I can put a tick next to Week Four on the programme, and would regard it as a generally positive step towards March 2017.
For the first ride of the week I deviated from the easy recovery ride I was supposed to do, because I had the opportunity of test riding the Santa Cruz Tallboy 3cc. I also made the ride a bit longer than the intended hour, because I wanted to have a go at the Rhodes Memorial single track.
I started the ride by going up the loose, rocky single track between the Herzlia sportsfields and the Deer Park parking area. You have to get the line just right, or you end up spinning out and having to walk the rest of the way. For starters, the Tallboy climbs like a boss, consuming far less energy than propelling my existing GT Zaskar. Plus – and this is an important factor – I felt as if I could point it at just about any line, without any concerns about not making it.
This bit of trail isn’t a Strava segment, but without making any special effort on the uphill Rhodes single track, which is a ‘segment’, I banged out a new PR (personal record). On the climbing/flat/downhill run between the Vredehoek quarry and Rhodes, I was 10% quicker than I’d been the previous weekend.
The implications for riding a bike like this on Epic is that one can either go faster with the same effort, or go at the same speed and save energy. For marginal riders, this bike could make the difference between finishing a stage, or not.
I didn’t attack the downhill single track with any great aggression, so I didn’t do it any faster than on the Zaskar, but I’m certain that the Tallboy is more forgiving.
I’ve never ridden a ‘one-by’ (i.e. just one chain ring in front), so I was interested to see how I would cope on steep climbs. Thanks to the 12th gear, which takes the form of a ring so much larger than the rest of the cluster that it is variously described as “dinner plate” or “frisbee”, I had no difficulties climbing steep sections. Just to make sure, I rode up a climb known on Strava as Motherfucker. Without making any particular effort, I rode it in a time not far off my PR from last year. This is with a 34T in front – the smaller 32T one would use on Epic would make it a lot easier.
Piet was with me at the start of the Apple Blossom MTB. “Try to ride at 15km/h average”, he said, followed by a quick fist bump, and then we were off. He started like a scalded cat – so much so, that he may have been leading the race before the end of the ‘neutral’ zone.
I, on the other hand, went as fast as my noisy air intake would allow, having an internal conversation which reached the conclusion that I absolutely had to have the Tallboy, with carbon wheels nogal. After a while people stopped passing me, and the ride settled into a rhythm. The Oak Valley trails were an absolute treat. So well designed are they, that my clunky-by-comparison Zaskar felt as light as a feather. My spirit was lifted, which was a good thing, because there were some big climbs ahead.
All ended well, with Strava telling me I’d averaged 14.8 km/h. In truth, this was a bit below par for the course, but under the circumstances it was close enough. As far as race position was concerned, I was bang on two-thirds down the field. Had a ridden just a few minutes faster, I would have been in the median position.
It would be wrong to compare with anything other than 2016, so I can happily report that I’m getting stronger.
Even so, knowing that I can give myself an additional boost, just by changing bicycles, is an extremely attractive prospect.