March 28, 2008 (Knysna, South Africa) — Canadian MTB cycling legend and Pedal columnist, Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain), is competing at the 9-day 2008 Absa Cape Epic with her team mate, Marathon World Cup winner Pia Sundstedt (Fin), and will be sending us daily reports as conditions allow for an inside look at this amazing adventure race with 1,200 riders from 41 countries. Here’s Ali’s Day 1 report”¦
Greetings from sunny South Africa. I arrived here eight days ago after a very long, but thankfully uneventful journey from Vancouver. After over nighting in Stellenbosch just outside of Cape Town I hit the road in my packed VW Polo for the drive down the “Garden Route” – 500km to Knysna, the start town for the 9-day cape epic MTB adventure stage race. The whole drive was just non-stop spectacular scenery – saw some zebras and baboons too. But it also gave me some indication of the terrain this race is traversing in the western cape region — it’s not going to be flat! – the mountains on the horizon are big ones.
Knysna itself is a beautiful town set around a salt water lagoon, with a spectacular shoreline facing out to the warm and wavy Indian Ocean. Off-road riding here is fairly well developed with good maps from the tourist office and a few well-marked MTB routes. I began exploring a few hundred kilometres of dirt roads through the forests surrounding Knysna. It was easy to train around here and the South Africa Rocky Mountain boys even popped down for a visit one day and took me for a sweet off-road ride with nice single track trails leading to some awesome coastal views.
But “holiday” time must end eventually and yesterday we went to work. The organization at Cape Epic is top notch and they work hard to get good media exposure for the event. For the top pros yesterday it meant interview appointments in the morning and a long (but interesting) press conference. My teammate and I, two-time overall Marathon World Cup winner, Pia Sundstedt (Fin), also met with our SA support team for the first time. It was great spend time together and see their setup and our little (motor) home for the week. We left them our bikes for needed attention and went to registration and the press conference.
The 9-day race started today with a 17km prologue time trial, a good way to get all 1,200 riders seeded for the mass start Stage 1 tomorrow. The course was simple forest double track, but it’s mountain biking and there are always some demands on bikes and riders. We rode smooth and controlled off the start and had passed already the top three teams (we were last to go for the women who set off in 30-second intervals). It was smooth sailing until Pia’s rear tire flatted on a rocky descent. We learned our lesson today, four hands do not make a faster repair. We were calm but also discovered we had a few kinks to figure out with our tire changes. We got rolling again with a soft tire and finished our best effort I think about half a minute down of the Trek/VW team winners.
A good start regardless of our mechanical misfortune. It’s Pia’s first MTB stage race and our first time as race partners. Already we’ve learned a lot today about how to ride our bikes together as an efficient partnership. During the race and later we communicated well and this is what we need to have dialed for the next eight days now. Having a small crisis and coming through it was perhaps the ideal start to this epic stage race.