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ABSA Cape Epic Stages 2 & 3: pebbles & stage race face

No update from Rachel Fenton at the ABSA Cape Epic mountain bike race yesterday because she was ‘cooked’ after an insanely hard day, battling, as she tells today, stage race face and stage race stomach.

To say the last two days have been tough is somewhat of an understatement. I have literally done nothing that is as hard as this race in my life.

Rachel and Collyn

I have discovered the joys of stage race face and stage race stomach. The former is the puffy face you wake up with, in my case a great trout pout from sunburning my lips. Whatever I do I seem to be unable not to burn some parts of my body. The later is your stomach’s dislike of all things energy drink and gel-like after day two.

Stage 2 was the longest stage at 145km with 2350 metres of climbing. For me this was mentally really tough. I’m not one for just trucking along with no real climbing or singletrack and that’s exactly what this transition stage was all about: dirt road mile munching.

That said, the scenery was simply stunning for some parts. Mid-stage we rode through a boulder strewn grassy landscape with rocks seemingly teetering on other rocks. The singletrack through this section was brilliant too, with hiking trails put to good use, flowing in and out of the rock formations.

Then there was the final descent! After 130km of grinding your ass into the saddle on dirt roads, to be able to stand up and roll down for 5km was awesome. I had my downhill head on and was shouting for riders to clear the trail so I could say I’d ridden all the rock slabs and step downs. Tracy Moseley eat your heart out!

Collyn was not far behind, which given she was on a hardtail and her first ever mountain bike race was last year’s Cape Epic was even more impressive.

When we got back yesterday though I was cooked. I just ate dinner and went to bed.

Fast forward to this morning and my face was puffy and breakfast was a chore and a half. Mike Blewitt who has much experience of this kind of thing said I was suffering a bit early in the race. We headed off up a couple of short climbs, very slowly before some more lovely flowing singletrack called the Tulbach trail. South Africans build good trails. Unfortunately we were slightly further back today so had queue for some ‘technical’ sections, which were not very hard.

We basically went around the edge of a bowl today, with mountains on all sides. We never climbed to the top, just high enough for it to be tough. To top it off a lot of the valley bottom trail was either ploughed field, or pebble track, both of which are pretty miserable when you already can barely sit on the saddle!

About 55km into the 94km stage my stomach began to hurt. I told Col and she guided me around to 2km from the second water stop at which point I paused and was sick everywhere. I sat in the shade eating electrolyte tabs with everyone checking on me (nice people), for about 5 minutes. I then felt better, got back on the bike and rode on. I stocked up on casava crisps, water and Coke at the feed and on we went. I was back!

Unfortunately the heat was now pushing 40 degrees and we were heading for the worst bit of the day: two steep hills. Collyn was struggling a bit now so we took it pretty easy given the heat. The climbs were rideable, just, unlike the sand dunes from stage 1 but pretty brutal for the end of a day.

To say we were pleased to finish was an understatement; if I never see a pebbly track again I’ll be happy.

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