And so, with a gentle flop to the right, I fell over at the finish line of the sixth stage and the seventh stage of the Absa Cape Epic with a beer in my hand and one waiting in the hand of a lady. It was a slow, inelegant fall, a result of exhaustion, eagerness to get the bear and relief, relief, at having come through a tough second-last day on the Epic.
Hans de Ridder of Sagitta, the man who puts the “A” in Hansa and, along with Willie du Plooy, a KTM under my bottom, held out a Hansa for me to grab just before I crossed the line. On the other side of the finish line, Rita Duckworth, mother of my Team Absa teammate Clayton and Absa’s maker of smiles, had a Black Label in a bottle waiting for me. I like drinking out of bottles. I also like Hansa. The choices. So, I fell over, the right foot failing to unclip. Burry Stander, who is leading the Absa Cape Epic, naturally had to be close by to witness said fall and tweeted it. “@africanmtbkid: nice crash on the line. #drunkrider @KevinMcCallum @KTM_bikesa @AbsaCapeEpic.”
It was not my only crash of the day. I had a little escapade as myself and Team Absa JackMac partner Jack Stroucken entered some singletrack around 8km from home. Jack had just told me to be careful, so, I went and crashed. It’s what I do. I crashed early on into the race. On Friday night my body wanted nothing to do with me. It had been too big a day in the wet and the cold. I was shivering cold. Food tasted like cardboard. My legs were a mass of pain. I curled up on the bed in our campervan and whimpered. Jack saw me and was worried. I forced food down. Chocolate milks, chocolate bars, a sandwich I found in the fridge, a Hansa, two litres of water, fruit juice and some fruit cake. Then I passed into the sleep of the dead.
At the start my legs felt good, recovered thanks to Lydia van Bildenhuys, one of the team’s physiotherapist. But there was something missing inside, and on the first climb of the day I went backwards, which is not unusual, but I couldn’t even pedal up a 10 percent gradient. I walked. Every climb. Jack waited for me, then walked alongside me. He made me eat a gel and told me we had plenty of time. The views were beautiful from Groenlandberg, but I was hurting too much. The descents were tricky, washed out bits on the roads, looses rocks and ruts left by the rain, but we still made good time. “We’re here to finish, not to win,” said Jack. He tried to take my bike to push it up the hill, but I said no. That was unfair on him. Last year he didn’t finish the Epic because after missing the cut-off I stayed on his wheel, and he kept an eye on me. The announcer at the second water point called him a wise sheep dog. I was a stuffed sheep with a saddle up my bum. I drank Coke, ate sweets, but there was nothing. My legs were hollow. I fought with myself. Told my head that it had been thinking one day ahead to the finish today when that was still two days away.
Finally, we hit some downhill, but the Absa Cape Epic loves a “sting in the tail”. With 2200m climbed, we still had a few bumps to go, but nothing major, yet major enough. I struggled through the single track. I hate single track almost as much as I hate portable toilets. I think I may have mentioned this before. But at least it was mostly downhill. As we came into the finish straight, Erica Green, who represented South Africa at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics in mountain biking, roared at us in delight as we finished in seven hours and 45 minutes, an hours and 15 minutes before the cut-off. She called Jack and I “legends”. Around 300-metres later I was a legend. A legend of the fall…with a beer.
*Kevin McCallum is riding the Absa Cape Epic as a part of Team Absa, the sponsor’s celebrity-media team. He is raising money for The Star Seaside Fund.