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Cape Epic Day 4: Not real mountain biking

“Today I give a gold medal for the most stupid stage I ever done :( that’s not real mountain biking! Good luck to all the amateurs on the course.”

This was a tweet from four-time Cape Epic winner Karl Platt after finishing a gruelling day 4 (Stage 3) this afternoon.

Starting on Saronsberg wine farm outside Tulbagh, the route headed south, up a 4km climb onto a plateau across the valley from Wolseley and down a deeply rutted descent, along farm roads, back up into the mountains, down, up, etc until reaching Worcester.

My correspondence to friends earlier in the day was somewhat more sorrowful than Platt’s: “Stayed up getting sick all night, and this morning. Tried to force down supper and breakfast but wouldn’t stay. Couldn’t eat or drink. Eventually couldn’t ride. Sure I’ll ride again tomorrow, but it’s a blue number board for me :( ”

Blue number boards are for those who have been disqualified, but are still riding the route.

After losing my breakfast to a field in Tulbagh this morning, I had felt remarkably better and climbed on my bike with some optimism. Maybe, just maybe I’d be able to get in enough food and keep it down for a slow ride to Worcester.

I made it across the flats with a smile, and managed to take in some water. As we started climbing up towards the plateau, the nausea returned. Justin, my Epic partner, and I stopped and I crammed down a banana before climbing on our bikes again.

The track was gravelly and difficult to ride as the rocks kept crunching, slipping, and shooting out from under our wheels. I became dizzy as we rode slowly along the plateau and colours started to flash, hot and cold flushed through me. My plan was to make it to the next water stop and reassess there, but I was worried I would collapse in a bush before then, unknown kilometres from medics or race officials.

“You’ve got to eat bru,” Justin kept telling me. “Do you like raisins? You want some biltong? Try a sandwich.”

He handed me a usually delicious treat his girlfriend had made for him with dates and coconut. I nodded reluctantly and took a bite.

The sweet lump lay on my tongue for a few seconds before I took it out and put the date ball in my back pocket. As Justin said later in the day: “You just went grey.”

At the time, his words were: “You’re looking a bit pale. Actually you’re looking much better than you did earlier though. How about an energy bar?” This was where I kindly threatened him with violence.

He has since admitted to lying in an effort to encourage me. My face was ashen and my eyes sunken; I looked as bad as I felt.

We stopped at a group of locals who had driven their 4x4s into the mountain to watch. They told us we still had 12km to go until the next water point: there was no way I could see myself doing it and I gave in.

Justin apparently took another hour and a half to get to the water point and nine hours in total to finish the stage: “That was the hardest day of riding in my entire life. Most of the time the ground was like riding in a river bed.”

As he and others rode, I sat in a bakkie bouncing along smoother tracks to Worcester. By the minute, officials radioed in the race numbers of riders dropping out of the race. “Leon (the course designer Dr Evil) said it’s going to be carnage out there. They’re going to have to extend the cut-off time.”

Real mountain biking? I couldn’t agree or disagree with Mr Platt as I didn’t ride far enough. My disappointment is acute and I had to choke back tears as I SMSed my friends of my failure, or bad luck, depending which philosophy I choose.

The internal battle is a difficult one to manage: Was it simply dehydration? Am I just not tough enough? Maybe I caught a bug. Who knows.

I would like to ride tomorrow and every day till the finish – I intend to – but I’m still having to ram food down my throat, and the medic’s earlier scolding is ringing clear: “If you can’t eat, you can’t ride.”

So I’m off to the dinner tent now to see what’ll go down.