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Absa Cape Epic: Update from a steep, filthy gulley

“When in doubt, go up” is useful dictum to use when one is unsure of which route to take in the mountains. Securing the high ground and keeping it keeps you from plunging down the wrong gulley and having to climb back out of it later.

In theory.

I think the chap who plotted the Absa Cape Epic route this year – they call him Dr Evil – was permanently lost. Certainly he was when he plotted today’s route in Tulbagh.

First he sent all the mountain bikers up what looked like a 500m wall into the sky. Then he had us all skidding down a gulley. Whoops, up again. Then down something I wouldn’t even walk down, ordinarily. And back up a 2km, 200m high pass, and yes down a thing that … ugh: in the race book they describe these as “treacherous descents, volley ball-sized rocks and sand patches pock the little used dual tracks”.

For me this drop went like this: first I saw a little white signboard with three little red arrows pointing down, meaning, Achtung! By the time I realised how steep it was, there was no pulling out. If you try and stop on something like that you will simply get tossed over your bars. Thick black dust kicked up by several riders before me left two feet of black mist hanging across the track. Said volleyball-sized rocks and roots were utterly obscured. So I got tossed over my bars anyway and grazed my little knee. No biggie though: I’ve been to Bali where every second store sells T-shirts reading: “Go to Bunnings (an Australian hardware store), buy some cement and harden the &%$# up.”

More disappointing is that Kevin Evans, one of the riders making up South Africa’s top Cape Epic team, broke his collarbone on this same downhill an hour or two before my little bump. This means he’s out and this is quite sad, I think.

No South African has ever stood on the top step of the Cape Epic podium, not since the race started in 2004. Evans has raced every single one of them, often with his current team mate David George. They’ve done as well as third place and last year Evans put up another huge fight with a different partner. They were in the running all the way through but were beset by unbelievable technical trouble: puncture after puncture.

Eight months ago, Evans and George decided 2011 is the one. They would do everything they could to win the Cape Epic. Their cycling careers won’t last too much longer and it’s now or never (or maybe next year).

They would choose only the best equipment, they would design the most perfect training strategy they could, they found a sponsor – 360 Life – who would be dedicated to the same goal. For eight months there was no pressure to focus on any other event. They assembled a production crew to document the effort. Epic was the goal – the only goal.

No one I have spoken to saw Evans crash but I can just imagine how it happened: three or four of the top teams – two in each – would have haired round the corner, noted the little arrows and plunged down the hill with a minor reduction in pace.

None of them would have considered walking the thing – like I did after falling – or riding at a careful pace, because that would have meant falling behind the lead pack. Perhaps Evans was behind a few riders who would’ve kicked up that wall of black dust and he wouldn’t have seen the roots and rocks.

And bam. It’s over.

That’s how it goes on the Cape Epic and many other goals people set for themselves. As Lewis Pugh, the cold water swimmer says, you cannot consider success and failure at the same time. That’s his mantra for success, and mostly it works. Other times the cards don’t fall as one would hope.

These cards, funnily enough were partly laid by Evans’ father and Cape Epic course designer – Dr Evil. Shame, I believe he was sounding a little sheepish earlier.

Evans and George are obviously disappointed, I am told, but they sound chipper enough. On Twitter, George posted a picture of himself wearing a Cape Epic jersey branded “Outcast”. “Saw myself in a lot of jerseys but not this one,” he wrote. Evans responded: “Try my hospital gown!”

Yes I was biased: I wanted them to win because they were the only hope for an all-African, all-South African winner. And I am still biased because there is still hope for a South African win in Burry Stander of team 36One Songo-Specialized. It wouldn’t be all South African as his partner, Christoph Sauser, is Swiss. But they are hungry and for the first two days they have demolished the competition and hold a massive lead.

This blog should have been about Stander and team 36One Songo-Specialized.

As an aside, word on the gravel path is that today’s track was harder than any of the Cape Epic stages last year. I suffered inordinately.