Stage Racing encompasses many ups and downs, and Stage 5 of the 2012 ABSA Cape Epic today showcased some of the downs, especially for the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com Team. The previous night in Caledon had been abysmal, by Cape Epic standards. Gale force winds combined with rain and cold temperatures to heavily dampen the camp, and then many racers enthusiasm for the stage ahead.
Waking numerous times overnight, I would usually just hear the rain starting again. So when it was get up time at 4:45am, I was far from enthusiastic to get up and going this morning. As another rain squall set in I even considered a breakfast of energy bars in bed. The start was cold, the body stiff, and the mind reluctant. Whiling away time in the media centre to stay warm did little spark the enthusiasm – there was a strong air of apathy around. Neither Will nor I were able to motivate each other much, beyond trying to keep our chins up.
Will and I took the line, and there was a mixture of elation and uncertainty in the air. Even on rough days, I can usually get my race face on in the dying moments before the gun goes. Beats help, as does the general nervous shuffle as people try to perch on their saddle with one foot on the ground, fingers hit lap buttons on GPS units or Heart Rate monitors, helmets are cinched up, nostrils cleared, backs patted… this is the last call to get serious, find your focus and get ready to boost. Today I barely got there with 30 seconds to go, and Will and I had agreed on a conservative start. Rain, cold and grit would wear out bikes and riders. Seeing as I was already worn out, and down to one useful leg after yesterday, we had to play it smart. A split went on a farm road, and I tried to weld it back, but it really felt like the downdraft of the media helicopter wasn’t doing any favours. Any excuse! The gap never narrowed.
Although my knee is sore, I can pedal. Mostly on smooth terrain and by focusing on using glutes as opposed to quads. That should be easy, as I rarely engage them so they should be fresh. But ABSA Cape Epic routes don’t stay smooth for long, and shifts forward for steep and loose climbs created a fair bit of agony. Cue swearing. Cue a grimace. Cue dying animal noises.
“Mike, at this point, do you think you should consider pulling the pin”.
It was less of a question than a statement from Will. I had thought of it from time to time, but figured if I could just tap through, it would be ok. But we were moving backwards, getting really cold in the rain showers, and generally losing enthusiasm for life. 15km later, I realised Will was right. With a long season ahead, I didn’t need to aggravate an injury, or risk illness in the worsening conditions. At 55km, I unclipped. The questions from spectators started, “have you got a mechanical problem?”, “What do you need?”, “You must keep going, you’re doing really well!” but the mental battle had been decided. Won or lost I’m not sure.
Rolling up to the road crossing, a race official snipped my number off, but couldn’t shed much light on how I could get to Oak Valley. Right where I stopped is on the route for Stage 6 from last year. This time last year I was racing on emotion with Thomas ‘Twin Pillars of Doom” Dooley. His team mate Mike “Marathon Meister” Hogan and Will hayter had crashed, the previous day, so neither of us had anything to lose and just chose to tear each others legs off for 119km. Here I was though, opting out, this time leaving Will to tear up the remaining distance.
And how do I feel now? Relieved, a little. I’m no longer slowing Will down and causing damage to myself. But the wave of disappointment is immense. We all have different coping strategies, so I’ll have to dig deep and see what I’ve got to call on for the next two days as the race continues – and do what I can to support Will as an “unofficial finisher”. hey mate, I was 3rd in that non-category last year. Trump that!