Cannondale Vredestein take no more chances
By Nic Lamond in Cape Town, South Africa
The 2008 Absa Cape Epic is done. The winning teams have taken their tired bodies and battered bikes home. But not before they had a chance to unwind in spectacular fashion at Spier Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, Cape Town last Saturday night. It was a fitting end to the epic struggle that had taken place over nine days and 966km. Thousands of riders and their families and friends swarmed between the buffet marquees and underneath the grand old oak trees to the beat of African drums. A magnificent African sky stretched out above. But the racing was still fresh in the minds of those who had fought hard to realise a dream and cross the line first.
In the centre of the main dining tent overall and men's winner Roel Paulissen (Cannondale Vredestein) was explaining to Christoph Sauser (Songo.info) how he and team-mate Jakob Fuglsang had found themselves 18km from the end of stage five with a rapidly-diminishing 18-minute lead, no CO2 quick-fill cartridges left, no pump and an unfixable flat tyre. Sauser had been riding in Stellenbosch since day three of the Absa Cape Epic after his Songo.info team-ate Burry Stander was forced to withdraw due to injury.
"But why didn't you have a normal pump?" an incredulous Sauser asked.
"I thought with eight quick-fills between me and Jakob we would be fine," the Belgian responded. He had unpacked his pump the night before. It was to be a crucial error
Who knew that their eight cartridges wouldn't be enough. That their quick-fill adapter would be faulty and that they would end up bumping and grinding the rear rim of Paulissen's bike over nearly 20km of gravel and then tarmac with no tyre to preserve a slender nine-minute lead at the end of the day.
In endurance mountain bike races such as the Absa Cape Epic, riders are forced to gamble with what spare parts - and how many - to take. It becomes important to carry enough nutrition and hydration to keep the body functioning at its optimum, but that takes space. When the long and unpredictably harsh terrain stretches out before them there's a trade-off between space- and weight-saving and factoring in the inevitable mechanical trouble.
That day Paulissen and Fuglsang made a mistake. Luckily it didn't cost them the entire race, but it could easily have done so. And so on Saturday, with just 62km to negotiate to the finish line in Lourensford, Stellenbosch, and nine-minutes between them and the second-placed Bulls team, the two were packing an absurd amount - by cross country racing standards - of spare parts.
"[On Saturday] we were riding really hard from the beginning already," said Fuglsang. "If we had a bad day, if we had problems with the tyres or something from the beginning on, then we could still have lost the race with the way they were going at the front. We went fast from the first kilometre. Luckily the bike held up and was still in one piece."
So how did the two cater for the potential mechanical trouble and the prospect of losing the 2008 Absa Cape Epic on the final, shortest day? "Usually we carry all the spares strapped to the bike," Fuglsang explained. "The only thing I have is a multi-tool on me. But [on Saturday] we also took spare pedals, and Roel took a rear derailleur even if we broke a rear derailleur we could still finish the race. Even if we lost five minutes trying to fix it we would still be good!"
The insurance policy wasn't necessary. The Dane and Belgian duo protected their nine-minute lead and crossed the line in third, six-seconds behind the Bulls team (Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm) and just a second after German riders, Hannes Genze and Jochen Kaess (Alb-Gold Mountainbike) in second.