Sunday March 18th had come around far too quickly and although only a short 20km prologue day there were still nerves in abundance! The relatively late 10:27.55 start time didn’t help.
Were we prepared? Everything was packed away into the very nice looking Cape Epic supplied duffel bag for seven nights of camping between the different race villages of Robertson, Worcester and Wellington. We had a critical race support bike package booked with The Gear Change in Mowbray, Cape Town. This would allow us to chill out after each stage instead of cleaning and potentially repairing our bikes for the next day – a highly recommended service external to Cape Epic organization. Then there was our exciting race gear, an entire wardrobe supplied by the Gary Kirsten Foundation, a township organization established by one of South Africa’s top ex-cricketers, Gary Kirsten.
“We have so much talent in this country and we are hoping to discover some raw potential that we can help to refine, honing their skills for the professional game through our foundation.” GARY KIRSTEN
Cape Epic rules dictate that both partners ride in matching gear each day and with this cool looking orange and black gear we should never be in a position where we lose sight of one another! Ordering the optional laundry package ensured that we would start each day clean even if didn’t last beyond the first couple of kilometers.
Cape Epic Route & Ride Profiles
Our early arrival at the stage one race village, probably the most perfect venue in mountain bike racing with the picturesque grounds of the University of Cape Town sitting pretty in front of Table Mountain, allowed for plenty of time to warmup and watch as rider pairs were ushered down the start ramp at twenty second intervals. The first riders had gone off at 6.40am so we were well down the list. With such a short interval it meant we could comfortably catch riders in front of us, however it meant that we were also fair game for the faster guys.
A few weeks out from the race we had to submit our anticipated prologue finish time, and with Guy having done a similar prologue we decided on 1:00-1:05, slightly on the fast side we both agreed after we had submitted it! I was since hopeful after having ridden it leisurely a couple of times in around 1:13.
Happy to get the stage 1 prologue out of the way with a 1:02.33 time
We were soon called into the corral with a handful of other teams awaiting their turn. The anticipation was intense as we hit the front of the line, steadied ourselves alongside each other at the top of the short ramp, and waited for the final countdown. Five, four, three, two, one and we were off, hearts racing as we cycled across the grass leading to the first climb.
The twenty kilometer loop consisted of mostly jeep trail, a couple kilometers of tarmac, three sharp climbs; nothing too long but enough to get the lungs screaming, and a Land Rover sponsored technical descent known as Plum Pudding – nothing was unrideable and having ridden the tech section already the entire course was just balls to the wall. My partner was off the ramp at warp speed, riding like a demon to catch those ahead of us or to ensure we wouldn’t be caught, either way I was instantly concerned that the weak link was going to be me! Soon enough nerves subsided and I was able to ride as I knew I could, hauling ass up the hills and on the flats, trailing in Guy’s dust for the descents. This would be the format for the following seven stages.
Today ended up with us seeing a 14th place in Grand Masters category and 158th overall, grinding out a pretty impressive 1:02.33 finish time. This was smack in the middle of our ‘hopeful’ finish and would place us in zone C the following morning when the true race would begin.
Now that the Mickey Mouse prologue day was out of the way it was time for the real fun to begin, kicking off with four consecutive days of one hundred kilometer plus distances coupled with around 6,000′ of climbing. Usually the equivalent of one of these big stages would require a rest day, but to tag three more on, each getting progressively harder was going to hurt! The days went something like this..
- Wake up at 5am to the sound of bagpipes
- Head blurry eyed to the dining tent for coffee and breakfast
- Collect our bikes from The Gear Change guys
- Mix nutrition into two bike bottles
- Gear up with sponsor supplied Gary Kirsten Foundation bike kit
- Warm up for twenty minutes around the venue
- Arrive at our corral, typically Zone C, by 7am for a 7.20am start
- Have fun from 4-6 hours
- Take bikes back over to The Gear Change guys for servicing
- Shower and hand in race kit to be laundered
- Hit the chill zone for protein drinks, coffee and recovery therapy
- Drink more coffee
- Head back to the dining tent for dinner
- Enjoy the days results, jersey handouts and following days stage briefing
The first of the big stages around Robertson saw us pick up puncture number one, on the second stage I decided to take in only liquid and no food causing me to bonk with thirty kilometers to go, and the third we both got punctures, just that mine required three bungs and three co2 cartridges to eventually repair. By the end of the third big stage we had dropped to 19th in category and 206th overall, somewhat disappointing. We weren’t the only guys with problems; the trails were littered with riders repairing punctures, swapping tubes, and scooping themselves up out of the thick dust after wiping out.
Mechanicals aside, the scenery was stunningly relentless, the support of barefooted local children alongside dirt roads and aid station volunteers second to none, and the pending shower and copious amounts of cold mint flavored iced tea waiting at the race village made each day an epic adventure. Even the super dry and dusty conditions that were adding a further lining to my lungs couldn’t dampen spirits.
Moving beyond the four big mileage days we were thrown a short 39km time trail, the measly distance overshadowed by the 4,700′ of intense climbing. On this occasion we departed every 15 seconds, with start times dictated by overall placing our position gave us a nice 8:51am departure – this allowed for an extra ninety minutes of sleep! Would we be able to add to the time pulled back on the previous day and move further up the overall rankings?
As soon as the countdown hit one we were off like bats out of hell, soon pulling in the first of almost fifteen teams we’d eventually move ahead of, only to be overtaken by the guys who started immediately behind us a mere kilometer from the finish. We crushed the flats, were strong on the ups and I hung hard behind Guy on the descents – this was a big climbing day and a whole lot of fun. To have this two and a half hour 39km loop on the doorstep would make for some awesome riding!
All of a sudden we were on day seven and the penultimate day – where had the days gone! The final two stages were very similar in distance with identical climbing of a little over 6,500′. We were on a roll, clawing our way back up to where we should be in both the Grand Masters and overall placings, then throw in lots of climbing and these remaining days could only improve things further.
The new strategy was positioning ourselves at the front of the zone C corral, theoretically meaning we wouldn’t get stuck behind the guys who couldn’t climb – out of the gates all hell lets loose, usually only for the first 10-20km where riders jostle for place on the faster flatter section. We would always end up with half a dozen teams that we had ridden in the midst of since the first big day, and with events like this having such great camaraderie there was plenty of bullshitting flying around. As soon the first climbs come the herds thin out and we would find space to ride in where the dust from the guys wheel in front wasn’t suffocating! These were fun times.
Things were changed around slightly for the big finale on stage 8 and with us moving up the rankings enough to warrant a zone B start time the final day would turn into a blast. The race organizers had pushed the start time out an hour which was more than acceptable, but strangely also decided to combine zones B, C and D – fortunately the corrals were still in order but with no time separation it could well have gotten messy! Once again we started at the very front and pushed hard into the climbs, hard enough that we never got to see any of the guys we shared company with on prior days. We now had new, faster teams to push onwards towards the finish line with. Just like day 7 the climbing felt continual but almost comfortable, that is with the exception of the slog that led to the final gnarly Land Rover sponsored technical downhill into Val de Vie. Riding this on a hard tail rattled bones, dislodged tooth implants, and caused the bike to make noises like never before – still it obeyed the rider and flew along the last couple of kilometers of singletrack towards the impressive Cape Epic arch. Guy and I had made it to the final finish line, pulling back to 11th in Grand Masters and 145th overall.
Daily and Overall Results
From start to finish I was blown away by the level of organization and way that the Cape Epic was run, covering every base and providing eight days of racing on some of the best trails on the planet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tough getting up and performing day after day after day, but all of a sudden when the finish line at Val de Vie is mere kilometers away, the few mechanicals are forgotten, the aching legs easier to ignore, and the final sufferfest climb knocked off, the huge entry fee and training all seemed worth it.
I will be back, just not sure when, and with the huge entry fee going up to almost $7000 for 2019 I could well need to find a job!
SIM Card & Coverage
Carrier: Vodacom, Usage: 8GB, Cost: $36
Arrival: Barcelona -> Cape Town, Carrier: Condor, Cost: $609.99 pp
Departure: Cape Town -> London, Carrier: Emirates, Cost: $353.69 pp
March 18th – March 25th 2018
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