By Nic Lamond in Oak Valley, Elgin
"On my own – in a normal race – I would have pulled out for sure," confessed a laughing Roel Paulissen (Cannondale Vredestein) when asked about the sacrifices made to complete the Absa Cape Epic. But he didn't pull out; instead he chose to complete the last gruelling hours of stage six on the bare rim of his rear wheel. And the reason? The man riding right by his side over the past eight days, U23 cross country World Champion Jakob Fuglsang.
As a result, Cannondale Vredestein now sits atop the podium, cautiously eyeing the nearest competitors from the relative comfort of a nine-minute lead. "Having a good partner is the secret – you can also kill your partner," he mentions quietly, casting his mind back to the spectacular withdrawal of Christoph Sauser's young protégé Burry Stander (of Team Songo.info) after just three days of intense racing.
The Belgian is a happy man on the eve of his second Cape Epic victory. All that lies in the way is a 62km ride over the last mountain range, before the field drops into Lourensford Wine Estate and the finish line – 966km from the start in Knysna nine days ago. It's a calm end to the frenetic pace with which the two began and have hammered ever since.
But while Paulissen looked relaxed at the hastily called press conference to catch up with the race leaders on Friday, team-mate Fuglsang was visibly uncomfortable. He is thinking of the desperately frustrating moments in the past few days racing where nothing was going right and victory was looking anything but secure. He may also be thinking about how close he came to winning last year's event, only to be denied by the German team of Karl Platt and Stephan Sahm (Bulls).
"You are never finished the Cape Epic 'til stage eight," the young Dane reminds Paulissen and the gathered media. At the same time the event has also taught him a patience he didn't posses at his last attempt. "You must keep on fighting," he offered, "this race isn't over after just one bad day!"
Also see Cyclingnews' full coverage of Cape Epic.