Monday and Wednesday were gym days. Two other Epic riders train at the same time, so there’s always plenty of cycling banter, which feels like an important component of arriving on the start line with my head in the right zone.
Tuesday and Thursday were both billed as 90-minute “tempo” rides, which I took to mean high intensity. It made a nice change to be heading out on my old routes without having any concern about keeping my heart rate below specified maximums. And, because I was riding for just 90 minutes I didn’t have the same concerns about blowing up, as I would on a 90km stage.
I was delighted to find that my times on most Strava segments were at early-2015 levels. A few hot laps don’t equate to Epic performance, but it was positive reinforcement nonetheless. Considering that I’ve never ridden as much as I have over the past 10 months, and I’m riding a superstar bicycle, one might have expected better. However, for all the additional fitness and strength in my muscles, my breathing remains impaired.
I may also have benefitted from something I call the reverse Samson effect. I thought it was time to truly enter the cycling spirit, by waxing my legs. Somehow, with my smooth, shiny legs my brain could fool my body into believing that I’m more of an athlete than I really am. Unlike Samson, who lost strength when he was deprived of hair, I got stronger.
Sergeant Hardy, a horse I race in partnership with my mother, has featured in my training reports. Despite a breathing impediment (he has a paralysed right vocal chord) so serious that it’s legitimate grounds for the purchaser cancelling a voetstoots auction sale, he is the top-rated three-year-old sprinter in the country. He’s become something of a talisman for our Epic journey, and it was Piet’s idea that we call our team Sergeant Hardy.
On Saturday, he faced the biggest challenge of his career, in the form of a $500,000 race on Sun Met day, for which he was the hot favourite. I’ve known for more than a year that he had this as a likely assignation, which makes 28 January 2017 just about the most anticipated day of my life. Sergeant Hardy is a big, powerful galloper. His running style is to take the lead early, and to literally run his rivals into the ground. He’s a special horse!
He finished well down the field. As an indication of how far below par that was, a horse he has comprehensively beaten on three occasions finished a 2½ length third. Richard was almost in tears as he walked back to the weighing room afterwards.
I haven’t shed a tear, but the scale of my disappointment has been substantial. It’s at a time like this that the words from Rudyard Kipling’s If spring to mind: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat these two imposters just the same.”
When things are going well, horse racing can deliver the most extraordinary highs – perhaps because one cannot be 100% assured of victory. When things don’t turn out as expected, there isn’t much to do other than say “that’s racing”, and look forward to the next time.
My mother’s racing colours are vieux rose (a.k.a. pink) with a white sash, which will be the inspiration for our Epic kit. For the races on Saturday we got quite involved in pink, as you can see in the pic alongside.
Saturday’s ride was supposed to be four hours, but was cut a bit shorter because of commitments I had at the racecourse. The four hours that were on the programme for Sunday were a suffer fest, after a day at the races of eating too little and drinking too much. My smooth and shiny legs felt as if they were laced with razor wire.
We have three stage races planned for February – the Fairtree Simonsberg Contour, Tankwa Trek and Knysna Bull. It’s going to be a busy month!
Monday update: In their report on the race, Sporting Post suggested that Sergeant Hardy was below-par because of breathing issues. I don’t agree – if that had been the issue he would have been affected towards the end of the race. It hurts to see this guy get unfairly underestimated or sleighted. Don’t worry, Champ, we’re flying your flag!