By Nick Curcuru
---- — A pair of locals have taken their cycling talents to South Africa this week and are competing in one of the most grueling mountain bike races in the world.
Phil Wong and Victor Taormina, both Gloucester natives, are in the middle of competition at the 2013 Absa Cape Epic.
The Cape Epic, which is known as “The Tour de France of mountain biking” is a treacherous seven stage mountain biking race through the heat and difficult terrain in South Africa. The event began on March 17 and will finish up on Sunday, March 24. Riders race in teams of two and bike over 700km (435 miles) through Western Cape, South Africa.
Steep climbs and difficult jaunts through the dessert as well as the sweltering triple-digit heat that hits South Africa this time a year are just a few of the obstacles racers need to tackle in the Cape Epic.
Through five stages of the race Wong, who currently resides in Manchester, and Taormina, who are racing as team Bikes Not Bombs/Riverside Racing, have faired extremely well. With two days of competition left Wong and Taormina sit in 36th place out 235 tandems in the general classification field with a combined time of 28:03:32. That’s an average of just under six hours of racing a day.
The competition has taken a physical tole on the local tandem as Wong has been documenting his progress via twitter (@philwongfits) tweeting on March 19 that “this is the toughest event I have done hands down!”
That means a lot coming from Wong, who is a decorated former professional cyclist that has competed in the sports toughest events all over the world.
The local tandem got off to a strong start and were in 25th place in the early stages of the race. The two hit a bit of a snag on Thursday as the tough conditions began to catch up with them. Wong was hit with a stomach bug that was making it’s way through the race village while Taormina was stricken with heatstroke. The two gutted it, however, out and finished Thursday’s 120km stage four even if their spot in the standings took a hit.
“I’d say today was the first bad day. Held in there to finish the 120km stage,” Wong tweeted on Thursday. “4 hours on ice and iv’s got me back to normal temp today. 101 degree body temperature from days of hot weather. Giving it a go tomorrow.”
“We are all wired in survival mode now. Myself with a bad stomach bug that is hitting the race village, my teammate also has heatstroke,” he tweeted before Friday’s stage 5.
Stage 5 was another tough day with Wong and Taormina laboring from the previous four stages. Still, the duo completed the 75km course that saw them climb 1,800m in the process. At days end the two were in 36th place holding steady from their standing heading into the stage. Not bad for a pair of racers in their mid-thirties competing against elite competition a decade, most of whom are a decade younger than the local team.
Wong and Taormina currently have two stages to go starting today with a grueling 94k course that climbs 3,000, in altitude. The pair plans to continue to work through their ailments and thanks the medical team on staff at the Cape Epic for helping them stay in the race.
“Two more stages to go and we are taking it day by day,” Wong tweeted after the completion of stage 5 Friday. “We are still 36th overall so hanging on would be great. The medi clinic here has been awesome. They do their best to keep us racing!”
Wong and Taormina’s progress can be tracked on the event’s web site www.cape-epic.com/live/.