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March 26, 2015

Taming the Lion

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It was Wednesday that I decided to ride my bike again. Two days of rest and I felt like I needed a light pedal to flush the body out. After doping up on ridiculous amounts of coffee, I donned the lyrca and proceeded gingerly. It felt weird being on skinny wheels again, so fast and smooth, and a lot less bumpy. Once warmed up it was evident that my body was tired. My heart rate was exceedingly low, and although my muscles weren’t sore I felt the urge to stand on every climb, and my pedal stroke felt laborious. Yip, this is all normal after completing a Cape Epic just 3 days earlier.

For 2015 I teamed up with Jurgens Uys from team PSG, a young gun from Somerset West who has graced many podiums around the Western Cape in recent years, and together we rode under the Novus Holdings banner. We had high hopes for a top 15, but as we soon realised, the competition at Epic just gets thicker and thicker every year, and even grabbing a top 20 was going to be tight.

For me, getting to the start this year was a miracle. The Monday before Epic I came down with every athlete’s favourite friend, a fever. This temperature grabbed me by the balls and had me flat on my back most of the week, only letting up on the Friday afternoon just in time to get a light pedal in on the prologue track on the Saturday, and not having a cooking clue how it was going to go on Sunday’s prologue.

Amazingly my body bounced back in spectacular fashion and I found myself burning up the course dragging Jurgens by his hair. It was looking like positive start for us!

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The rest of the week was a trade of blows for us though, as the depletion of stores I experienced from my virus slowly got to me over the last few days and sapped my energy, while the days I did feel good, Jurgens was feeling average, and that was our Epic summed up, finishing in 32nd place overall, with our best stage finish being on stage 4 in 19th position. Nevertheless, there were some epic highs, some epic lows and some memorable moments along the way. In order of appearance:

Epic high: If one piece of the track stands out, it was the singltrack in Grabouw. Not Paul Cluver or Oak Valley, but Grabouw. The raw and rugged pine needle laden, forest soiled singletrack was in its prime after the previous night’s rain, and Jurgs and I took full advantage of it and took back a few valuable places before exploding monumentally, which leads me to a memorable moment: Watching the leading ladies Ariane Kleinhans and Annika Langvad of Team RECM come charging past us later like a steam train, and asking for “track”. They were in a league of their own this year. It’s been a while since a lady asked me for track!

Epic low: The next day, on the events longest stage from Grabouw to Worcester, after having ridden 100km we hit everyone’s favourite…sand. Not just sand, but beach sand. We struggled through this and then were faced with a gale force head wind for the next 20km to the finish which we rode mostly alone. That cold Woolies towel was the best thing ever, bless its soul!

Memorable moment: Riding on the same field as a herd of Rhino’s in a game park in Worcester with no fence separating us. We had our best stage finish that day. Enough said!

Epic high: Seeing that an all African team, Matthys Beukes and Philip Buys of Team Scott FR had won the stage. Rumour has it they saw a lion in the game park.

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Photo: Gary Perkin

 

Epic low: the transition stage from Worcester to Wellington was long, and rough. It was another 6 hour day for us in the saddle, and after the previous day’s effort, my body was left wanting and I suffered big time. As it turns out, time also flies when you’re not having fun and I was thankful to find myself in a big group of 8 teams riding up Bains Kloof pass before smashing it down the Welvanpas singltrack into our stage finish in Wellington, which was pretty memorable actually.

Epic low: Stage 6 was meant to be fun with all the single track in a short 71km stage, but the rain came down that morning, and as luck would have it we broke a chain 10km into the stage. After fixing it, it broke again before we finally replaced it at the first tech zone, but by that time we had lost a lot of time and were stuck in the single track traffic. It was a long day out.

Epic high and memorable moment: The last stage! Traditionally a shorter stage of plus minus 65km, it was now stretched to 92km of fast rolling farm roads. It took us just over 4 hours, and I blew monumentally at the base of the last climb of the day up to the top of Meerendal, but I didn’t care. The flowing single track and manicured berms down to the finish on the green fields came with a hug feeling of achievement, especially since last year I didn’t make it that far. Claiming my Amabubesi status was an even prouder moment than I thought it would be, and I wore that medal with pride!

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Sharing the finish with family and friends was special as we smashed that Woolies picnic, as a huge feeling of relief began to sink in. It was finally over. No more 5am wake ups to bagpipes, no more bumpy sandy jeep track, no pressure to stuff yourself full of calories every day, and no more fighting to the death for that wheel in front of you in the first hour of racing!

The next few days have been a struggle to return to normal life. Part of me misses they hype, and the feeling that riding 100km hard on your mountain bike any given day feels normal, while the other half of me is desperate for some rest and recovery. One question that I have been asked numerous times so far, is if I want to ride again. The answer is yes.

A massive thanks must go to all who made it possible to do this. Novus Holdings for giving Jurgens and I the opportunity, RSA Web as my title sponsor, my supporting sponsors who you have all come to associate me with, and last but not least my family and friends for all the love and support, which would make this experience much less special without sharing it with you all.

Until next time,

Keep it rubber side down!

 

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