By Nic Lamond in Bredasdorp
The dramatic change of weather the evening after stage five was an appropriate metaphor for how quickly and completely fortunes shift in the Absa Cape Epic.
Amid thunderstorms, riders in the tented village were still recovering from the sapping heat and dry gusting winds they powered through Wednesday to reach the overnight stop in Bredasdorp. The demanding, 146km stage was particularly fresh in the minds of overall leaders Roel Paulissen and Jakob Fuglsang [Cannondale Vredestein] as an unfixable flat tyre forced them to clang their way through the last 18km and over the finish line on the rim of Paulissen's rear wheel.
With 18km left to race and a slender 19-minute overall lead to protect, Paulissen decided the tyre was coming off and the two would try make the finish line, with the bare metal rim grinding through dirt and tar: "I saw it once before last year in the Bart Brentjens Challenge – in Bart's own race – I saw him doing 10km on a rim. So I thought, okay, it's better to take the tyre off because otherwise it may block the whole bike and break something. I could feel already with our first flat the tyre was loose. And with a loose tyre, a loose bead, you can damage the whole drivetrain."
It was actually Fuglsang who had the tyre trouble, but after a lengthy delay repairing their first flat at 40km, the pair decided that Paulissen, who was feeling the stronger, should ride in on the rim with 18km to go. So they stripped the tyre.
The pair didn't know they had so far to travel, nor that what lay between them and the finish was a corrugated gravel country road, and then a tarmac highway. Fuglsang was surprised by the ride in. "We were told there would be 15km of sand in the end. But really loose sand would have been a bigger problem. We knew it wasn't that far and we really had no other choice but to go on a flat tyre "
Paulissen was amazed they survived the push home. "It was so rough and the noise and it was hitting so hard that I said there's no way the wheel can keep it up or the spokes. But actually, come over to the van, I'll show you, the wheel is completely straight. Not even one millimetre out! But the sides, they're gone – it's a flat rim!"
Fuglsang didn't get to coast alongside his struggling partner. Instead, he pushed and pulled his team-mate at pace into a pounding headwind.
While some riders got to admire the scenery, the Cannondale Vredestein pair, occupied with more immediate technical troubles, didn't notice, "I saw that the ocean was there but nothing else actually! It was the same last year we were riding past some elephants and everybody saw the pictures with the elephants just beside us but I didn't see anything at all!"
When asked about plans for tomorrow, Paulissen said, "That depends how the race goes. A problem like today will normally cost a minute if everything goes well and you ride back to the front group. But it could be bad if this happens again...where eight quick-fills don't work. So first of all tomorrow we defend our jersey and if the possibility is there we can attack. But we also have to save the energy now – not that we blew today," he quickly adds.
A more outspoken Fuglsang said, "I think all the teams are suffering. Sitting in the front group today, I think we were probably the strongest team. The others were suffering more than we were. If it's hard and there's climbing then I think we are the best team for that and we have to use this to protect our lead, or even take a little more time."
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