Far from home

March 29, 2008

The Trek/VW mountainbike team is very, very far away from home. We are not in Kansas anymore!(or should I say Waterloo!) We are close to 20,000 miles away from home. And it sure felt like that to get here. We travelled for four days to get to the start of this race. I have never gone so far for a race before. It's crazy, but so thrilling at the same time. It really shows the globalization of the sport of mountain biking. I think its the good kind of globalization, though.

But even being a world away, there are always comforts of home. For us, that would be in the form of Gary Lee and Ricky Treager. They are the distributors of Trek South Africa and the owners of Just For Fun. They have looked after us since our arrival. They have driven us, fed us, kept us from getting lost and basically have extended the Trek family hospitality to us. Gary has been filling us in on a lot of cultural facts and of course making sure we have everything we need for the race. He also has been telling us about how huge cycling is here in South Africa. Ricky was our bag man. Ricky miraculously located my missing bike when no one would answer the phone at South African Airways and when they couldn't located my bike in their system. I was so happy to see my carbon rocket because I did not want to start a nine-day race on a borrowed bike. He also located Jenny's bag which came just last night just in time to prevent her from throwing the phone into the bay.

The race started in Knysna which is a five-hour drive from Cape Town where the race eventually ends. To me, it looks a lot like Monterey. Think of Pebble Drive without the crashing waves on the rocks and baboons hiding in the trees. It is a very wealthy area. We can sit on our hotel beds and watch sailboats go by. The restaurants serve Carpaccio and Ostrich and Springbok. We haven't had to use a PortaPotty yet (or Dixie like they call them here). So we are not slumming yet by any means.

And a leader's jersey is not any hardship for us! We won the prologue today. Twenty three women's team started the race today. A number that represents the strongest women's field to date at the Cape Epic. This is only 4% of the total entrants, but Jenny and I are doing our best to represent our gender with an iron smile, which means tough on the inside and soft on the outside.

We were second seated behind the clear favorites of the race, Alison Sydor and Pia Sundstedt (Rocky Mountain) Our plan was to open up our airplane legs. We hadn't ridden much this last week and have done a lot of sitting around. So no matter what, the legs were going to hurt. We wanted to push ourselves because we were so hungry to ride, but without killing the legs. Plus, we were a bit conservative because we hadn't been allowed to pre-ride the course.

"It was a great way to get the race started," said Jenny. "It was fun also having the women's teams only out on the course because tomorrow is racing with the masses."

We were maybe being a little too cautious because Alison and Pia passed us pretty quickly. They were really pushing themselves on the climbs. Jenny could keep up and I was lagging. They got a healthy gap, and we went our own pace. My legs came around and the sensations of racing made a welcome return. And by racing smart and clean, we passed the Rocky girls by the side changing a flat tire. There was a bit of sympathy, but I know we will have our own share of mishaps this week. And we are more than psyched and honored to wear the jersey tomorrow.

I want to say how impressive the organization of the race and the wonderful hospitality that we are experiencing. I am in awe of all the people that work so hard to put on a moving race of this scale. I am also in awe of our support staff. Steve Borkowski has been working day and night to make sure our bikes our epic ready. Its no easy task, I can tell you. Our soigneur, Laura Downey, is an energizer bunny taking care of our legs, tummies and the master time keeper. Its more than the two- two person teams out here.

Jeremiah and Chris are big superstars down here. They don't mention Chris's name without saying that he is the six-time 24 Hour Solo World Champion. And all eyes look at Jeremiah when he passes by on his bike. They had a great start today with a 14th place in the mind blowing stacked men's field. You'll hear their stories later on, but I'll just say that it involves an elephant.

Tomorrow the real racing starts...1200 riders, 7am start, 123km, 3,000meter of climbing and of course a leader's jersey to defend.

Sue Haywood
Trek-VW Racing Team

Men's team:
Jeremiah Bishop (USA), 32, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Chris Eatough (USA), 33, Oella, Maryland

Women's team:
Sue Haywood (USA), 36, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Jennifer Smith (NZl), 35, Gunnison, Colorado

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For the first time, American-based team Trek / VW is sending racers to the internationally reknown Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa from March 28 to April 5, 2008. Two men and two women, all four accomplished in various off-road racing disciplines, come together to take on some of the toughest stage racers world-wide. Chris Eatough, who dominates the American 100 mile and 24-hour endurance scene, has partnered with World Cup racer and US Olympic Team contender Jeremiah Bishop while Xterra Off-Road regular Jenny Smith teams up with Sue Haywood, the winner of El Reto Guatemala, TransRockies, and La Ruta de los Conquistadores. All four racers and their team manager will take turns contributing diary entries before and during the event.