Lucas’ Nightmare Epic

Sick at the Epic

Lucas McDowall and Lionel Murray are more than just an average pair of Masters Category ABSA Cape Epic entrants. They were confident of a top 100 finish and were putting in the training to ensure they reached that goal. When disaster struck Lionel in the lead up to the big race Lucas thought their chances were shattered, little did he know what awaited them in the Epic.

In mid-January, two months from the start of the 2014 ABSA Cape Epic my best mate passed away. And I just couldn’t get back on the bike. Lucas soon started to panic, he was already the stronger rider in our Freewheel Cycology team and he was getting stronger while I mourned. Eventually it became clear we’d need to strategize around the discrepancy in strength between the two of us.

After a chat with our coach we decided the strategy would be for Lucas to lead until he was tiring and then I’d take over, setting a comfortable pace, so that when we got to the climbs 67kg Lucas would be too tired to out-climb 82kg me by too much. We hoped this would alleviate the frustration Lucas might feel waiting for me.

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Going into the Prologue we both felt good and despite the early start, amongst some very slow teams. After being held-up on the Stairway to Heaven climb by a particularly slow team, Lucas flatted in the quarry. We bombed the tyre thinking that would solve it, but a matter of seconds later we discovered the problem was more serious. He’d ripped the sidewall of the front tyre, so two tubes and four bombs later Lucas was begging passing riders for a bomb. We limped home having spent 15 minutes longer than we’d bargained for out on course, meaning we’d start in a slower group on stage one.

Again we reassessed our strengths and formulated a plan. It worked perfectly. We sat on the wheels of other teams looking to fight to an A batch start on stage two. Without expending too much energy we’d made up 250 places, finishing 40th on the day and moving from 333rd overall to 80th in the GC. Things were looking good for the rest of the race.

Despite the rain and mud on stage two I was confident. We’d survived the muddy carnage on the Cape Pioneer Trek after all. I was comfortably inside the leading group, when I called out for Lucas. No response. So I dropped back and looked around. Still calling his name I dropped out the back of the leading group, then through the second and third groups, without any sign of him.

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Expecting a mechanical issue I pulled over to wait. Soon I spotted him approaching in our distinctive kit and remounted my bike, expecting him to catch me. But he didn’t. So I dropped back again waiting for him to pull up next to me. His bike seemed fine.

“I can’t get my heart over 125,” Lucas told me. So we throttled back on the pace thinking he’d hit a sugar low and would soon regain his legs. But it wasn’t to be. Lucas went pale and started vomiting violently. By the first water point he looked too weak to continue and one of the race doctors was prepared to pull him from the race.

Then the bargaining began. Lucas asked the doctor if he could continue if his vitals normalised and not expecting him to be able to climb back on the bike the doc agreed. Lucas gave me the first of his Churchill-esque speeches of the week. “We don’t give up,” was the just of it.

The rest of the week was a blur of Lucas vomiting, dodging race medics and sending me ahead to gather apple pieces at water points as he couldn’t stop for fear of an official forcing him to withdraw. All thoughts of a good finish were out the window. In fact I didn’t think we’d finish until we passed the third water point on stage six.

We hit two major lows, the first was on the long descent into the second water point on stage four. Lucas had been so weak on the climb that I’d had to push him because he couldn’t control his bike and hang onto my pocket simultaneously. Coming down the switchbacks Lucas ploughed straight on two occasions, showing a dangerous lack of awareness of his surroundings. Water point two on stage four was Lucas’s rock bottom, he was ready to give up but somehow managed to lift himself and convince me into believing that he’d withdraw at the next water point.

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After once again ordering me to collect apple pieces Lucas went through water point three on stage four, but the battle wasn’t over. Recovering enough to start on stage five, the queen stage, Lucas became fixated with the cut-off time while battling up Rusty Gate. There was no way we’d miss the cut-off as a vomiting, soft peddling Lucas still managed an average of 13km/h throughout. But despite my response that we would safely make it being repeated every time he asked, he kept asking, again and again, every five minutes.

Somehow Lucas managed to pull through. He’s a tough man. And you’ll be pleased to hear that Lucas hasn’t suffered any lasting damage. He’s had the flu since the Epic but a scan on his heart came out all clear and he’s on the mend. Brave but foolish, really.

Lionel Murray is the co-owner of the Kenilworth bicycle shop Freewheel Cycology. His 2014 Epic didn’t go to plan (they still finished 158th overall mind you) but he’ll be back on the start line in 2015 with Lucas McDowall as they look to take a serious crack at the Masters Category. Lionel knows Lucas will be back being the strongest link well before then.

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