Cyclists drop out as the Epic heats up
Between 10 and 15 percent not expected to finish scenic but brutal 689km mountain bike race, writes KOWTHAR SOLOMONS
IT’S BEEN a tale of ups and downs – literally – as the gruelling Cape Epic has taken its toll on competitors who are no doubt looking forward to the final stages, and the end tomorrow. The 689km race, now in its 10th year, has included menacing mountain trails, along with 15.65km of uphill terrain between the start at Meerendal Wine Estate in Durbanville and the finish at Lourensford Wine Estate in Somerset West.
The race started its sixth stage this morning, and race founder Kevin Vermaak says the heat has been the biggest factor this year, contributing to the fact that six percent of the 1 200 competitors didn’t make it past the first day.
“In 2009 we had the fires and in 2011 it was rain and hail, but 2013 is definitely the year of heat. The route is not the toughest we’ve had, but the high temperatures in areas like Citrusdal have certainly taken their toll on competitors,” he says.
It was particularly tough on the European and US cyclists, who trained in winter.
“Coming from a cold climate to the heat of Africa is nothing short of a shock to the system. Swiss cycling champion and former leader of the women’s race, Esther Suss, was forced to pull out because of a stomach bug; it was most certainly exacerbated by the heat,” Vermaak says.
By the end of Stage 4, about 9 percent of the competitors had called it quits – pretty usual for this stage of the race. And between 10 and 15 percent are not expected to make it to the final finish line.
No stage proved universally difficult, but Vermaak says different cyclists found different stages problematic.
“Each rider will tell you something different. Some found the earlier stages hard but found the middle stages easier. Others may have struggled in one stage and were tearing it up for the next. Tom Ritchey, one of the godfathers of cycling, found Stage 4 to be the toughest.”
Today was expected to be a particularly gruelling challenge because of the heat, along with an unfamiliar course, as cyclists make their way from Wellington to Stellenbosch.
It will be the first time Wellington has been included in the Cape Epic route and Stellenbosch is making a return, after last being included in the route in 2004.
Vermaak predicts that today’s stage will decide the top four contenders for the winning spot.
“The lead-up to the final stage will be very exciting as we’ve seen a number of turn-arounds in the men’s race. The top four will probably be secured, but the order will be determined by their efforts on the final two days,” he says.
SWITCHBACK: Cyclists enjoy the switchback descents on the Meerendal Wine Estate, in Durbanville, during the prologue stage of the 2013 Absa Cape Epic.
TEAMWORK: Team Bulls, Urs Huber and Karl Platt, congratulate one another after winning the second stage of the race.
THE AGONY: TV presenter Michael Mol battles heat and sand during the first stage of the Absa Cape Epic at Citrusdal.
FRONT RUNNERS: Team Burry Stander-Songo, Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy, lead the men’s division after five stages.
ROCKY ROAD: Leona Kadir and Richard Read, from England, make their way through rock formations during the second stage.