Editor’s Note: Rebecca Rusch is competing in South Africa’s Absa Cape Epic stage race on a Mixed team with fellow American Matthew Weatherley-White. Rusch, a two-time 24-hour mountain biking world champion, is sharing her daily diaries with VeloNews readers.
This stage was reported to be an “easy” day. We are tired, bruised and the effects of this many days of racing are starting to show. Matthew and I are both feeling fine, but the legs are sore and the 5 am wake up call is taking its’ toll on me!
The stages begin with a mass start of 1200 racers. Teams are lined up in zones based on their overall time and placing. Since we have been sitting in the top five in the Mixed division, we are allowed to start in Zone A with about 200 other riders. You can feel the weight of the other 1200 riders pressing behind you and the starts are always fast and furious with a cluster of athletes jockeying for position. The first 30 minutes of these days are my least favorite part of the day. It’s difficult to keep track of your teammate, hard to stay safe in the jumble of riders and quite a rude awakening with no warm up.
Today’s start was a neutral roll out through the sleepy town of Greyton. A car was leading us out through the town and onto the open roads. Unfortunately, the course marshal must not have had his Red Bull this morning because he took a wrong turn and led the whole entire field into a dead end road. The whole field was stopped and confusion set in.
We were only 5 minutes from the start and the rumor circulated through the field that there would be a re-start. The pack mentality made people push other riders and trample through gardens. The group was making its way back toward the start and then just kept going. The re-start never happened and in the confusion, Matthew was pushed over and I lost track of him. Hundreds of people passed us before we realized the race was proceeding despite the botched start. I rode for about 30 minutes not knowing where Matthew was. He was behind me working hard to catch up. When we finally found each other, we were among hordes of recreational riders. We’ve been riding in about 40th position overall for most of the race, but today’s start put us somewhere in the hundreds.
We spent the rest of the stage working through groups, passing people and trying to catch back up. Much of the day was on fast roads with a headwind. It was truly road racing for three quarters of the day and since we were back with slower riders, we were not in packs that could share the workload. Matthew put his nose into the wind and his head down to work. It took us about 2 hours to move into the top 10 mixed field. It took us another couple of hours to work into sixth place in the mixed division. The whole stage took us 5:41 and most of our effort was spent passing teams and working back up through the field after the botched start. We finished the day in sixth and maintained our fifth place in the GC. However, we now only have a 4-minute advantage on the next team, which leaves very little room for error.
As the race goes on, Matthew and I are definitely finding our racing rhythm and learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Today was frustrating to have lost so much time due to a mistake by the course marshal. However, we rode really well and cut our losses the best we could. It’s hard not to look at the standings for today and wonder where we should have placed. However, this race is very much an adventure and very few teams have 8 days in a row with no mistakes, mechanicals or mishaps. I crashed today and bent my wheel about 5 km from the finish. Luckily, it was still operational and got me to the finish line. The other Specialized team (Songo.info) with Christoph and Burry were not so lucky. Burry crashed early in the race and also damaged his wheel. After winning every single stage so far, they lost approximately 20 minutes and lost their overall lead. They are motivated to make a historic comeback and try to regain the lead. As I said, this race is an adventure and the fatigue is setting in for everyone. Bikes and bodies are getting worked, so anything can still happen.
Tomorrow is also rumored to be an “easy” day at 111 km and 2,233 meters of climbing. The goal is to race well, stay upright and maintain our position in the general classification.