Some quality time with the front group

There's nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won't fix. I climb through the window and down to the street... I'm shining like a new dime. The downtown trains are full... full of all those Brooklyn girls. They try so hard to break out of their little world... You wave your hand and they scatter like crows...

Its only stage 2, but day 3, of the Cape Epic. Fatigue is setting in just enough that waking up takes a moment to process, but doesn't require a snooze button yet.

Tom Waits was on my mind this morning as we walked back from the chore of eating breakfast under a southern hemisphere's sky with its constellations in view. It's the lingering hour between when breakfast ends and the real rush to get dressed and head over to the start line that your mind really plays games with why we're doing this. Well, that, and those Brooklyn girls that scatter like crows (ie: guys chopping wheels in the first 20km of a five-hour stage, only to blow sky high before the first feed station).

World Bicycle Relief (WBR) has helped us connect the dots of why we're here, what we can do to make a difference, and bring what we know, and who we know, to South Africa. WBR purchases bikes, in the the case of South Africa, from Qhubeka, giving jobs, and bikes, to the RZA. Through Qhubeka, funds raised through both our and Bart Brentjen's fundraising efforts turn into bikes.

Qhubeka, to quote, brings "comprehensive bicycle programs that improve quality of life, community and environment" to communities in South Africa. They're heavily involved in racing with the MTN-Qhubeka team, including Adrien Niyonshuti, who's soon to be an Olympian for Rwanda at the 2012 London Olympic Games in mountain biking.

Niyonshuti's story was one of the original inspirations for me to return to the Cape Epic and do more than take pictures and burn a lot of jet fuel getting there. To Niyonshuti's credit again, this year he's going faster than ever and in today's stage, I was as excited to give him the "A" line on downhills as I was for simply making and sticking the front group, finally.

So, the front group? Finally, Sager, finally.

Yesterday we were a mess, and today, both my partner Justin Lindine and I were firing on at least four cylinders, comfortable enough to not burn matches, confident enough to sag the climbs we need to sag, and patient enough to let the stage unfold.

The route was fast, and not too rough, by Cape Epic standards. The caveat of this is the group was large early on, the dust thick. I'd guess 20 teams or so made up the group for the first hour or so, which surely makes for a great visual spectacle.

The helicopters were thick and low all day, at one point blasting us with rotor wash so fiercely kicking up dirt chucks, hay, and other farm debris it was like racing inside a tornado, but only on your left side. Group racing like this is nice as the kilometers tick by quickly, but it's stressful as you can't see the ground from the dust cloud, and everyone is fighting for wheels thinking they're going to win, right now.

Every time someone chops me on a dirt road with three hours to go on a stage, I think, "What are you going to do, ride up and talk to (race leader Christoph) Sauser?"

But, I digress... back to the heartache. Slowly as the group whittled down, we came into feed 2 with only nine teams, us included. Well... us would be a loose term - unbeknownst to me, Justin had flatted just one turn and 100m from the tech zone. Unaware of the pit just ahead, Justin changed his flat, then found the tech zone where he grabbed a new wheel. But, on group days like this, when you come out of the group, you not only lose the time you spent doing the repair, but now the day will consist of going slower, at a higher effort.

The Epic is a merciless event, and when things go sideways after several hours of hard work, you just get back to the job at hand and... pedal. It was good to see the Bulls' team of Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm win an exciting sprint finish for our last day in Robertson.

Tomorrow's stage will be the biggest mountain bike ride I've ever done - in terms of distance and elevation gain, it's going to set a new standard for, as Udo Bölts once said, "This isn't cycling, this is suffering."

147km, over 9000 feet of climbing. With a little bit of luck, I'm gonna make like a bakery delivery truck and haul buns.

Two videos are below courtesy of Jason Sager.  The first is helmet cam footage highlights of stage 2 of the Cape Epic.  The second is a chat with Sager his teammate Justin Lindine immediately after the stage.

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