
We rode upto and through 4 different groups.
We passed strong masters teams
We even got close to where we had been early in the race.
Then Will flatted again, his second time on his front tyre, which he’d actually done earlier before water point 2 already. Needless to say, I was a bit over chasing by this point, but I knew we had less than 15km to go.
We hit it pretty hard, swapping turns in the wind and letting it go down the farm road descents. The singletrack into Oak Valley was fun and well built. Cresting a climb we even spotted our US mates Justin’s Nut Butter/Singletrack.
“Show us what you’ve got!” Mike Hogan enthused as I passed, then passed his team mate Thomas Dooley (who is riding stupendously now that he has re-introduced carbohydrate into his diet).
The descent is a purpose made singletrack on the Vineyards estate – a great stage finish. I rounded a corner, over another fence bridge, and looked back. Nothing. No one.
So I waited. I could hear a wailing.
No. Not a crash!
A few teams came through.
“Your team mate has crashed! It’s bad, he has no front wheel.”
The Hogan and Dooley combo rolled around the bend, with Mike clearly in agony. They confirmed it. Will was down, and most likely out.
I rode back up the course, and Will was already loaded onto a four wheeler. He was in pretty good spirits.
“I think I have broken my collarbone.”
There seemed little to say. We had been firing really well for the last 60km or so. His bike looked like toast.
The twin lined trail had two ridden lines coming over a hump, except the line on the right ended in a ditch. This has ended Will’s Cape Epic, and maybe Mike Hogans as well, as Will was flung under Mikes wheel as his bike disappeared into the ditch.
That’s also my race over, and probably the same for Mike and Thomas. Racing is racing, but it’s a shame. We didn’t need to pass them. It was just four mates having fun on mountain bikes, and maybe not thinking about the consequences!