After six different types of electrocardiogram, a full-body scan and blood tests, South African cyclist Shaun-Nick Bester finally discovered why he was “feeling so horrible” at the Cape Epic and during the past month.
A specialist diagnosis revealed that the energy- and confidence-sapping ailment racking his body was tick-bite fever.
“I started to feel weak, have sore muscles and general flu-like symptoms three weeks before the Epic started.
“I was training and trying to push myself but just didn’t have the power to push my heart rate up during the sessions. I thought it was just flu and that it would pass before the Epic,” Bester said.
He added that he felt okay during the prologue as well as on the first stage, although he did not have the power he usually would have.
However, he said after about 75km “things really started to go south”.
“Out of nowhere it felt like my body just shut down, my heart rate stayed sky high, I got dizzy and I felt like I was going to faint.
“I vomited a few times while riding behind my teammate just to try and get to the finish. I couldn’t even sustain 150 watts giving everything I had.
“I went straight to the medical tent and they did an ECG, blood test and urine test. The doctor said I had to go back the next morning for a follow-up ECG and she would probably not let me start stage two.
“I never went back for the follow-up because there were so many people and sponsors who invested lots of time and money into us and I didn’t want to just pull out after the first day.”
The 28-year-old said on days two, three and during the time-trial it was the same story.
“I suffered every second wishing every stage would just be over. After the TT my body was feeling a bit better,” said Bester, who managed to finish 25th overall alongside Andrew Hill.
After the Epic he tried to re-analyse everything from a training and diet perspective, but could not figure out what the problem was.
“Worst of all is I finished the Epic without any type of muscle damage, which led me to believe it might have something to do with my full blood count.
“I did a blood test and saw nothing and decided to put in an effort to get to the bottom of things.”
The Darkhorse Wheels rider said he went to a specialist who then performed six different types of ECG and scanned his whole body and veins to see if they were fully open, as well as his kidneys, liver and spleen individually.
“He discovered that my spleen was really enlarged and said that I was either infected with malaria or tick-bite fever. He ruled out malaria right away because I had not had any treatment and seemed okay.
“He sent me for an immunoglobulin test, which came back positive for a current Rickettsia [tick-bite fever].”
Bester said mentally this was the toughest time he had ever experienced in his career. He had started second-guessing himself and lost confidence in his training for the Epic.
“I lost motivation during training before discovering this, because I wasn’t even close to hitting the number – powerwise – that I always did and knew that I could hit.”
He added that he felt relieved to have discovered the cause and wanted to thank his sponsors for not losing faith in him.
“From day one at the Epic I told them something was not right and they were understanding and never pushed me to keep on going, but I never wanted to let them down.
“I’m motivated for joBerg2c and cannot wait to get back to racing. I don’t know how my body will react, but my head is right and I’m going for a great result dedicated to everyone who stood by me through this difficult time.”