Absa Cape Epic Stage 1 – the sort-out
The first full stage of the Absa Cape Epic is always a bit of a sort-out. It’s a day for big changes in GC results, and a day for all riders, however far down the order they might be, to discover a little more about what the week has in store.
The Prologue is a bit of a phony war. The people that can ride 23km flat out aren’t necessarily the same people who can push through seven more 4-6 hour days, maintaining their team harmony, working together, handling the inevitable mechanicals, eating, sleeping and recovering well.
So the first stage is an opportunity to find out the lie of the land. This happens at all levels. On stage 1 the leaders in all the categories find out who really has form, whom to watch, and where the other teams have weaknesses – which rider from rival teams isn’t quite on it uphill, or can’t quite handle the pace on a technical descent. And at lower levels, riders are starting to find out the identity of the people with whom they will spending most of the week. Just as the pros are differentiated by small percentages, so the amateurs all have their physiological equals – among 600 teams, there’s going to be someone for everyone to race against; or with, depending on how competitive your disposition.
Because it’s the first stage, the start feels a little like an XC race, only with a pack of several hundred people (they do stagger the start, but there’s only so much you can stagger a bunch of 1200, when the back markers have a stage cut-off time of
At this point I really feel for the leading women’s teams, who are generally two thirds the size of the men around them, and must feel a little like pinballs being bounced around amongst the bunch as people switch lines left, right and centre. The week hasn’t gone far enough for their superior fitness to show against all apart from the top 25 or 30 men’s teams.
The first stage of the Epic is also always a big one – the course designer choosing to show his mettle early on, perhaps, and let people know what they are in for. So a 113km stage, with 2,460m of climbing. The conditions were not very Epic-like – not much sun, a bit of (actually quite refreshing) rain, And a LOT of punctures – there were people strewn by the wayside throughout the stage, particularly early on. A fast bunch, with a bit of dust in the air, means not very much warning of trail obstacles, and tyres often taking the hit. Sauser and Rabon suffered this fate early, one of their fellow Meerendal teams pacing them back through the bunch.
The results of the sort-out
The sorting-out was evident in all categories. For example in Mixed, the female half of yesterday’s Prologue-winning team and overnight jersey holders looked as if she was really grovelling after only 10km. The effect was that they lost 10 minutes to new leaders Synergy, from Mauritius. Cherise Stander and possibly one of the biggest mountain bikers I have seen, Theo Blignaut, were third – each of his quads is about the size of my ribcage. And that’s only a slight exaggeration.
In Men, the conditions did perhaps indeed favour the Euros, as Kaufmann and Kaess of Centurion Vaude came away with the win by almost two minutes. Behind them was a tight sprint for second between BMC, Meerendal Centurion Wheeler, Cannondale Blend and Bulls 2, won by BMC.
In Women, Suss and Bigham of Meerendal asserted themselves with a win by 16 minutes ahead of the Cape Brewing Company team, with yesterday’s winners, Kleinhans and Langvad of RECM in third.
In Masters, Brentjens and Azevedo of Bretch.nl Superior Meerendal had a tough day – Azevedo looked to be suffering from an ailment of some kind; so they were in fourth, with Shan Wilson and Adrian Enthoven of Definitive Bikes the winners and new leaders.
In Grand Masters, McLean and Zoerweg of Cycle Lab Toyota came out on top.
Team Open-Rotor-Asterion’s race
Jeff and I had our share of puncture-related fun, but otherwise had a good stage. I rode the 20km into the first feed station on about 10psi in both tyres; good old Stan saving me from actually having to stop, but I slightly dread to see the state of my new Syntace W30 rims, as there was a good deal of rock / rim interaction… The front puncture proved too big to seal properly, and after stopping at both the first two feed stations to pump up the tyre, we had to admit defeat and stop to put a plug in, which mercifully held until the end of the stage.
The other hiccup was having lost my prescription riding glasses the night before the stage. I’m not that short-sighted, but I certainly am a bit, and it doesn’t lend great confidence not to be able to see oncoming holes / rocks / thornbushes until you’re practically on top of them. Thankfully, Jeff, my team-mate, is one of the most reliable descenders I know, so he was my eyes for the day on the downhills. Which proved a good move, as plenty of them were the special Epic kind without an obvious line – just a lot of scrub and / or rocks to negotiate.
It seems our legs and luck were better than a few of the people that beat us yesterday, though, because we came home in 29th in Men; up more than 10 places on GC to 32nd in Men, 39th overall. Job done for the day – now to settle in for a cold one tomorrow. Another day for the Euros, perhaps?