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

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - WORLD - Kowthar.solomons@inl.co.za

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.

PIC­TURE: KELVIN TRAUT­MAN/SPORTZPICS

SWITCH­BACK: Cy­clists en­joy the switch­back de­scents on the Meeren­dal Wine Es­tate, in Dur­banville, dur­ing the pro­logue stage of the 2013 Absa Cape Epic.

PIC­TURE: KARIN SCHERMBRUCKER/SPORTZPICS

TEAM­WORK: Team Bulls, Urs Huber and Karl Platt, con­grat­u­late one an­other af­ter win­ning the sec­ond stage of the race.

PIC­TURE: KARIN SCHERMBRUCKER/SPORTZPICS

THE AGONY: TV pre­sen­ter Michael Mol bat­tles heat and sand dur­ing the first stage of the Absa Cape Epic at Citrus­dal.

PIC­TURE: SHAUN ROY/SPORTZPICS

FRONT RUN­NERS: Team Burry Stander-Songo, Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kul­havy, lead the men’s di­vi­sion af­ter five stages.

PIC­TURE: GREG BEA­DLE/SPORTZPICS

ROCKY ROAD: Leona Kadir and Richard Read, from Eng­land, make their way through rock for­ma­tions dur­ing the sec­ond stage.

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