Day Three was the longest stage, 173km and over 2 significant passes. I was happy to be here. I’d at least got to start all the long days and had achieved my early goal of survival. The weather had cleared and the sun was nice and warm. We rolled out of Paarl and headed through towards Fraanchoek. Some early attacks picked up the pace but pretty early a small group went clear and the pack was content to let them go, I can’t say I was unhappy about that as the pace was pretty mellow for a change and I could sit in and enjoy the ride, for now…
We rolled through Fraanshoek town in a blur, there was a good bit of support but the noise soon died out and the real business began as we hit Fraanshoek pass. I had driven this road before, I knew it was going to be tough, but I didn’t quite realize how long it would be. The early pace was very fast and I soon realized I was nearing the rear of the field. I could only sit at a manageable pace tho and let the main field go and found a smaller group to climb with, maybe a little faster than me but I could hang on, and longer the climb got the better I felt within the bunch. At the top it was misty and the roads were damp, I knew I would have to chase on the long descent to get into a decent bunch and I knew my team mate John would be around there somewhere. With the damp road helping my efforts I was soon overtaking riders as I took chances and was braver on the brakes, hitting the base of the climb I had worked my way into the second chase group of around 20 riders.
We had a pace line going strung out at speed, riding in the biggest gear I had and taking turns after a big German sprinter it felt like I was taking 2 turns at once when he stomped on the pedals ahead of me, and then i still had to go round him and take a real pull! We were burning through kilometers like matches at 55kmph and knew it was now or never if we wanted any respite on the rest of the mammoth stage. It took us a good 15km to catch the main peleton and I could breath easy again.
The next 100km was surprisingly easy, the peleton took it’s time meandering through the quiet back roads and many riders took some time to take on nutrition, and stop for a “natural break” with the speeds so low it was easy to rejoin the group now through the cavalcade behind. This was the most enjoyable time where I could enjoy the scenery, take in the feeling of the Giro and go to and from the team car fetching bottles and stuff. I also had the chance to chat to Christoph Sauser and got some of his feelings on SA and cycling and also the Cape Epic. He’s a very nice guy and is very positive about our country. We went through a few baron areas and needed some more hydration before gearing up for the final assault for the day.
We turned now and headed back towards Cape Town, we were on the N2 and heading out of Worcester. There was a nasty little side wind blowing and the teams up front decided it was time to ride in the gutter and wake up the legs. This continued for quite a long time, ebbing and flowing as the pressure was held and released, it feels like you’re swimming underwater lengths when the gas is on, and you come up for air when they take a break. my elastic snapped up the rollers on the N2 heading up to the tunnel though, I lost a meter, then two and all of a sudden team cars were passing me. there was still 40 km to go and I couldn’t face doing that alone. I dug deeper and latched on to a couple of other riders as well helped each other fight back. I was toast on the inclines but was fast on the flats and downs and I used my strengths to claw back the meters I needed and after 2-3km I had rejoined the “arriere le peleton”. I was able to recover for a few kays before we started Du Toits Kloof Pass. The front guys had now cleared off and the sprinters bus at the back was well established and we climbed together at a steady tempo. the pass was long 7-8kays up but the gradient was not too steep and suited my style. i climbed alongside much better climbers but the long day had worn everyone through.
Over the top we were home free! There is a long descent back into Paarl and the group took turns hitting the big gears and racing the turns. The long sweeping turns and wide roads were awesome to dive down the mountain on and I reveled in the speeds. The finish was all downhill and went by without too much fuss, I started cramping in the last km but it didn’t matter, I had made it only 5 minutes off the days winner 🙂