Just how easy do the pro riders have it?
By Nic Lamond in South Africa
So just what does it take to stay on the bike and in the Absa Cape Epic for its nine arduous days? Well, the answer varies considerably depending who you ask. And after which stage
For backmarkers it can be hard enough to make the 10-hour cut-off each day. The weather is unbearably hot - peaking at 39 degrees Celsius as riders traversed South Africa's inland Karoo desert region a few days ago. The terrain is unforgiving and lies waiting to slash tyre sidewalls or destroy derailleurs in a heartbeat. And mechanical wear-and-tear routinely shatters the ambitions of riders of even the most meticulously maintained bikes. But it doesn't end there.
If riders manage to negotiate the demanding course within the cut-off time a manic scramble awaits their arrival at the overnight stop. Bikes need to be cleaned, repaired and finally lubed in preparation for the next day's battle with the elements. Riders also need to find their kit bags that have been transported en masse from the previous stage finish. Securing one of the 1,200 tents erected overnight is their next task - preferably one close to the showers and a short walk from the dinner marquee, but not too close to the rows of portable toilets whose plastic doors bang incessantly throughout the night. If you arrive late you can guaranteed your much needed sleep will be in a tent with front row access to the all-night toilet door recital.
For those who think ahead, or arrive early, teams of physiotherapists will gladly soften aching muscles, but for those most in need getting the bike ready to roll off the start line in the morning takes precedence and the body must wait till bed time to get its only reprieve of the day.
Then it's dinner time. At 6:00 pm the huge white tent fills with riders and press as teams of chefs serve up a carbohydrate feast for all participants. The daily prize-giving kicks off with its cheesy soundtrack and then the virtual fly-through of the following day's trail follows.
If serious bike repairs are needed - and the riders' race planning didn't include hiring a personal mechanic - riders often remain tinkering with their machines well past midnight.
At 5:00 am a foghorn wakes the sleeping masses and the riders need to eat, collect their bikes and pack everything up before the start gun is fired at 7:00 am. Not surprisingly the campsite in the half light of the morning looks more like a graveyard meeting for zombies than the athletes' village it claims to be.
Read the complete feature.
See Cyclingnews'full coverage of the Cape Epic in progress in South Africa.