Things start to pick up as the Hansgrohe ShowerZone gets busy: Stage one Absa Cape Epic 2015
So, today was, um, let’s be honest and say miserable. Well, the weather was. But, the Hansgrohe ShowerZone was most certainly not as today the vibe officially picks up for us. But let’s not dwell on that when I know all you want to hear about is Stage one of the Absa Cape Epic 2015 – according to Robert Vogel of TeamHansgrohe Mixed.
“Monday’s stage at the Cape Epic is notorious for being one of the toughest. Like using a mallet to tenderise a steak, the organisers use Stage 1 to soften up the field and to let us know we’re in a real race. With Nuweberg and Groenlandberg on the menu today, it was going to be a hard day in the saddle.
The morning started overcast and cool, ideal conditions for mountain biking. But ideal, turned into crap when cool turned into wet. Not a heavy downpour, just a soft, penetrating rain that came down on us for the second half of the stage. The Elgin fruit growers must have loved the rain, but not the 1200 mountain bikers, having to deal with a tough route and wet skies.
The gun went at 7:10 as we started in D batch, along with a host of familiar faces.
You have your own “circle of friends” in a race like the Cape Epic. These are the riders that finish in about the same time as you every day and become your mates for a week. Plenty of time ahead to get acquainted.
We headed out of Oak Valley estate at a relatively fast pace, with Amanda and I “chilling” at the back of the pack. We know the route pretty well and decided it would be wise to pace ourselves through the day and not overcook it.
Once through the town of Grabouw, we headed into the trails of the Grabouw Country Club and to the first test of the day, Nuweberg. Ok, it was “Lower Nuweberg”, not the big daddy itself, but still, it’s a climb. Coming around the hairpin bend on the lower slopes of Nuweberg, I couldn’t believe that the guys were pushing already! The sheer number of riders, trying to ride the jeep track meant that as soon as someone strayed sideways, he had to try and avoid the rider next to him and would lose momentum and put his foot down. That set off a chain reaction and soon 30,40,50 riders were walking a track that on any other day could be easily ridden.
Anyway, such is the Cape Epic. Busy, busy in the beginning and later, you’re riding without a soul around you.
This was early days still and after 20km, we hit water point 1, which we decided to skip and hit the long Groenlandberg climb. Put your head down and grind it out to the top. The climb takes just under an hour to the top, well at least for the likes of us. Either way, it’s quite a long time to point the bike skywards.
At the top, I quickly jumped off my bike, collected 2 stones and placed one each on the cairns for Burry Stander and Pieter Visser, the man who built all the trails in Oak Valley.
To get back down on the other side, we hit a long, 4km , rocky descent to the Twaalfontein t-junction. An Austrian rider and I had a good time flying down there. My Cannondale’s suspension was “dialled in” and allowed me to push my limits a little.
For a couple of Km we traversed the flank of the Groenlandberg, with a fantastic view of Theewaterskloof Dam to our left. Once over the Nek, we were back in the Elgin Valley and heading for the next water point at the Houwhoek Inn. A quick bottle change and a couple of pieces of watermelon stuffed into my face, Amanda and I were off.
We started (another) steady climb to the gates of Houtec ( the apartheid era missile testing facility) and out the other side onto a jeep track that took us over the Highlands. By now, the rain was falling steadily and I was feeling quite miserable. The wind was blowing at the high points of the route and I was happy when we dropped down into the valley and water point 3. This water point is b…ch to get to! It sits on top a hill that requires a lung busting climb up a steep farm track. If you’re the farmer and you own a 4X4 , who cares about the gradient!
Fed and watered, it was on to the last leg of the stage, the Lebanon single tracks! Something to look forward to, but another climb stood between us and the descent through the forest. At this point we had caught up with another Mixed team that had given us the slip earlier in the stage and Amanda and I tried to get away from them. We managed, but as soon as we hit the traffic in the single track, they were with us again.
It always amazes me, how many Cape Epic riders have little or no single track skills. On the open road they’re haring past you, but once in the single track, they’re slow and tend to not want to get out of a faster rider’s way.
We ducked under the N2 and passed Thandi farm stall, not stopping for a “Red Ambulance” (water mixed with Coke). We had 9km left to ride and wanted to get home. We climbed the Thandi switchbacks, crossed Paul Cluver farm and were back on Oak Valley land.
Again , slower riders in the single track meant, we couldn’t shake the other Mixed team. I opened up a gap and thought it best to leave Amanda to fend for herself. Had I dropped back to let her take my wheel, the other team would have latched on and had an easy ride home and could possibly jump us at the finish line. Okay, we’re not racing the Tour de France here, but we’re in a race and want to beat other teams in our category.
Amanda got past a slower rider at the end and when I saw her pop out of the single track, there was no one behind her.”
Mission achieved TeamHansgrohe Mixed!