April 4, 2008
Standing amid pre-race music and a predawn marine layer of clouds (before stage seven) were just 900 of the 1,200 riders who signed up for the hardest and longest event in the history of the Cape Epic.
"Udo," I called out from within the start box. "Which race is harder, this one or the Tour de France?" I asked with a smile.
In a thick German accent, Udo Boelts, a veteran of more than 10 Tours replied, "It is about the same. The Tour is longer, but this in this you have no recovery, no smooth spinning and descents on which you can eat, drink and recover. This race, it is always go, go, go!"
Somehow, I suspected that might be the answer to my question. The Cape Epic is like the Tour without the chatty laughing from the peleton or occasional neutral pee breaks. At the stage finishes of the Cape Epic, you'll never see sparkling clean bikes and fresh faced riders. And you'd better bet your ass that the riders in this race are suffering from the beating that close to 1,000 kilometers of prehistoric red dust, sand and volcanic rock can dish out on your hands, feet and tail.
This morning was tough at the Trek team camp. Jenny [Smith], who is in second place on our women's team, was sick and wore a look of dread on her face. I asked how she was doing. "Not good," she said, holding back tears. I knew she was not only sick, but also run down. Who isn't run down at this point? I know I am. Sleep deprivation, aching muscles, the hardship of brutal five-hour stages, the best competitors in the world; these things add up. I wasn't much feeling like putting my raw ass on a bike's seat for one more day, but I didn't share this. Instead, I said, "I'm proud of you. There's only one more short day after this! We're almost done!"
During our race today, Chris [Eatough] and I fought to make the lead group. I helped Chris keep up with the pace on the steepest sections. We were riding close, always communicating and putting in a super-focused effort to make the jump to the lead group for the high-speed dirt roads that always links the jeep track trails. After feed zone one, we rode toward the tail of the leading group with Bart Brentjens and Alban Lakata of the Dolphin-Trek team. Apparently, Alban was another rider facing sickness. He was lagging badly behind Bart; Bart was too far ahead to help, so he just would look back with a puzzled expression. Alban looked green and his head hung in a strange way but he fought to continue and did!
In the second half of the race, Chris, too, was hurting. However, unlike Bart, I sensed my team-mate's condition and stuck as close as possible. Since I was feeling very good today, I pushed Chris to keep us in that top group.
With 10 kilometers to go, we were caught by four riders of the ETTO-Hoydahl teams (ETTO-Hoydahl has three teams in the race). Rune Hoydahl, the many-time World Cup winner was in the group. Nearing the finish, as they continued to work together, and we suffered like dogs to stay with them. We raced down the last dusty dirt road to the finish, teeth gritting in the dust, not able to see anything. We were in the zone.
We put on some nice moves to beat the second ETTO-Hoydahl team for tenth place in the stage. After the race, I thought of our day and I knew we had ridden not only as well as we could, but most importantly, we rode though the toughest part of the Cape Epic as team and found our greatest moment from our worst.
We hope tomorrow will be a smooth and short stage to the finish.
Thanks for reading,
Trek-VW Racing Team
Jeremiah Bishop (USA), 32, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Chris Eatough (USA), 33, Oella, Maryland
Sue Haywood (USA), 36, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Jennifer Smith (NZl), 35, Gunnison, Colorado