We’ve been following Claire Beaumont and Collyn Ahart’s journey to the Absa Cape Epic since October 2011, with the duo blogging regularly on Bikemagic about their training and preparation for the eight-day race, which is currently underway in South Africa. Here’s their latest report.
There was suddenly a red helmet to my right, then a white jersey and then I realised what was about to happen and I shut my eyes and kept my arms in.
There is a whooshing until you stop and grab your bearings. Typical crash feelings and disorientation.
Ten minutes before we’d seen the Italian ladies pair at the 85km checkpoint. We were re-lubing our chains after a particularly sandy section and they had just arrived to do the same. We were ahead of them on the GC and wanted it to stay that way.
After I had righted myself from the crash onto the crashed rider, I could only think about getting ahead, not loosing time to the Italians. My saddle was wonky underneath me and my Garmin no longer sat on its clamp. The crasher had left the scene before me in a Cape Epic hit and run-style scenario. I could only think about riding as that is all I’ve been doing for 75 per cent of the last week.
Down the remaining part of the hill I went through a dip out of the saddle to pump the bike over the rise and BLAM! It hit me through that adrenaline from the crash. Collyn found me and then I lay in a vineyard while race paramedics did their thing. I told Collyn to complete the race’s longest stage (143km) and she smashed it over the climb to make the cut off of 6pm, managing it with one hour to spare. Exactly ten hours on the bike for her.
I beat her to the new race village but crossed the threshold of the race hospital not the finish line. After some x-rays, on-site blood tests and ligament scan the conclusion came I was out of the race with a dislocated shoulder, bruised ribs, and torn tendons and muscles.
So now I’ve gone from a tunnel vision daily routine that consisted of a series of vital tasks that I’ve completed on the same hour of the day for the last four days, into not really knowing what to do with my time. So anything you want me to do, photograph or ask the pro riders, get on Bikemagic’s twitter and let me know. Want to see Burry’s bike, wanna know if he eats huge slices of mousse chocolate cake (he does, he offered me some while the very nice Benno from his mechanics crew fixed my shoe), then you just have to ask.
Claire has volunteered to be Bikemagic’s roving reporter in South Africa. Got a question? Tweet it to @bikemagic
Crashing is an integral part of bike racing. All you can do is try to avoid it, but usually, when crashes happen, they’re almost unavoidable. I’ve crashed a few times on the road. I’ve crashed dozens of times on the trails learning to mountain bike. But yesterday, just outside water point two of the Absa Cape Epic, Claire went down.
In team racing like this, you’re constantly keeping check on each other. Is she there? Is she okay? Is this speed a good pace? How is she feeling? Some of the best advice we got from race leader Sally Bigham back in January was to call for each other by name. In a peloton it’s easy to lose track of one another and regular shouting is a good way to have eyes in the back of your head.
Stage 3, the ‘Queen Stage’ at 143km and 2,900m of climbing, was the longest in Cape Epic history. It began with a very fast 40km of paved and dirt roads. As roadies, we knew we’d be able to work our way up in the mass start pretty easily without doing much work. Having started in the F lot (the pros are in A, and it goes right down to H for those people riding solo or ‘blue boarded’ having missed official cut-off times), we quickly made our way through the E group, and headed toward the Cs. Gentle rolling roads made for a fast start and we punched it.
If we were going to gain an advantage in the stage, it would be by hitting the trails even a couple minutes before the other women as everything congests pretty quickly once the technical track begins. We made it past three or four of the women’s teams on the road out of Robertson. But as we hit the track with about 500m of portaged hiking, we found ourselves battling it out with the German-Swiss team. We’d gain a few hundred meters and then they’d gain it back. We entered the first water stop with a target on our backs and we knew it. We had to push on
Our legs were already exhausted from the previous days of climbing, having ridden three hard races to slowly move up in the ranking. So we needed to take every advantage of our combined strengths. I would climb as quickly as reasonably possible, and Claire would catch up with me on the descents. It worked for the first couple days. But as we grew more and more tired, our plans started to crumble. The terrain also got progressively more treacherous. Deep pits of sand started to greet us at the corners and bottoms of sharp descents. Our wheels would spin out over 25 per cent rocky trails. The temperatures reached into the 40s and we had to take every precaution to stay hydrated and cool. We had to stop at every water stop; we were refilling our Camelbacks three or four times a day.
At the second water stop, I was in a rush. I could hear the names of the other women riders coming through just five or six minutes after us and I wanted to go. I had a strange worry I was rushing us too quickly. Sitting uncomfortably in the back of my mind, I wasn’t paying attention to how Claire was feeling.
We smashed out of the water point along a fast bit of country lane. Off into sandy singletrack, I was descending across a mix of loose bouldery rocks and deep sandy pits. I was hoping Claire was behind me, but I didn’t call out.
Half a kilometre up the track, I could sense something was wrong. One foot down, I turned and waited. Nothing. Then some other riders buzzed past shouting something garbled about my partner having punctured. I rode back. A puncture would mean Claire would be on the side of the road. But she was riding, left arm clutching her waist, and I could make out she was fighting back tears.
Not now. Not to us. Not to Claire.
Another rider had taken her line and crashed at the bottleneck of a sandy pit and she had gone over the handlebars, landing on her already-sore left shoulder.
The next few hours are something that will be burned into my mind and body forever. Once the medic arrived, Claire did the thing I was half hoping she wouldn’t. She insisted I carry on. With over an hour and a half off the bike, I’d have to sprint the remaining 65km of grueling trails to make it to Caledon even in time to make the cut off if I wanted to stay in the race. I rode from the back, slowly making my way through the jolly-riding MAMILs to the talkative Americans, through the overly-pro but slow Italians and gradually back to the riders we started the day with. Each asking about my partner. I fought back the disappointment with pain. I climbed every hill and punched every headwind in the face. At the final water point I had less than three hours to get to Caledon. I’d already been out for nearly seven.
Arriving down the ridge of Caledon, blue flags greeting riders in the distance, I could feel my throat closing up. Crossing the finish line in ten hours, I fell apart. I collapsed on the finish line and cried. Relief mingled with frustration and disappointment we wouldn’t be finishing the race together. Huge rolling tears poured over my cheeks. My nose dripped the tears of 143km in the red dusty trails.
We wouldn’t finish together. So much work. So much distance. We wouldn’t get to do this together.