Cape Epic Part 4: Saronsburg to Saronsburg
Stage three of the 2013 Cape Epic. There's a routine setting in now.
Alarms at 5.30am. Nip to the portaloo. Breakfast. Portaloo. Check bikes. Suncream. Lube. Get dressed into racing gear. Portaloo (just to be sure). Queue up in our start wave. All this takes about an hour and half, which you think would be easily achievable, yet for the third day in a row we joined our start wave at the back.
On paper this day looked simple enough, and significantly shorter than the toils of stage two. Just shy of 100km and with around 1950m of ascent, the stage profile seemed friendly(ish).
The start was frantic again and we jostled for places through a series of sharp and bumpy corners. Engulfed in dust and with the helicopters circling, my focus was pinned on not touching wheels with the bikes around me as we went shoulder to shoulder through a narrow gate and into single file. Soon we broke out into a steady climb up wider farm tracks which bordered some massive fields. The surface was loose but easy, and only intermittently steep, so we began to move away from others in our start group and hit the top of the initial 15km summit with just a handful of teams nearby.
The next 3km of swooping, whooping, bermy, smooth singletrack, albeit brief, was a snapshot of almost mountain biking perfection. Surrounded by rocky mountains in a huge bowl of dramatic scenery, the sun not yet on us, but slowly encroaching across the valley and a cloudless sky. It was technical but not taxing and the quality of the trails kept the pace high. We dropped into a maze-like poplar forest with the morning sun beaming through thick dust clouds as we negotiated the narrow trail through the trees.
The middle 30kms should have been fast going, yet the short punchy climbs through vineyards kept us on short reigns. As the course hit the other side of the valley the sun really began to make things feisty and crossing a particularly bumpy field we rode cruelly within earshot of where we would eventually finish the stage.
Into the second loop of the day.
If the phrase "sting in the tail" could have been written for any occasion this stage was it, with as much climbing in the last 30km as we tackled in the first 60km. Initially the climbing was bearable. Sort of meandering through vineyards with an upward trend but on generally good trail. Then after water point three things became distinctly less pleasant. Already fully grannying we then hit a brutally steep and overgrown quad trail. It was too steep and rough to ride, and a thoroughly torrid push. Cooking on the windless hillside, calves burning, it was one of those pushes where you're fully supermanning, with feet beyond the back wheels. Like trying to push a bike up a steep staircase. We were going very slowly, and this concerned me since I doubted my ability to out pace a snake in such a situation. Fortunately we didn't meet one.
Still, the scenery wasn't half bad and after what felt like infinite false summits and with leg power from pushing all but depleted, we finally topped out for the final romp to the end of the stage. The descent which followed was super fast and a little sketchy - arrow straight gravel fireroad into off-camber 90 degree bends. We'd switch off on the straight bits, quickly reach terminal velocity, scare ourselves and then overshoot the breaking zone for the corners, skidding virtually to a halt off the trail. This happened a lot.
Once the tricky bit of the descent (the bit which required skill to be really fast and not crash) had finished we hit the flatter stuff and stepped on the power, charging through the last few kilometres which skirted the edge of some fields and redlining whatever power remained in our legs. It's a weird feeling. Just 15 minutes before our legs were fully pumped, we'd sweated until it didn't feel like we could sweat any more, our hearts were pounding - we were running on gas. And yet here we were finding something else. Opening our rations. We were riding perfectly in sync without the need to talk. Swapping lead and sprinting out of corners. Overtaking people and sensing them drop away unable to stay on our wheel. Scanning the route ahead I was watching rocks and calculating instantly which ones should be avoided and which ones I could forget about, all whilst charging along at 30kph. It was all instinctive. It was unsustainable yet easy. Clearly we had the safety net of knowing that the finish was close, but when you get into a zone like that everything clicks and your whole world is channelled into moving you forward as fast as possible.
We crossed the line and hunted for shade. Today had been hot, but we were climbing up the field and now just a couple of teams stood between us and starting with the Pros.
To check out our Strava details of the stage click - Cape Epic 2013 Stage 3 Strava Stats
Watch the GoPro highlights, including Nino Schurter's tailwhip: