It’s been over a week since we crossed the finishline in Lourensford and I’m now getting my mind geared for the World Cup on Sunday. Still, I’ll try and give you a summary of the past two and a half weeks (yes, you read it wright) that was the Absa Cape Epic 2014 as it comes to mind now.
Monday before the race I landed in Cape Town where I was greeted by the well known faces of Ariane and Erik. I stayed with them in Stellenbosch the week leading up to the Cape Epic which made good sense. Not only because of the good company but also since I would be racing with Ariane for Team RECM. It was a bit of a hectic week. Press conferences and sponsor events was plentiful. Much more than I’m used to. The mountainbike scene in South Africa is really big and as a rider you get a lot more attention than I’m used to. Despite a packed program we still managed to race the Songo.info race on Wednesday where Ariane and I came in 1st and 2nd in front of Esther Süss, who together with Sally Bigham would be our strongest competitors. That really lifted our spirit. Ariane had also finished ahead of Sally in a marathon race the previous Sunday, so in our mind we really started to think of ourselves as favorites for the Cape Epic.
Maybe that was the reason why I catapulted of a set of stairs early in the prologue. When we finally got the number plates stripped to the handlebar and the gun went off, I was so fired up and ready to battle that I maybe came into the stairs a little to fast. Luckily I rode away from that crash unharmed and we quickly found our rhythm and took the leaders jersey by a couple of minutes. We were so thrilled!
On the first day of racing in the peloton at stage 1, we were really determined to increase our lead, but things turned out very differently. The way Ariane and I normally race together is, that Ariane sets the pace early on when we’re in the bunch and my job is then to stay on her wheel, so that she can concentrate on getting us as far ahead as possible. It’s brilliant tactic – except this time I punctured and Ariane didn’t notice, since we lost eachother in the bunch at this critical moment. I desperately tried to fix the flat but there was so many thorns in my tyre, that neither the sealant nor a new tube filled with extra sealant could keep the air in the tyre. I had no other option, than to continue riding with the leaking tyre, stopping now and then to re-inflate. When I finally caught up with Ariane she had also had a puncture. So in that way the difference between us was kind of evened out. We managed to get the wheels rolling just enough to reach the first feed-zone and get a new wheel. In the process of changing wheels, I also succeeded in wrecking the quick release. Had we had our fifth puncture that day we wouldn’t have been been able to get my front wheel off which would have been disastrous. In the end we lost roughly 24 minutes and was trailing the leaders by 22 minutes in the overall. It was an absolute nightmare to start the race this way.
To make things worse conditions was horrible on the second stage with lots of rain, which made it a really muddy day. As it turned out, this was in our favor. We used the same racing tactic and it worked out perfectly. I think all teams suffered this day. Or rather their equipment did. By the end of the race my brake pads was non-existing and the calipers were dragging on my rotors. However, we chose to continue through the last feed zone without changing pads to try gaining as much time as possible. I had to work hard to stay in Ariane’s wheel but in the end I still think it was the right decision as we took back some 8 minutes and closed the gap further in the overall GC. The next day (stage 3) was a rather uneventful affair. We got away from the others early on but was in a group that rode in a pace, which was just over the top for us, and we had to let them go. I think we had a gap of 2m 30s halfway through which we kept until the finish line. Surely, we had set our hopes higher since we were eager to regain the leaders jersey. In retrospect we were still a bit “race eager” as there was a long way to go and plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time. And that was exactly what we did in stage 4. The course suited us much better as we had to climb a lot. I think this day was a huge victory for us as we proved to ourselves that we were strong. Strong enough to take the overall win despite losing all that time in stage 1. We were now in the leader’s jersey once again.
From here on my recollection of the different stages is rather blurred. Stage racing is like living in a bell jar for me. You get up, eat, get ready for the stage, ride, eat, sleep, look at tomorrow’s course profile, go to bed and then you repeat it over again (if you’re fast enough you also get to pee in a cup after each stage). You are on autopilot most days and mostly focusing on convincing yourself that the others hurt even more. I remember Esther and Sally having problems with a damper at on stage which gave us a comfortable lead, but the thing with this race is that everything can turn upside down in a second. So we never abandoned our strategy of riding within our limits and focusing on getting through each stage without any mechanical problems. The partnership Ariane and I have is so perfect. I really think we are a lot alike which means that I know exactly how Ariane is feeling in a given situation and how she will react and vice versa. In that way we can support each other to the fullest and get the best out of us in these races. I do remember the last part of the final stage though. It was nearly impossible for Ariane and me to communicate as we had the broadcasting helicopter hovering over our heads. It was a sign that we were really close to winning the Absa Cape Epic 2014. When I think about riding the last couple of kilometers through the finish area with all those people cheering for us I still get goose bumps all over. It was the climax of eight days of grueling physical and mental challenges all coming together at once. You’ll have to bear with me as this is also where the stereotypic “thank you” speech comes into play, but I really can’t stress this enough:
As riders we do work hard and a lot. We also get the fame and fortune when all that work results in victory. But we would never be able to do what we do without all the hard working people that support us. For this race Specialized partnered up with Team RE:CM for whom Ariane and I was racing. I like to think, that the attitude to this whole setup and my everyday team in general is that everyone involved is equally important in achieving success. This approach is so positive and is really fuelling me with the energy to give my best. So what I’m trying to say is:
Thank you Kandice Buys, Jason, Katie, Specialized, RE:CM and everybody being a part of our Cape Epic journey!
I’m now trying to ready myself for Pietermaritzburg (PMB). I must admit that there has been some hard days following the Cape Epic. Monday morning after the finish of the race, I had to attend an online lecture. The Danish Organization for Elite Sports (called Team Denmark) has granted me a special study plan in cooperation with the University. So I had special online lectures most of the week after the Cape Epic. I guess it was actually a good thing that I was forced to daily focus a little bit on something else after eight days of intense racing. During the race I looked forward to do absolutely nothing afterwards (besides drinking coffee and superb South African redwine, but in reality I was left in a strange depressive state, that really hit me hard, now that I had all the time in the world to relax. I guess I still have many new experiences to come in this game.
I’m now back in the Specialized Racing XC world and enjoy being surrounded with all the great people, that I got to know last year. Spirits are high and it makes me hopeful for Sunday. I have no idea how my legs will react to the intense racing of an XCO World Cup. I feel strong and fit though and the next period will have a focus on directing the fitness gained from Cape Epic towards the XCO World Cup.
Make sure to follow the action on Redbull.tv if you’re not in PMB on Sunday http://live.redbull.tv/events/345/uci-mtb-world-cup-2014-pietermaritzburg-xco-women/