Our best stage finish ever was that Queen Stage, which we ended in 18th position in Grand Masters. We haven’t got close to that since then. We rode faster today than we did in 2017, and yet we couldn’t do better than 44th in our category.
Right, so how does 108km with 2800m of climbing play out?
Starting at Oak Valley, they sent us via the Grabouw Country Club on a big climb up Nuweberg, before dropping us to the bottom of a valley and then chasing us back up a steep, gravelly climb. We reached the water point having done some hard core climbing – in fact, no part of Groenlandberg is either steeper or more technical than what we did as a warm-up. It’s a great way of getting your head into the right space for a LOT more climbing.
Then we settled into the one hour climb up Groenlandberg. At the summit it was 10 degrees and rainy. There’s a long, rocky descent, followed by a jeep track that tracks all the way around the back of Groenlandberg, before starting the long ascent to Die Nek. The Land Rover Technical Terrain was on that final section, but with the rain settling the sand it rode like a sheep dressed in wolf’s clothing.
The descent from Die Nek is a long one, which starts off with an easy line, with the alternative of a more technical Santa Cruz line (especially when done at pace). We were in a passing mood, so we released brakes and let gravity perform its magic. That was a super amount of fun!
The next water point was at Houw Hoek Inn, before we crossed under the N2 and started what seemed like an interminable climb. It was around about this time that I realised that the holiday season base training was kicking in. I wasn’t capable of heroics, but I could execute the plan of steady pedalling. After traversing some distance we started the descent that would eventually lead us to South Hill. The upper few kilometres comprised a gnarly jeep track, with just one obvious line. Once again, we had to take the B-line to pass other teams. More fun was had.
After the water point we got sent through Old Mac Daddy, and up the hillside behind it. It’s a steep, loose climb that had me gasping for breath. We were behind some Spanish riders, who nonchalantly chatted all the way up. I know from previous Epics that this is their default setting – there is so much chatter when they are around.
Eventually we reached the start of the Lebanon singletracks, but we had slower riders ahead of us. After a while we managed to pass them, so that we could let rip in the next section, which we were able to do, before getting caught in traffic again.
We skipped the hydration station at Thandi, getting stuck straight into the switchback climb, and then making the final dash for Oak Valley.
We had a great day today, which does wonders for morale.
Tomorrow is the 41km time trial, which will give us some extra recovery time in the afternoon. This year’s Queen Stage is on Friday – we need to be in good space for that!