The Single Track of Wellington
In the slate dark morning of Stage 6, we woke to the sound of raindrops patting the tents and campers. “Hmm,” I thought. “Today’s shorter, cross-country distance stage could be more decisive than we’d expected.” Sure enough, soon after the starting gun, the field was peppered with crashes. The peloton was snaking through turns and the accordion of riders would scrunch together vying for position. The sound of rider’s bikes smashing behind and sliding on gravel indicated my instincts to get to the front where spot on.
My tired legs didn’t want to snap like they should in a criterium race, but I had to move up. For a while, I rode at the front for the team. Then Robert Mennen and I were separated. The ensuing singletrack was awesome. We were parked on the back of Team Bulls 1 for a fast trail tour! Karl Platt was trying to nurse his teammate and Swiss Champion Urs Huber who was having back pain. The pace was brisk, but since we had no need to help the third place team chase our guys down, we were content with that. The trails were awesome: 18 miles of singletrack, including Roller Coaster, Point Break and Heaven’s Gate weaved and dashed through a pine forest.
The End in Sight
The finale of Stage 7 was a point-to-point race to Laurensford Vineyard. It was anything but an easy stage. This one was especially tough not because of the course, but because it was the last chance for a coveted stage win!
Again, the start was chaotic. I suppose that after eight days in a row, I shouldn’t have expected anything less. One minute you’re cruising at 25 mph down the road looking out for widow maker potholes through a sea of wheels and riders. The next minute you see the helicopter hovering in place and then hear the sliding of brakes on gravel as riders chicane across a narrow bridge. Then it’s back to 25 mph from a sandy standstill. After being yo-yoed once, I pushed through and picked up Alban Lakata from our A team; bringing him to the front and setting a stiff tempo to keep it single file and moving. It was fun to command a peloton and set a hard pace on the front.
Soon we approached the KOM climb. It was 2,000 vertical feet with some nasty hike-a-bike in the middle. Team Merandal Centurion Vaude was going full gas to get the $1,700 prime at the top. Team Multivan Merida was in hot pursuit. I was behind them with Kristian Hynek, but it was important not to pass our boys on the big downhill backside; my job was to make sure my Topeak-Ergon team brought home second place in the overall and the slightest crash could ruin the week.
Sure enough, the two teams up front descended like men with nothing to lose. Once we regrouped in the valley, Robert, Kristian and I took up chase. We did 25 miles of farm tracks, dirt roads and sandy connectors in just over an hour. Without much help from Team Specialized’s Kulhavy and Sauser (the GC leaders) or Martin Guijan and Fabian Geigere we came up short of catching the escape artists just like a road race. We hit the final climb and I nuked it trying to see if I could get our team leaders in position for the podium, but we’d have to be satisfied to secure second-place for the week.
It’s difficult to describe the satisfaction of riding as hard as we did this week. My hands were raw, my right knee was aching, an ankle barely holding out to the last day, it seemed like an army mission. To finish this one feels good, but to do so as a team working together to battle the best in the world; it’s a special accomplishment. It was Christoph Sauser’s last Cape Epic as a pro and he earned the win, the celebrations showed a career’s accomplishment with five Cape Epic Wins.
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