Dusty desert riding
Stage four in Worcester (a city in the Western Cape) was long and hot with tons of dust, as is common late summer on the desert side of the mountains. We started hard. Matthys Beukes and his teammate Phillip Buys from Scott factory Racing nailed the first climb hard and got a gap on the rest of us.
It’s always really nervous in the pack. I guess it’s because you can’t see the ground at all sometimes. The dust is so think you can only see shadows riders five feet in front of you. This is particularly dangerous when the group is doing 35 mph down a rutted, rocky downhill. It’s so dry that sand patches can be a foot deep and you don’t know they’re not solid until you’re sideways!
Eventually, the leaders decided the Scott team was not a threat to the top 10 in General Classification and the pain was not worth the effort of chasing them. It was a nasty 50 minutes though.
After that, our lead group just rode tempo until the late climbs; even taking it easy at times, including a rare pee break that was initiated by Cape Epic veteran Karl Platt of the Bulls team.
Along the desert route we passed through a few vineyards. Each had 60 or more employees out en masse and cheering loudly for us. During this stage, several schools also turned out to cheer for us. There were kids jumping up and down and we all broke our game faces into nice smiles.
Finally, on the course’s last three climbs, the racing got hot. Our Topeak Ergon “A” team of Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek went on the offense, but wasn’t able to gain any significant time over the others. They won the race against the heavy hitting teams in our bunch, which felt like a win while the Scott team managed to stay off the front for a taste of victory with the stage win.
My “B” team partner Robert Mennen had a punctured tire, but it seemed to seal on its own, so we rode in trading pulls with the Merida Team. We came around one corner after our flat to see Centurion Vaude teammates Jochen Kaess and Daniel Geismayr laying on the ground on a steep, rutted dirt road drop-in. They’d crossed wheels in the dust and as one of them corrected, the other went over the bars! We stopped to check on them. Kaess had a bloody nose and both their helmets were cocked from impact. Physically, they seemed ok. Since they were both coherent so the rest of us continued on.
At the finish, we looked like gladiators covered in fine black powder.
The King Stage
I knew Stage 5 would be hard, but it turned out different than we planned. Early on, Alban flatted and I gave him my wheel. By the time we’d repaired Alban’s flat, Robert and I had lost considerable time. We rode a steady, hard pace but there was no point in killing it since we couldn’t even see the lead helicopter on the naked horizon. We pushed hard to catch a large group that was about three minutes ahead and included the Masters Category leader Bart Brentjens. I knew this group would move fast on the great expanse of flat, bumpy Jeep roads and pavement of the Pass.
A short time later we got word that Alban had twisted his chain while Robert and I fixed the flat. Bummer! They’d clawed their way back up to fifth for the day but descend into second in GC. The looks on their faces showed the great disappointment; it’s the biggest race of the year for them and they probably won’t be able to win it.
There were some highlights of the day’s stage for me. One would have to be seeing a puff adder—a fat nasty looking one! The other was witnessing the closest race in Master’s Category GC history of the Cape Epic: those guys were attacking the last climb like hornets! They’d block the second rider of a team before the singletrack in a bid to hold up the front attacker: clever moves!
In the end, it was another five-plus-hour stage. We are all tired now. Painful hand blisters, weary eyes, sunburn and saddle fatigue all add up. Legs are working very good, but at times I can feel every sore fiber of muscle within them.
We have two days left, and thankfully they’re not the “Leadville 100’s” of the past days!
Come on finish line!
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