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Christoph Sauser: Lose the battle, win the war

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Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized) finish

Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized) finish (Image credit: Michal Cervený)
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Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized)

Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized) (Image credit: Michal Cervený)
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Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized)

Jaroslav Kulhavy and Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized) (Image credit: Michal Cervený)
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Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized)

Christoph Sauser (Investec-Songo-Specialized) (Image credit: Michal Cervený)
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Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) gets the foot out

Jaroslav Kulhavy (Investec-Songo-Specialized) gets the foot out (Image credit: Michal Cervený)

It started off chilly for Stage 1 of the Cape Epic, although you could tell it was going to get hot. Early on we had a super-strong headwind, five or six teams broke away, and it took the other guys a good half an hour to chase back.

Going into the big Tesselaarsdal climb at 58km, everybody wanted to lead and it was a very good feeling to just go for it and get into the singletrack first. It wasn't a big group any more because I had already gone really hard and that had split the bunch again.

It's cool to ride in the front in a situation like that. You're not under pressure but for the guys behind, it's more difficult. The switchbacks were tight and when you're leading, you can take the right line at the right speed. But I did have to get off once when the motorbike went up there too fast and made everything super-loose.

Jaroslav (Kulhavy) and I don't often make plans but I knew that soon after the long descent there was a kicker, and yesterday I had already told Jaro that we had to attack there. Jaro was leading, I was in second, and we got a gap right away.

We had maybe 30 seconds but when we stopped at the last waterpoint at 73km, the other guys – Cannondale Factory Racing (Manuel Fumic and Henrique Avancini) and Scott-SRAM MTB Racing (Nino Schurter and Matthias Stirnemann) – didn't stop at all. I never expected that they wouldn't stop because when you don't stop at a waterpoint, it'll eventually hit you.

On the one hand, it's a pity because we lost our lead. On the other hand, it was just a matter of time before they ran out of fluid. There's no way you can ride strong to the finish with just two water bottles for two and half hours in that heat. No way.

I knew we would drop them by the end but the problem was that Jaro crashed and broke a valve. Don't ask me how that happens – a stick or a little rock or something. It's like winning the wrong kind of lottery.

You hear that awful noise and see the sealant coming out, so at first I thought the rim was broken. But it was just a valve, so Jaro got the wheel out and got a tube, and I fixed the rest. We never practice this kind of stuff, but I'm normally the delegator and Jaro is just my handyman!

It wasn't the worst possible place to have a mechanical. Having one at the end is always much better than at the beginning. But for sure it's also not ideal not having your back-up team closer.

Scott-SRAM came past just as we finished fixing the tyre, but they were already broken and had no more firepower.

That last 45 minutes – especially after the mechanical – it was hard to go flat out again. But Cannondale were just hanging on for as long as they could. In that last stretch, I would say we made more than two minutes on them.

We were definitely the strongest team today and it didn't pay off, but we're still in a very good place.

It sounds boring, but you have to take it day by day. It's important that as soon as you cross the finish line, your head is already into the next day.

If this was a one-day race, everybody would say there's no way they can race again tomorrow. Everyone gave everything, everybody got dehydrated, but the human body is amazing. You can do it again for another six days. Although obviously at a slower pace, and your heart rate will drop like crazy.

When I went hard today, my heart rate was between 150-160bpm, maybe a maximum of 165. (I have a very low heart rate.) But towards the end of the Epic, it'll feel really hard and I'll look down and my heart rate will be 130-135bpm.

At that point, it comes down to muscle power. That's why it's really important to do a lot of power workouts. At the end of the Epic, it comes down to muscle power and you need to get that extra strength from somewhere. 

Follow Christoph Sauser on Twitter at @sauserwind and Instagram at @christoph_sauser and for all Cape Epic results and news click here .

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Former mountain bike world champion Christoph Sauser has a lengthy palmares, including multiple Cape Epic victories. The Swiss rider is blogging for Cyclingnews from the South African stage race in 2017, providing insight into his experience and the race overall.