It was a day of pedal strokes and heat stroke – with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees on Monday’s 108km stage of the Absa Cape Epic. The heat and the loose, dry and dusty course broke racing snakes from the sharp end of the field as well as backmarkers from the blunt end of the pack, many of whom collapsed on the finish line and had to be treated for dehydration. It was also a day of mechanical issues – with riders being forced to make bush hacks, to fix broken cranks, tyres and in one case making a makeshift handlebar using a branch. For Philip Hechter, though, Stage 1 included an 18km marathon when his freewheel hub seized just after Water Point 1, forcing him to run to the next water point, where there was a technical zone – and a new wheel.
“It was insane,” he said at the finish. “I have blisters on my feet and my toes are numb. It was agonizing; the most physically challenging day of my life.” He rode the free kilometres downhill and took turns with his Cruise Control teammate Werner Cilliers to push his broken bike up the hills. “I’m pretty sure we passed some guys and, in fact we may have even picked up some positions running up hills,” quipped Hechter.
Former Welsh skipper Colin Charvis crossed the line without his partner Ron Rutland, who had cycled from South Africa to be at the World Cup in the UK. “Ron ran out of battery,” said Charvis. “He dug in for several hours but he was walking and cramping and he couldn’t go on. He said I must go on – otherwise I wouldn’t make the maximum stage time.” Charvis came in just ahead of fellow rugby player Marius “The Hurtinator” Hurter, who was Charvis’ partner in 2015 – in their failed attempt at finishing that edition of the race. Hurter and his teammate Greg James were the final team to make it before the maximum stage time – with a minute to spare. Graham Collins, however, wasn’t so lucky. He was the first non-finisher, arriving about two minutes too late. He crossed the line and threw his gloves on the floor. “Everything that could go wrong, went wrong,” he said. “My gears were ghost shifting, and I had to walk up hills. Then my hydration pack burst.” He had told his partner – 60-year-old Heinz Iten to forge on ahead. The pair had tackled the Cape Epic two years ago and after finishing it Iten was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “He will carry on the fight and I will be there to support him. This Epic is a big up yours to cancer,” said Collins.