Updated: Nov 23, 2018
This is part 2 of the 2017 Cape Epic recap. Click here to read part 1.
Rain fell over night. The sound of the drops on my tent did little to drown out the almost audible internal conversation Evan was having in the neighbouring tent. We woke to a gloomy morning with a forecast of "cooler" temps. My fever broke over night, and I did the often usual turn around after an evenings sleep, waking hungry, not nauseous, and bright. My thoughts, however, could focus on nothing else other than Evan. Hearing his tent open, I quickly emerged too, and was buzzing and hopeful he had an evening of... cohesion. Alas, it was not to be.
I prepared a script in my head for this situation, yet I was unable to respond with nothing more than "I'm sorry"! Evan withdrew.
It was quick like a bandaid: I couldn't stop my stage prep, and Evan couldn't leave the village fast enough. We made awkward eye contact, and I had an overwhelming feeling like I did something to let him down. Evan handed over his share of the race nutrition, clean bottles, and whatever else I needed, and just like that, I was alone.
The Cape Epic is a team race. We ride at the limits of each other. The first three stages of this years race were HORRIBLE - cumulatively, the worst experience(s), I've ever had on a bicycle. To lose Evan wasn't a relief, nor do I feel like I was being held back in any way. When the moments arose where I was hurting, Evan dug deep and vice-versa. Gastro/heat got the better of him, and I was lucky to have come around before stage 4.
The last day with Evan. Somewhere South Africa: photo by Sportograf
Stage 4 (Elandkloof to Oak Valley): 108km - 2161m Climbing
As compared to the previous couple days, I was feeling good physically. Mentally, however, was a shit-show. The loss of Evan was fully realized when the gun sounded to start the stage. I cued mid-pack of the "J" corral, held my head low to shield my tears, and rolled out to get after the "112km". Finding that my easy pace had put me in front of my fellow starters, I rode that pace to a position that was void of people. SHIT, alone, literally, with no other racers in view in front of behind me. I eventually came up on what I assumed were the "I's" a couple km's down the trail. I rode through them and into the H's, G's, etc, and found for the rest of the day I was cycling around other people - alone no more, and tried to turn a pedal with effort.
Like I said in my brief report on the day of the race, I was well suited for this stage. Strong winds fought us on this climb, then pushed us on that one. We had long district road sections straight into the wind, and I was thrust into my element. I caught Randy and Daniel of McCarty Racing, our Florida friends, and broke the news to them about Evan's retirement. It was the only words I spoke that day.
One of the most memorable climbs of the day, had us riding in reverse, up and over the same pass we drove enroute to the races start town of Hermanus; Houw Hoek Pass. Comprised of babyheads (rocks the size of baby heads), sand, and gravel, it was hot and stagnant, and I continued to pick my way up through the masses with my foot a little bit on the gas. I carried the same sense of racing over the last 12km, which was mostly single track. It felt good to put the number plate to use, and actually race.
I finished the day over an hour ahead of the teams we were racing the previous days. The recovery tent was quiet, as I ate, drank, and then went about the routine. I kept to myself for the evening and found a quiet place to lounge before I made my way to dinner. I was able to chat with Evan, and his encouragement was just what I needed to help dissolve my reclusive mood.
I slept well, and was looking forward to the "fun day" to come.
Average/Max HR: 110/134
Average Speed: 14.8kpm
Stage 5 (Oak Valley to Oak Valley): 86.7km - 2049m Climbing
Toted as the "fun day", stage 5 was going to give us a huge dose of singletrack, but also a healthy amount of climbing.
I slept in my puffy coat and toque, as it was 8c when I woke. I started 2nd row with the "J's", excited for the normal temperature, and found myself amongst the "I, H, and G's" in no time.
The first 30k, consisting of mostly suiting fire road climbs, gave us more than half the total elevation for the day. The remaining 50+k sure wasn't flat, but it hosted long sections of super flowing and fun single track. I showed glimpses of happiness during the twists and turns, and was starting to shed the inclusive attitude I had adopted since losing my teammate.
My legs continued to feel good, and I tried to maintain the same perceived climbing effort over the flats, and singletrack. I didn't, however, venture far away from the habit of walking the steep or stressful climbs. My walking brought about sneers from some, and even an audible chuckle and head shake from a "local" racer as he road past me - I thought to myself that "this asshole is giving me the gears about walking?! H started the day over 20 minutes ahead of me, and we were only 30 some kilometres into the stage? At this rate, I will likely put another hour into him before the day was done!" (I let out my own audible chuckle and head shake).
The stage, wasn't all fun and games. Early in the stage, just after a thigh deep creek fording, and I, pooy with wet shoes/socks, took a little spill when a slower rider spun out in front of me. I wasn't able to get my foot out of the pedal, and went shin first into a rock on the high side of the mountain. Blood was leaking through my knee cooler, and it instantly swelled to the size of half a tennis ball, the pain was significant. Knowing Evan would have taken the piss out of me for the clumsy fall, gave me a good laugh, and I rolled into the aid station wincing, and avoided the med tent incase it was as serious a cut as it felt.
With about 25km to go, I caught the wheel of a Spaniard - Our name, and national flag are printed on our number plates, pinned to our backs. He heard me behind him and upped his pace. I quickly crunched some numbers, considering the number of km's remaining, and my wellbeing, and I felt well enough to put a little more pressure on the pedals, and race! I started riding at my limits, oft needing too much brake, or spinning out on a sharp switchback. When we finally came out of a few stitched together sections of singletrack, my "conejo" sat up, and I kept my head down, and kept the fire on. Maaaannnnn it felt so good to give'r!
I sped to the finish line, on some wicked fun trails, not caring a bit about racing for my lowly position. I heard my name being called at the finish line, and promptly headed to the recovery tent for a cold towel and a couple bites to eat.
The evening routine continued as usual. Pizza, water(s), shower, water(s), rest, dinner(s), massage. and bed. Feeling relatively better than I had all week, I flopped into my tent, and found sleep came almost as soon as I prepped for the next days stage.
Fun day singletrack - around Oak Valley SA: photo by Sportograf
Average/Max HR: 114/139
Average Speed: 14.1
Stage 6 (Oak Valley): 103km - 2750m Climbing
Billed as the "Queen Stage", this stage was meant to intimidate, and hurt. I woke with tired legs, and was cold. It was 6c, and I again slept in my puffy coat and toque. Revelling in my element, I began my AM routine and strolled to the Woolworths coffee tent to get a couple cups, and catch them up on my wellbeing. It's hard for me to understand how I made such wonderful friends with the Wolly's staff, but their genuine concern and encouragement for me was unbelievable. "See you tomorrow?" they'd ask at some point every day, and with no certainty, I'd tell them I'd do my best to make it another day.
I had moved up a couple starting groups! It was neat rolling out with people I had been catching/passing on the previous days. We came onto some district roads before the first aid station, and the pace was energetic. I had again moved up some start groups, and I found myself amongst some pretty angst-ridden racers as we entered the aid station, and it was chaos! Dudes just dropping their bikes in the middle of the road, or straddling their bikes as they peruse the food troughs, and even stacking them atop other bikes along the barricades.
Shortly after the "Animal House" aid station, came the days big climb, the Groenlandberg. It didn't take long for the climb to stifle the agro, and sort out the legs. The course up and over was mostly 2-track. In spots, we'd have to hop from one track to the other because of erosion, and that made for what I recalled as being a tricky descent. We had done the Groenlandberg in 2015, and I remembered the climb being favourable, and the descent being awful; consisting of loose, rocky, and washed out trail.
As we climbed, the wind was howling! The "Queen" must have felt a little sorry for her heatwave earlier in the week, because she gave us some wicked tailwinds up the mountain. I was rolling really well, making my way past people for the entire climb. On the climb, I had a good chat with a guy from California who spent his summers in northern Michigan. We gabbed about an area I'm quite familiar with, having worked a couple summers there during University.
The descent wasn't terrible. I was stuck within a group that forced me to go at a pace a bit slower than I would have, due to the rough trail, that bounded back and forth from track to track. After traversing the other side of the Groenlandberg, we came to another climb called the "Die Nek", that I believe we climb in '15. The climb was the "Land Rover Technical Terrain" for good reason. The trail, covered in boulders and loose gravel, would narrow between large stands of shrubs, forcing the racers into tight bunches, often putting bicycles out into un-ridable potpourri of rubble. The climb was hectic! One last spin out, and I called on my MO, dismounted, and walked a large portion of the climb. I don't lose many places with my hike-a-biking, and with the confidence I was building in regards to my fitness, I was going to get all those, and a lot more, places back when the terrain was more to my liking.
The biggest descent of the day was off the back side of the Die Nek, and it was on a fast/firm dirt road, wide, and with fast corners. Just like that, I was back through all those that passed me while walking. I had legs after the big climbs of the stage, and decided to keep going with some pressure, as long as my fueling and heart rate were in order. I went back and forth with a couple racers until the last 30 or 40km when we started on some singletrack that we had ridden from the opposite direction a day or two earlier.
With 25km togo, I went as full gas as I could! The green light came when I looked at my Garmin and saw I was going to be well below my expected 8-8:30 hour stage, and I smiled thinking that if I explode, I'll be fine limping in... There was no limping to be had. The track was good for me. I found myself stuck in a group through some narrow trails, but we came out to wide roads, and I would ramp my pace, and broke free of the traffic.
The stage finished and I was stoked! I was greeted by Marlize and Dan, and didn't need for anything. Apart from a rumbly belly, the night went to plan, and I was able to eat, rest, and get to bed on time. Sleep came with a little effort, being so excited to have made it this far into the race.
Average/Max HR: 117/148
Average Speed: 14.4
Stage 7 (Oak Valley - Val de Vie ): 84.9km - 1303m Climbing
I woke the day with a smile and made my way to Wooly's for some coffee's, and a chat with the crew. Routine was still in full swing even though I was packing my bags for the last time. The race village was still dark, and through the light of my headlamp, I saw I had moved up another start grid. A small victory for sure, but it was welcomed reward for my previous days efforts. My belly was churning a bit, maybe excitement of the last day, or it could be the 4 Americanos.
The day started with a few kilometres of neutralized racing on mostly paved roads through the town of Elgin. It was nuts!! Few riders minding their lines, cutting the tangent in the corners, a couple hopping the raised median in and out of groups of riders (how there wasn't a crash is beyond knowing). I especially liked the couple guys passing the pace car.
This was a familiar start to me. Evan and I had done it in '15 and I knew the roll out, would help sort my legs for the days climbing that would start shortly after we were set free of the pace car. During the initial climb(s), my legs were feeling great, I was on top of my fuelling, and I again found myself moving easily past other riders.
I had just come off of a fast paved decent and found myself rolling on what would go from nice dirt roads, to nice two-track, to horrible eroded two-track, and back again. On a wide open section of dirt road, I was swarmed by about 15 riders, all in a single file line attempting a "paceline". Not one to let this kind of opportunity pass, I hopped on the yo-yo, and that's when the high jinks ensued. The rider in front of me would stand and sprint, open a gap, and then 20m later, I'd catch him - this is also about the same time the guy who caused the increase in speed would be rocketing backwards and be easily dropped from the group.
The guy I was following didn't even make it to the front for his turn at a pull, and when I hit the front, there were only 2 guys left on my wheel. The fancy group of jocks had imploded and I was again rolling alone passing racers.
I then hit the days big climb, the 13.5km long, Franschhoek Pass. It's paved, sun-soaked, with an average gradient of 6+%. I rolled onto the road amongst a few teams who seemed to be enjoying there natter. The smooth road was welcomed, and I soon found myself being dragged up the mountain on the wheel(s) of a Swiss team. Their pace was more than I could muster solo, and I had to struggle at times to hold a wheel, oft apologizing about not being able to come through and take a turn out front. We road 90% of the climb as a trio, passing racers along the way. What was absolutely amazing was that the big man on this Swiss team, was allowing his teammate to hold his arm/shoulder for the entire climb! (13.5km doing the work of two - crazy strong)
With a few hundred meters to go, and the summit in sight, the Swiss duo sat up. I thanked them for the wheel and kept going and exchanged fist-bumps. The long climb was followed by an even longer descent. The road was smooth and extremely fast on the way down and it was nice to coast at 60+kmp. The descent came to a screeching halt when we hit the crowd gathered at the "Technical Terrain" section. The trail dropped down off of the road, into a washed out, brake-rutted descent. Shouts of caution came from officials, and spectators, because of the traffic jam caused by all those walking the descent. We were elbow to elbow for a short bit, walking down the trail. It wasn't long before we could get back on and pedal, and the race opened back up.
The last 30 or so kilometres brought very little in the way of interesting trail. Fast sections of road (some even paved), wide open tracks of district roads, and a few sections of fast singletrack. I was riding on auto pilot, not feeling much of anything, and for the first time all week, I was sure I was going to finish. I left the last aid station with a bunch of other racers. The soil was terribly dry and the dust was flying. We started down a steep hill through rows of grape vines and I couldn't see the ground in front my front wheel. I couldn't help but imagine a pile-up. I slowed just as the group hit a sharp left turn and watched as ten or so riders when careening into the dusty abyss!
The finish venue of Val de Vie, however, was lush, more lush than anything I'd seen traversing the African landscape. We skirted the polo ground as we approached the finish - I was still on the gas just begging to be done. As I entered the barricaded finish shoot and turned the last corner, I was scanning the massive crowd for Evan and my African crew. Lets just say, in terms of racing, Evan has become something of a "brother of another", and catching site of him, the emotions took over - a complicated mix of accomplishment and disappointment all rolled into one.
I queued for a photo with a pro and to gather the last post race food bag from Woolworths, and then hurried to see Evan - and just like that, it was over. I had started the day with the "H's", and finished amongst the "C's".
Done and DUSTED! - Val de Vie SA: photo by Sportograf
Temp: 16.1c (at start, upper 20's at end)
Average/Max HR: 128/163
Average Speed: 20.4
This [blog] has taken soooooo long to finish!
I've neglected to complete this blog for the past few months because of the asterisk I place on my finishing. I rolled across the line, atop the plush green grass of the Val de Vie polo fields, surrounded by thousands of spectators, and I felt alone. I'm proud of myself for working through the elements (and avoiding the gastro??), and doing a lot of it alone; but, from the moment the team broke, and even now when I have to think back, I couldn't/can't stop questioning if I had left something on the table to get both of us across this finish line. I thought I had prepared for every thing the training and race could throw at me/us, except I had missed one thing.... losing a teammate. I was so dependant upon having Evan during every aspect of training and racing, that I NEVER thought I'd not have him next to me at the finish line.
Racing is about personal limits and I'd say we raised our personal "bar's" quite a bit with this Epic. We were never racing for an overall place, more that we were in it for the experience of Alberta winter training and a South African adventure - both in this case were f'n hard!
I realize all of this is JUST bike racing, and I realize this all reads rather dramatic, It's meant to be dramatic. When it's 45+ degrees and your watching your friend and teammate fight consciousness as he climbs a mountain, and he's still moving towards the finish line, you can't help but get a little colourful in your words. (Oh, and you have to get up and do it all over again for seven more days).
I got an official time for finishing, but it sure doesn't sit well with me, hence the asterisk.
I'd do this all over again, and don't want a different teammate!
As always, thanks for reading,