Sport

Absa Cape Epic: Surviving stage five

Craig McKune

While the most difficult stage is done, two trail days are still left for Craig McKune and Rory van Zyl.

Craig McKune and Rory van Zyl make their way over the mountains just outside Greyton. (Karin Schermbrucker/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS)

Stage 5: Greyton to Elgin

Distance: 115km

Climbing: 2 900m

Team M&G-Crank's overall position so far: 168 of 600

Stage 5, arguably the hardest of the 2014 Absa Cape Epic, is done. Having travelled from Greyton to the final race village in Elgin, this was a big milestone for everyone. We all feel as if we have broken the back of this thing now, with only two days to go. Both days will be hard, but on really fun trails.

Our morning started in a mist-sodden valley outside of Greyton, where we fought to keep up with bunches of strong riders along some 30km of gravel roads. We wound our way across the hard, ploughed fields of the Overberg, dry sticks, clumps of gum trees, rolling hills. A bit boring, and rolling district roads are not my strong point at all. They hurt my back, my knees, and I can't keep up with the fast pace up the hills. Rory is brilliant at this stuff, so he had to be patient with me.

Then we hit a mountain and some real steep climbing. I can do this. Everyone else is pushing their bikes up the loose rocky slopes, and I have to beg, please and thank you for them to move out the way as I grind up to the top, where it’s my turn to be patient.

Then a fun single track, with some unexpected rock bashes, which all but ruined my day. My tyre blew and I lost all my sealant. It would not seal and I was stuck riding with a tube after that. The tube punctured some 20km later as I was powering (slowly) past everyone on the biggest climb of the day. Our friend Piet passed us, taking photos of my miserable demeanour, but at the top he gave us his spare tube and a bomb (Piet’s partner Jacques, by the way, has ridden the last five days with a broken hand. Brave man). I bought two more tubes and bombs (a "bomb" is a pressurised air canister) at the next water stop, and we hauled all of this weight up some terrifying hills into Groenlandberg, the mountain on the north side of the Elgin valley.

The pristine Groenlandberg was resplendent in the afternoon light. Pink heather stretching up to high peaks, rivulets looking green and mossy, wispy clouds against the blue sky … oh no, does that mean it’s going to rain?

And then, on the other side, my gears mysteriously became a mangled twisted wreck. At one point Rory stood on my prostrate bike, kicking the mechanism to bend it out of the way so that we could finish the last 15km. 

And now we feel bruised, battered, and more than a little excited to ride into Lourensford in one piece on Sunday (touch wood).

After today, I think we are in for a treat on Saturday. We will be doing a 85km loop around Grabouw on familiar trails, still 1 800m of climbing but the end is in sight.

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