Top Queenstown mountain bikers Kate Fluker and Mark Williams battled searing heat, illness and mechanical failures to finish fifth in their category of South African slog Cape Epic.
The 691km race, with 15,400m of vertical climbing, attracted 1500 riders and boasted a star-studded field sprinkled with Olympic and world champions.
The Queenstowners finished in 34hr 6min, 2hr 38min behind mixed category winners Thomas Frischknecht, of Switzerland, and Swede Jenny Rissveds.
Fluker and Williams finished third in the 27km prologue, and faced incredibly hot temperatures on the first stage, south-east of Cape Town.
Williams: “We found a guy completely out of it at the side of the trail, still clipped in to his pedals but unresponsive.
“Kate went to get help while I stayed with him, he’s OK and we still finished fourth.”
Trouble hit early in stage three, which they finished 13th.
“Kate went down in a heap in the bunch after a guy cut her off.
“We got going again quickly and caught the group back up, before Kate’s rear tyre ripped open on a rock.
“Thirty minutes later it went flat again with a big nail in it and we couldn’t believe our luck when we got a third puncture for the day on a big descent.”
The next morning, Williams felt “pretty rotten” for the start and they dropped off the pace.
“I got a bit of strength back 24 hours later, and we rallied to another fourth place finish, keeping our top-five goal alive.”
The sixth so-called ‘Queen stage’ – 102km with 2700m of climbing – was their redemption, finishing second.
Williams says he thinks they both secretly held ambitions to do well.
They finished the stage less than four minutes behind pro riders Frischknecht and Rissveds.
“To get that close to a stage win in such a competitive field on the Queen stage of the race was the stuff our dreams were made of,” Williams says.
Finishing fourth in the seventh and final stage cemented their fifth place finish.
Williams: “It was an incredibly tough race for both of us.
“But working together as a team and overcoming all the obstacles which were thrown at us was extremely satisfying – or will be once it’s sunk in and the pain has subsided.”
The pair say they’re indebted to sponsors New World St Martins – “and extremely thankful for the hundreds of messages of support from friends and family”.