On the first proper stage of the Cape Epic, Rachel Fenton and team-mate Collyn Ahart battled sand, heat and silly tan lines to move up the rankings.
After our slow and steady ride in the prologue, our team of two was in holding pen H for the start of Stage 1, starting 30 minutes later than the top teams. From her experience last year Collyn suggested we go to the front of the pen and try and move through the peloton to the front of the G riders, who would start at the same time as us, on the road section.
Despite our gridding at the back we were only 10 minutes down on a lot of the women's teams. There is a heck of a drop off in ability for the women. The top five went into the front pen, Pen A; there were very few in pens B-F; and then everyone from those that placed 8th and down in pens G and H. If we moved as far forward as we could early on we figured it would put us in good stead.
This is generally a big challenge in women's racing, whether the discipline is cross-country, cyclocross, downhill or marathon. How do you make the transition from the back through no-mans-land to join the fast girls? The small number of female riders at the moment makes this step-up virtually impossible without years of grit and determination and there are many women who try racing but end up feeling demoralised and deciding it is not for them. The guys by contrast can always compare themselves to someone and gradually see their improvement race by race and year by year.
The situation is improving however. Here at the Cape Epic, 27 women's teams started compared to 13 from last year. I hope that we can inspire more women to race. It makes it better for all of us with closer, less lonely racing.
Collyn and her roadie skills meant that we managed to get past all of H and most of the G pen riders this morning. We sat in the front group for the first climb until the pace got a bit much and we settled into our own rhythm, teaming up with another women's team to "through and off" on a windy road section.
The stage was brutal. There must have been 30 kilometres of uphill deep sand that was impossible to ride, so we had to walk. To make it even harder is was extremely hot. You should see my random tan lines from the holes on the back of my gloves and my race wristbands. Both the Topeak Ergon men’s and women’s teams are now out of the race due to crashes and medical issues. There is amazing footage on the Absa Cape Epic website of Robert Mennen hitting a small springbok. It was mega hard for everyone.
There is an amazing feeling of achievement in completing a stage like this, and riding in a team makes it even more special. Collyn and I are working well together and made up a lot of time by descending well and being able to ride in the sand, which requires the same skills as mud it seems. Yes we ran a little low on fuel at the end today but we can learn from that and do better tomorrow.
We went from 23rd to 12th today! Lets hope we can keep on moving up. Tomorrow is 145 km long so is going to be another tough one.
Results from Stage 1
1 Jose Hermida & Rudi van Houts (Multivan Merida)
2 Karl Platt & Urs Huber (Bulls)
3 Thomas Dietsch & Tim Boehme (Bulls 2)
1 Esther Suss & Jane Nuessli (BMC Wheeler)
2 Yolande Speedy & Catherine Williamson (Energas)
3 Hanlie Booyens & Ischen Stopforth (Pragma Volcan Ladies)
1 Erik Kleinhans & Ariance Kleinhans (RE:CM)
2 Peta Mullens & Jarrod Moroni (Target TREK-Moronis Bikes)
3 Johan Labuschagne & Yoland de Villiers (Exxaro Cycle Lab 1)