March 29, 2008 — Canadian MTB cycling legend and Pedal columnist, Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain), is competing at the 9-day 2008 Absa Cape Epic with her Marathon World Cup winner team mate Pia Sundstedt (Fin) and will be sending us daily reports as conditions allow for an inside look at this amazing race with 1,200 riders from 41 countries.
Well the first stage of the Cape Epic is in the books for me and it was absolutely as grueling as promised – long hot and hard. Today’s stage had the most meters of climbing of all the stages and though the climbs were not super long the course was up and down all day. We went through a few nature reserves that only are open to cyclists once a year during the Cape Epic. The trail conditions were predominantly dirt road, but there was more trail than I’d expected.
My teammate Pia and I had the small challenge of a flat tire yesterday to deal with and today we had to deal with the situation from the start where Pia was not feeling very well at all. We were losing ground on the other top two women’s teams from the first long climb. It was definitely a bit of a crisis time for us with our aspirations to win the overall. I was feeling great today and when one partner is up and the other is down there is only so much one partner having a good day can do for the other partner. Problems like this need to be dealt with instantly on the fly and the first priority for me was to stay calm and assuring, be optimistic, and do what was needed to keep us in sight of the leaders.
Since I knew Pia was giving her best and there was not much I could say that would make things better for her, I focused mostly on doing the pace making, some pushes up hills where I could, and getting her on good wheels for the downhills. But we were struggling. We caught a break when the Trek team suffered a flat, and just as it seemed that Pia was coming around as we rode with the Dolfin team, they had a skipping derailleur which they had to stop and deal with.
So after a real struggle for the first three hrs we were alone at the front. We just focused on riding effectively together at the best pace we could manage and started to get in a good groove. For me the time had flown by as I was mentally quite occupied the whole day. For Pia the stage had been eternal. With about 20km to go we were still alone in the lead and had the race helicopter filming us for a bit and then a camera moto accompanied us until the end.
I can tell you that was a cool feeling after what we’d gone through all day. I don’t know the gap on the second place team but I think it was pretty solid. So now we have a new jersey to defend. And one less thing to worry about washing tonight! So far aprÃ¨s stage we’ve spent the first moments in our motorhome at the camp site, cooked ourselves a nice lunch, and ate on the grass with some of the other pro riders.
This is my first stage race with a camp site and so far I really think this aspect is going to be one of the personal highlights of the event. Camping though does not mean we are “roughing” it at all. I’m just off now for an outdoor massage in the African shade!