Saturday, January 26, 2008

2008 Off to the Cape again......

I'm off to South Africa again to give the Cape Epic another shot....
follow the progress on the new blog:

Team SLO Grown

Friday, April 06, 2007


Thursday, April 05, 2007 coverage

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Unlucky US

The good news is we finished, the bad news is our last stage was a horrible one...
Day 7 was so good - even with the flat tire we had a great result and moved up in the rankings. On paper the last day looked pretty benign - about 46 miles and 4100 ft of climbing - not too bad considering we were getting stronger every day! We were sitting in 110th place in the mens division with a chance to move up a few slots... Really we just had to have a normal safe race. Originally we were hoping for a top 100, but that looked unlikely as we needed to make up almost an hour on teams ahead of us.
So, our bad day started about 3am when I woke up with diarreah. I had a couple more bouts of it in the morning before breakfast, went and ate breakfast feeling a little uneasy, then came back to the room and promptly threw it all up. So, needlesss to say, I left the guest house kinda nervous about starting what should have been a 5hr race on an empty stomach! Before the start I managed to get down a dinner roll, three fig newtons, and some sports drink and wasn't feeling "that" bad.
After the start we rolled out on some paved road for few miles then immediately started a long bumpy climb up a canyoun we had decended the day before. I should mention that we started later as it was a shorter day - 8:30 instead of 7. By the time we got to the steepest hardest most exposed part of the climb it was already super hot and I was feeling like hell. This was a 360 degree switch to how awesome and strong I had felt the entire race! Right at the top I missed on a loose section and came off the bike, thinking I would walk a sec - that's when I lost whatever else I had managed to get into my stomach. Finally cresting the hill, we found a little shade and sat for moment as a steady stream of riders kept going by - for the first time, it didn't bother me - I just hoped we would finish. Luckily, just then, we had a slight downhill then the first water stop. I sat in the shade and Tom filled the camelbacks and waterbottles and got me a couple cups of Coke. He also did something that probably saved our race and the prospect of getting finisher's medal... he told the race medic that he thought I had heat stroke. After a couple questions about my symptoms, she gave me a little pill to stop the nausea... and it worked for the rest of the day.
The rest of the race in a nutshell was just a death march to get to the finish. We knew we were really sucking every time another team with hairy legs would pass us, but what sealed it were the guys in the Bert & Ernie jerseys and the girls with happy birthday hats taped to their helmets going by.
A common comment by many of the racers at the end of the day was what the €%#@! To make everybodys last day of racing just that much harder they had, at the last minute changed the route, adding about 8 miles and almost 1000 ft of climbing. This was in addition to a crazy 1 mile "portage" where you had to push/carry your bike down this historic wagon track then ride about two miles on railroad tracks, before hitting another steep hill before a crazy unnecissarily long zig zaggy stretch arond the vineyard property that really could have been a straight shot to the finish.
Exhausted, we finally rolled across the line in just over 6hrs - easily an hour longer than we should have. At least in doing so ww accomplished our first major goal, to finish the Cape Epic. Having a bad day like that sure reinforces how difficult a race like this is... we only had one flat, no crashes, no mechanical issues, no saddle sores, worked well as teammates supporting each other, and had a great time! We met a lot of people who had many of those issues and sometimes more than once! Many teams didn't finish so, we do feel like we accomplished a pretty big feat. Looking back its a bit of a blur, but 560 miles on mountain bikes and 45,000ft of climbing is pretty incredible.
Our bad day cost us a few places, but not too bad - we ended up 116th in the open mens devision and 185 of all teams (about 600 started). Our total time racing for 8 days was an incredible amount of time at 50hrs 31.49 min - wow - no wonder I don't feel like riding my bike for a few days.

Friday, March 30, 2007

a little more about yesterday

Stage 6 was from Montagu to Villiersdorp and was about 69 miles. There were two major climbs including about two miles of "hike a bike" where it is too steep and or rocky to ride - total elevation gain was just over 5100 ft.
Yesterdays start was one of the most amazing things I have done on a bike! We rolled out of town, all 1047 of us and headed down a winding two lane road through a magnificent sheer walled canyon. The pack took up the entire width of the road and stretched out for probably 500 yards in front of us - flying along at 25 - 30 mph to the hum of two thousand knobby tires on pavement, you could watch ahead as the leaders snaked through the turns ahead... very cool.
I was asked about strategy and if teams worked together or not... Well, I think some of the pros up at the front are working together, but we haven't found that to be the case where we are. Our strategy has been focused on pacing our effort, making sure we have enough energy to finish the stages, staying safe, and recovering in the evenings so we can do it all again. Typically we look at the stage profile in the morning (I rip a small copy out of the race program, fold it up and stick it under my shorts leg for quick reference too - always nice to know how close a hill or water point is). Once we know what we are up against, we stock up on the appropriate number of Powerbars and other food stuffs, fill the Camelbacks with Accelerade and head to the start line. All the riders are lined up according to overall time in "chutes". In the very front are the pros and overall leaders, then chute A, B, C etc... We had been starting in D, but have moved up to C for the last three days - towards the front end but we still feel way back! Once on the road, we try to get through whatever fast paved or gravel road sections are first without loosing too many spots. Then we just settle into a groove and try to keep a steady pace. I keep an eye on my watch and give the alarm to eat an energy bar every 45 min to 1 hr... Whenever we got to technical sections we would try to take advantage and steadily pass people:) Getting to the end of a stage is hard work... we try to push it home with whatever energy we have left, drafting each other to the line trying to pick off another team or two if we can. Once we cross... we are handed two of the best tasting cold cups of Coke then we head to one of the booths set up by the local school kids for a steaming hamburger... the recovery has to start right away!


The Last Two Days

The last two days couldn't have been more different. One, a violent physical effort, seeing us suffer on the hot (and very boring) tarmac. The other, a mtn biker's ballet, finding us delicately dancing up the rocky inclines and ever so carefully descending at breakneck speeds through the sand and scree-covered "trails." I knew that I would hate yesterday's stage (about 70 miles and 34000+ feet of climbing covered in about 5hrs 20min) because it involved a lot of tar sections. Tar is what people here call pavement. Tar is what I call: 1) not mtn biking; 2) utterly dangerous (imagine being wheel to wheel with 200 riders moving along at 25+mph, any one of which could drift into your wheel and cause what would most certainly rival any of the "crash" highlight reels of the Tour de France); 3) mind-numbing boring. I think I have learned more about road racing and riding this week than anything else. Luckily Jim has raced extensively on the road and has been a good teacher by making sure I am protected from the wind and from other riders. Despite Jim's measures, the pace on this day was utterly violent and I spent the majority of the tar sections in my big ring cranking as hard as I could to keep the pace. Eventually I would get spit out the back of the group we were traveling in and Jim and I would be swept up by another group 0f 50 or so riders and the process would repeat itself until we found a suitable group moving at a suitable speed. In our defense, it turns out that the former South African road racing champion is doing this race and probably quite a few of his cohorts. They are used to riding on the road and most likely savored every minute off the dirt. All in all we rode about 15miles on the tar and that was plenty for me. My mind was checked out even before the start of the stage and that added to my suffering. Despite the ride not being my cup of tea, we finished strong and even moved up one place in the Men's category overall.

Today couldn't have been more different. Today was another day for the mtn bikers. In the mornings, the riders are grouped in areas A-E for the start. We recently moved up from Group D to C. Man, what a difference. I liken it to one of my partners who has Elite Platinum status on Delta Airlines. For every mile he flies, he earns 4. So he's assured to get Platinum status again; kind of like the rich getting richer. Not quite fair to the rest of us earning 1 mile for each mile flown. So it is with the starting blocks at the Cape Epic. The difference between the C and D groups was monumental. Each group is comprised of about 120-150 riders. So by moving up one group we effectively have eased our burden in trying to pass all those people during the race. Not to mention the better riders start near the front and it makes for a much more orderly race when technical sections are encountered. For example, on some of the steep climbs--which are certainly rideable--a good rider will ride the climb. However, if one person comes off and starts to walk, it creates a domino effect and eventually the entire field is walking up the climb. Not so today. Everyone we were around was a solid climber (not so much on the descents) and we were able to make some good time on our competitors by not losing momentum. We did encounter our first bit of bad luck today as Jim tore the sidewall of his tire on a rock. Calmly we pulled to the side of the trail (did I mention we were having the most incredible ride and were farther out in front than we had ever been?) and fixed the problem. Luckily Jim and I had been using Accelerade drink packets in our waterbottles and we used the foil wrapper from one of the single serving packets to block the hole in Jim's tire and we motored on. We lost about 5 minutes but probably passed back about 80% of the teams that went by when we were working on his bike. So Accelerade is not only good sports nutrition but it can serve as an emergency tire boot in a pinch (how's that for a product endorsement Steve?). After fixing our flat we made a mad dash to the coast and ended the stage literally on the beach with the Indian ocean crashing right next to the race venue. Behind the race village loomed the enormous lush green mountains that will represent a nice memory of working together, not panicing and having some of the best descending/riding of the trip. It's hard to believe that tomorrow is the final day. I hope our luck holds up for one more nice mtn bike ride.

Thanks Accelerade

Thanks Accelerade... not only for keeping us going all day, but your drink mix single serve packets work great when you get a flat tire due to a torn sidewall! It would have been a long walk without a way to keep the tube from bulging out:)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

one more down

South Africans watching their team play in the cricket world cup at the race village "chill zone"

We had another hard day today, mainly because of several miles of very fast paced road riding. Luckily there were a couple tougher climbs late in the stage where we could gain back time.
We just snuck into the top 100 men for the day and moved up 1 spot to 115th men overall.
Tomorrow we head back to the coast for what is supposed to be a spectacular beach finish...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

another fast day

Barrydale to Montagu - 63 miles, only 5200 ft climbing. Today was another fast one - we finished in about 5hrs 12min. The good thing about this is there is actually some time to chill out and relax in the afternoon - luckily we had a pretty nice place for it!
We are feeling pretty strong as a team and today we probably moved up a few slots. I would say we hammered this stage, maybe even a bit too hard... We went steady from the gun with the new motto "always be passing" and it seemed we were. The last 7-8 miles were more or less downhill after a tough climb where we had made up a lot of ground. We didn't want anyone we passed earlier to catch us so we pushed the big ring like two guys trying to survive in a breakaway in the Tour de France. Again, in this stage, we were surprised to be able to ride by so many people, sometimes by just taking a slightly less desireable line, or by being able to ride through some deep sand.
The scenery is still amazing! Now you should think of a blend of the barren rocky mountains behind Palm Springs with little Napa Valleys between them. In the valleys we rode along little farm tracks through apple, peach, and pear orchards and several vineyards, then we would turn off and ride up some path over dry, dusty, scrub covered hills. Strange to think there are only 3 more stages.... When it is all over, I think we will miss it in a strange way.

post race, pre dinner ritual

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Another farm for recovery

so much better than the tent city...

Finally a mtn biker's day

Up until today the majority of the Cape Epic entailed huge pelotons of riders hammering down dirt roads at breakneck speeds. In fact the Cape Epic is often frequented by "roadies" who are able to make great gains by simply riding fast and in groups along the long long long road sections and then fumbling their way through the technical sections. Today, however, it was time for the mtn bikers to take the race back. The morning began as usual: Jim and I waking at 5AM grogy and tired from the day before. Then it's time to brew a cup of coffee aka nature's laxative (brought from Seattle) brewed in our own French press that I brought along (can't take any chances with our coffee). This particular day we stayed at a gentleman's home and he prepared a magnificant morning feast. It's almost as if the competition starts here as we try to consume as many calories as possible to get us through the day. Each day it's the same: granola, yogurt, ham, cheese, bread, whole milk, some type of juice, cooked tomatoes and some sort of bacon type substance. Trust me, this stuff does not go down easy. After eating, we must quickly dress, lube up our riding shorts, lather on the sunscreen and then head off to the start line. At the gun, it was business as usual as the riders formed into packs and raced into the countryside. Jim and I held back to give my "cooked" legs a rest. Lots of people whizzed by us, but I was confident we would see them again. Sure enough within a few hours we began picking off our competition. The thing we are finding out about this race is that the moment the terrain become even moderately technical, we begin to excel. Today our allie was sand. Lots and lots of sandpits. Suprisingly no one could seem to figure out how to stay upright in the sand. Luckily I have taken many "business trips" to Salt Lake City and have been known to get down to Moab from time to time. All the practice finally paid off. Jim and I felt really strong and passed no less than 100 teams within a few hours. This day was relatively short day: 74 miles in 5.5 hrs. That sounds crazy as I write this because I don't think I've ever ridden my mtn bike for than 45 miles in any given stretch prior to this trip. My, how a perspective can quickly change. So now we are resting on another farm someplace far out in the countryside. It is so beautiful out here as we relax in the South African summer sun. Soon it will be time to eat as much food as we can consume and then, in a few short hours we will be waking up to do it all over again.

Monday, March 26, 2007

things we don't have to deal with

tent city

Three days done

The race brochure says about tomorrow, "After arguably the hardest start in Absa Cape Epic history, day four is a relative rest day..." Finishing today, I hope it is true... We had a tough, long ride of about 8hrs for 74 miles and 8000 ft climbing. The scenery was stunning - you may get a sense from these last three pics. Think of Arizona/Baja California/Eastern Sierra high desert type terrain.
Again we had fast road race style peloton riding - this time across roads so dusty you couldn't see the front of the pack! There was more ridiculously steep rocky climbing (Tom and I seem to be much better at riding this stuff for some reason and there were spots we would just ride past whole columns of forlorn riders pushing their bikes up the hill). Heat was also a factor today - it was forcast at a high of 36c or 96.7f and it felt like it especially climbing the windless box canyons. All in all we are surviving which is more than can be said for others... Just yesterday 48 teams fell out of the race, who knows how many didn't finish today.

ouch, take two...

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Well, that could have been one of the toughest rides either Tom or I have ever done. Stage two will be remembered for sure... This day had everything - a blistering fast start that excited the road racer in me - we found ourselves in a pack of about 50 guys flying along a dirt road at speeds averaging about 23 mph for the first hour and a quarter, it had some (a lot) of steep technical loose rocky climbing, steep technical loose (scary loose) decending, a three quarter mile "hike-a-bike" called stairway to heaven, heat, headwinds, and miles more dusty undulating dirt roads through barren ostrich farmland, followed by a zig zag double track laden with wheel sucking sand pits. Today was the longest day at 132km or 81 miles - a long way on mountain bikes. Climbing today was a mere 7,405ft. We finished at around 7hrs 38 min and in the top 200 teams - pretty good. I was proud of how well Tom rode today considering how dang hard, hot and long it was and his time off the bike from the knee... I have the feeling today culled the field a bit!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Day #1: 6hr 38min/60 miles

The Cape Epic did not fail to live up to its name today. 1100 riders gathered in the pre-dawn hours on the main street in Knysna to await the starter's gun. The atmosphere was one of excitement and trepidation. Soon those feelings were replaced by suffering and fatigue as we left the start venue and immediately were smaked with a brutally steep paved climb out of town. At the top of the climb we veered off the pavement and began the 60 mile ride to Uniondale. For about the first 4 hrs the riders were in groups of twenty or so as far as the eye could see. However, once we hit the big climb of the day (7mile climb gaining 2599ft) the riders became strung out; teams of two grinding their way to the top side by side up the mountain. The weather was sunny but quite pleasant. The views were incredible but the ascents to the views were another story. (we did do some riding in the forest where we were told to watch out for Mr. Cobra. And in case of a bite try and identify the type of snake so the race medic can use the proper anti-venom). Jim was riding super strong today and carried the bulk of our group gear including a water bottle for yours truly. Our game plan has been to take the first three days as easy as possible to allow me to gain some of my endurance back since I was sidelined with knee pain for the past 3wks. However, it is pretty hard to let guys with hairy legs and backpacks the size of a student traveling across Europe pass you by. It's a tough pill to swallow, but we feel it will pay dividends later in the week after they wear themselves out and we get stronger. After a long long day in the saddle we were greeted by our hosts who wisked us away to a quaint farmhouse B&B (equiped w/windmill) in the middle of nowhere. (Jim and I, who are accustomed to living high on the hog, signed up for the "Premium" accomodation package. We have our own driver, receive a 1hr massage daily and stay in a hotel rather than a tent; well worth the money if you ask us or our legs). As an aside, the pros who won the stage did it in 4:17. So we will not be quiting our day jobs-yet. We've been getting some great words of encouragement from those of you reading the blog and have really enjoyed reading them before we head out in the AM. Thx.

Friday, March 23, 2007

They're off!

The Time Has Come

On Thursday, Jim and I left behind our paradise in the rough and headed east to the waterfront town of Knysna. Knysna is the start town for the Cape Epic. The town, which resembles a small coastal Florida city, boasts a beautiful yacht filled harbor and a newly built waterfront area. Jim and I have been feasting on seafood and pasta to carb up for the big day. I imagine that the town would normally be filled with busloads of octogenarian tourists. However, during this weekend there are no less than 1000 of the fittest people I have ever seen. With shaved legs pedaling $5000+ bicycles, teams of two buzz around town touting their sponsors insignias on brightly colored team kits. The air is one of apprehension as those of us who are "Cape Epic Virgins" wonder what the next 8 days will hold in store. This race is like no other. Amateurs actually get to compete along side olympic gold medalists as well as World Cup champions. In fact, 5 of the top 10 World Cup Mountain bike racers are participating in this race. With all this competition it is hard to forgot the real reason we are here: because we love riding our bikes and we love to have fun. I'm sure that these thoughts may be fleeting as we are climbing 6 miles at a stretch in the South African sun, but the goal must not be lost. The sacrifices that Jim and I have made to get here were immense. However, I know when we head out tomorrow morning in the chilly 7AM air, it will all be worth it. It will be worth it knowing that all the people who helped share in our dream, to come to South Africa and race, will be rooting us along from their computers half way around the world. To be part of such an international event is simply humbling and it truly makes one realize that we not just going for a bike ride. We are undertaking an adventure and a journey. One that should hopefully see us arrive in 8 days at the finish. But more on that later. For now, we need to try and get some sleep and get through the first day.