March 30, 2008
Yesterday's stage one one was the first big stages of the Cape Epic, and it held up to its promise to be one beast-of-a-stage. The route covered three thousand-plus meters of climbing through dense, subtropical rainforest. The front of the race started out wicked fast, and even Bulls rider Karl Platt said the pace was like the blistering start of a cross-country World Cup. At Cape Epic, the difference is we still had 100 kilometers left to race!
Now though, reality is setting in. Some riders are facing the fact that in a rugged mountain bike race with 120-kilometer stages, they cannot race at all-out speeds day after day. I had some idea of what we would face; I have competed in La Ruta de los Conquistadores, Trans Alp and several other stage races.
Today we awoke before dark and headed to the breakfast tent, where riders from South Africa and from around the world were fueling up for the toughest stage ever in the Cape Epic's history. Some racers were already in riding gear, some wearing pajama pants, t-shirts and Crocs; some spoke German, some Italian, some Russian and even others many different styles of English. Common to all were bleary eyes and weary faces. Perhaps they were dreading the hardest day of the Cape Epic, or maybe the realization of seven more days of racing on noodle-legs, sore butts and raw feet was beginning to sink in.
As promised, today's stage was hot and tough. The route featured 3,000 meters of climbing in 137 kilometers to the hot Karu Desert of the South African interior. The start was frenzied and fast. The dusty dirt road and chaos reminded me of Paris Roubaix.
After the start, many of the teams who were overly ambitious in yesterday's stage hit the bottom of their reserves and began to slip backwards in the standings. In time, Chris and I moved up into a solid top-10 position.
We settled into a good grove after jumping on with former Telekom stars Udo Bolts and Carsten Bresser. However, soon they flatted, leaving us to continue our own for mile after mile of marble-strewn jeep track that made its way through the sagebrush.
We too hit some trouble as the temperatures soared into the 90s [degrees Fahrenheit - ed.] with the hot sun beating down on us. On one mountaintop, I looked around to take in the 360-degree view. Jagged brown peaks rimed the distant skyline. Vast expanses of rolling desert hills were with scattered with rocks and little life.
The last feed zone was located at the 100-kilometer mark. This was not too far from the finish. We grabbed two bottles and continued on the hour-long jeep road climb. The loose terrain required us, and all racers, to do some serious hiking with our bikes. We were out of water by the summit, but with only a 10-kilometer false flat to the finish we knew we'd make it without much trouble.
Eventually, our bike computers rolled over 130 kilometers and all I could see ahead was desert dotted with a few small outbuildings. At this realization, we quickly went from happily zipping down what we thought was the home stretch to worried and thinking "Oh my god, we're thirsty." Dry mouthed and getting dizzy, I mumbled with discontent, "You said the stage was 130 kilometers." Then we saw a sign that read seven kilometers to go. Our hearts sank. It seemed those last kilometers to the finish ticked by so slowly.
Now that we are re-hydrated and rested up, it's almost a funny story to look back on. But, at the time, we were really worried.
You never know what challenges you'll face in an adventure such as the Cape Epic, and that is something that holds true for each and every rider and team; from front runners to those whose goal is simply to cross the finish line in Lourensford.
Enjoying the adventure!
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