It is probably the wrong thing that the race director of the Absa Cape Epic is a German. It makes jokes about cruelty and coldness too easy to come by, particularly if you are a rider doing his first Absa Cape Epic, and have listened to her briefing every night after dinner has been served, looking ahead to the next day’s stage.
On Tuesday night Kati Csak had good news and bad news. She told us the stage was no longer the longest in Absa Cape Epic history as it had been shortened by four kilometres from 147km to 143km. The cheers rocked the dining hall. “But there is still 2900 metres of climbing,” she added, because that’s what Germans do, apparently. No niceness without cruelty. Hey, Greece? Want a bail-out package from us Germans and the rest of the broke Europeans? Well, there’s a sting in the tail… Which is exactly what Kati told us. The finish of the third stage of the Epic, the queen stage, would have “a sting in the tail”. Was there ever. With 10km to go, they sent us upwards through a pleasant meadow where wild Germans gambol during the day outside Caledon.
Then they sent us down a rocky, sandy descent, and then, with the skyscrapers of Caledon in our sight, they sent us up again. “This,” a man who rode up the final hill with me, “is unnecessary.” He then proceeded to blame myself and partner Jack Stroucken because we were riding for the sponsor, Absa. I told him that we should give the “sting in the tail” girl a “sting around the ears”. It may have been the one Hansa I had yesterday, but I could have sworn that she said “and we have our first water boarding of the Absa Cape Epic tomorrow” instead of “and we have our first water crossing of the Absa Cape Epic tomorrow”. We waded through a river, thigh deep for me; up to the ankles for others.
It was my longest and hardest day on a bicycle ever. I didn’t have too many nerves, which may have had much to do with the fact that I was a little rushed yesterday morning. My broken helmet from the crash on Tuesday was being replaced by Willie du Plooy and Hans de Ridder of Sagitta with a Uvex one on the start line. Karl Platt of the Bulls, who won the second stage with Stefan Sahm, wears Uvex, so at least I would look fast even if I wasn’t.
Jack and I decided to take it easy, and soft pedalled from the start again. Unfortunately no one had told the other back markers this and they rushed past us in a race for 450th place, apparently. We caught them all at the first climb after 40km.
We walked up that climb. And the next one. Only the truly strong and talented could get up there. Marius Hurter, the former Bok riding for the jag Foundation, gave it a good go. Jack and I paced ourselves. We saw big crashes. A kid overcooked a corner after a long descent and went down hard. We slogged away. I had left my Garmin Edge 500 at home and rode blind, only taking time on my watch. It was okay for the first 100km, but with 43km left to ride I was desperate for information. I cursed, loudly, at every climb in that last 43km, cringed as James Walsh of Sinametella caught me taking a sand bath with 10km left to ride. We kept checking our time. We had plenty of time before the 11-hour cut-off at 6pm, and came home after 10 hours and 15 minutes of riding. Shattered, tired and bursting with accomplishment. Kevin Evans sent myself and Jack a message on Twitter saying “Respect boys, respect”. That’s what the Cape Epic is all about.