We're half way through the world's toughest mountain bike race - the Cape Epic..
The last two stages have played out well. There have been no major mechanicals, no serious falls, not as much walking and a lot less sand. We got to the start of stage 3 this morning to surprisingly cold temperatures. There was lots of shivering and a reluctance to dress to the temperatures as we knew the cold snap wasn't lasting. And we couldn't have been more right; by the afternoon we were cycling in 42 degree [Celsius] heat, with no wind. Needless to say, lots of people suffered with the temperatures today.
The great thing about the Cape Epic is that we're starting to get to know our fellow riders more. While there is still apprehension hanging in the air at the start of each stage, there's lots of banter, story sharing and a generally great atmosphere. We're in it together.
After stage 1's mechanical issues, our GC was 345th place. The good news is we're making ground, and over the last two days we've moved up to 278th. We're getting faster and finding the technical elements of mountain biking far easier. I'm learning what can and can't be done and the variety of terrain definitely keeps things interesting.
Some of the technical parts can be a bit disconcerting at times though. Yesterday we had to navigate our way along a 5km, incredibly fast and technical singletrack. A basic error could have sent you over the edge. But there was nothing as heart-stopping today and both my teammate, HotChillee's Sven Thiele, and I are feeling confident.
Stage 3 has been, by far, the most beautiful stage yet. As with most other days, we started with a climb this morning, just to make sure we know we're alive. This was a 15km climb, up 400m. Believe it or not, this was a much kinder start to the day than the previous stages. The route took us through the mountains, traversing vineyards and farmlands and leading us through a forest. It was spectacular.
The day started really well. With shorter climbs and better track underneath us, we felt a sigh of relief. The singletrack sections generally kept moving, so the slightly tedious job of walking single-file has become a distant memory. It was almost too good to be true, and it was. The second part of the day saw us attacking steeper climbs and we finished on a really sharp incline. That said, we managed to keep pedalling and made it through the day relatively unscathed, and only having walked one particularly rocky part of the course. The finish was in the beautiful fields of Saronsberg Wine Estate.
It's been another day of high drop-outs, which just proves the point that this really is the toughest mountain bike race in the world. You can see in people's faces that the event is taking its toll. Having to get back on the bike day after day is hard work - both mentally and physically. Our bikes are also taking a hit, but each evening they get taken away for an overnight service. They require far more attention than after a stage on the road. Another difference between road and mountain biking is how much your upper body screams at the end of a stage. My arms, hands and wrists are all aching, but luckily there's sports massage on-site.
The pro-race is getting very interesting, as Team Bulls and Team Burry Stander - Songo battle it out on the tracks for pole position. The pros are incredibly tough and skillful. It's great watching the racing unfold.
I'm off for some R&R and quite looking forward to seeing what tomorrow holds.
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1987 Triple Crown Winner Stephen Roche is sharing his experience riding the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race in South Africa with the HotChillee Absa Cape Epic MTB Team. Roche is racing with Sven Thiele. This is part of a joint celebration of HotChillee's The London-Paris and the Absa Cape Epic's 10-year anniversaries.
The HotChillee Cape Epic MTB teams' sponsors include The Bicycle Company for Trek MTB Bikes and Bontrager components, add-ons and Service Corp; PowerBar for nutrition; Hertz for vehicles; Continental for Tyres and LeMarq for clothing.