I have huge respect for the climbs on Stage 5 of the Cape Epic. I've never had a good experience there, in any Epic – I don't know why. This year the level was much higher and I didn't survive it as well I have done previously.
Still, this is the closest we've been to the top of the GC in the 2017 Epic: 1:20 was the best we'd been, but now it's down to 50 seconds.
I think Scott-SRAM MTB Racing are stronger than Cannondale Factory Racing, and today we saw Cannondale have their first hiccup and that was that. It's been such a smooth race for them. If you don't have that deep, deep strength and suddenly things don't go right, then you're off the back. That's it.
Both times that Jaroslav Kulhavy and I have had problems, we've pulled hard and still had very strong finishes. But on Stage 5, the first hour and 45 minutes were just a bit too fast for me. I was suffering on a super-high level – my watts were as high as during a one-day race. But I stayed positive and often what I don't have at the beginning, I have at the end.
I got some good pushes from Jaro but off-road it's so difficult to help each other. We took more risks than usual in the downhills and that paid off. But in the singletrack we should have gone faster. We were too conservative and we lost some time there to Scott.
The gap was almost 1:50 at one point – that didn't look so good.
I get the time splits myself by checking where the leaders are and timing how long we take to get to that point. When a minute goes by, you hate it! You're like, "OK, this is not looking good!"
We were 1:20 behind, then it was 50 seconds, then suddenly it was 1:50. Obviously that was not good for the head. But with 10km to go we really started closing. We saw Scott on the last hard climb, which just got steeper and steeper, and they weren't looking so fast. When the gap dropped to under a minute, that got Jaro's attention and then it was flat-out all the way to the finish. We eventually finished 17 seconds behind Scott.
I love getting as much information as possible during a race. I always know how many kilometres we've done, what climbs are coming, average watts, average speed etc. I'm constantly checking. I'm almost like a computer. Even if I'm completely at the limit, I always try to check. It's good – it gives you a different perspective.
It's never nice if you have to wait for your partner while the other guys ride away, but Jaro knows that I'll finish strong. It's obviously far from ideal to chase all the time but that first 1hr45 today was a very dark space. I was in such a bad space that I didn't care about being pushed by Jaro, even if it was all on TV. I really lost my pride!
Normally I just have something super-plain for breakfast, like porridge with water or rice with water. But today I had something more exotic – rice with coconut milk and lots of other stuff – which gave me plenty of energy at the end but not for the first two hours.
The thing is you always eat a bit more in the evening and you go to bed quite full. Then at 5am you should eat again, but you have to force yourself. I'm not a guy who needs a lot of food so for Stage 6 I'll stick with a very light breakfast and rather have a gel just before the start to keep the sugar levels up.
On Stage 4, our back-up rider Nico Bell was pacing really hard and today on Stage 5, Howard Grotts was super-strong. Howie may be a good shot for next year's Epic so it's important that he gets some experience of how the Epic works.
I even asked the young Specialized riders Simon Andreassen and Sam Gaze to delay their flights out of South Africa so they could watch the Cape Epic prologue and get inspired. Because no bike brand or rider can skip the Epic any more. The coverage you get over eight days at the Epic is phenomenal really. I see it every day when social media goes crazy or when I get feedback from all over the world.
But I must say, the GC right now is turning the traditional Epic results upside down. If you look at who got interviewed the most before the Epic it was teams like the Bulls, Topeak-Ergon and Trek-Selle San Marco, and none of them have stood a chance so far. So this year is a completely different Epic.
The 2017 Epic has been much shorter as well. We've only raced 19 hours so far. By this point in my last Epic in 2015, we'd done 24 hours (or 25% more) so it really is a bit different.
Is it good to shake up the old guard? For sure, it's very good. Change, and seeing new faces, is always good. Maybe the marathon guys will also consider changing their training from the conservative thinking of ‘the race is for eight days so I have to do hours, hours, hours'.
Marathon guys already have such big engines but need to work on the top-end speed. You've really needed that firepower at the start of every Epic stage this year. Especially for your morale: when you feel tired and your head is not in a good space, you very quickly lose it. Without that top-end speed you're basically gone, because the problem is the speed doesn't slow down any more.
The overnight rain was very good for the stage today. The berms were perfect and it was the first day which wasn't crazy dusty. We had to cross a few rivers but I'll take that instead of eating dust.
My head is still completely intact. I'm totally focused on Stage 6 and then we'll see what we have to do on Sunday's final stage. We're in second place now and everything is still possible.
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