Going back two years I missed out on the Absa Cape Epic with Team CoreCo due to hip surgery, the following year timing and other events messed things up, bringing us to 2018. After receiving the green light from a very understanding wife I hit the submit button for the impossibly difficult early bird registration, then waited, and waited a few seconds more, eventually confused as to whether or not the system had messed up or did the feedback really mean I had sneaked in! A quick phone call to South Africa confirmed what I thought I read, the next step being the bitter pill to swallow; paying the hefty $5,690 entry fee, admittedly for the 2 person team but still equating to almost $2,850 per person! Now I just needed a partner.

The race rig all set and eager to let rip on the trails of the Western Cape

The preferred candidate was South African, of good pedigree, and already had three Cape Epics under his belt! Having ridden under Team CoreCo with Guy during La Ruta de los Conquistadores a couple of years prior gave me the reassurance that I needed in a race partner. Whether or not he had the same confidence in me only time would tell. Unfortunately I was the team member who had never ridden as part of a two man team, especially over 8 days where communication and support is vital.

As time counted down things started to come together; check boxes were ticked on the Cape Epic website for waivers, tracker and timer rentals were paid for, optional extras such as laundry and bike maintenance scheduled, and most importantly fitness levels improved. I had no idea just how fit was fit enough, and with travel plans likely to affect any kind of a schedule this could be a problem I didn’t want to face.

Andrea and I had planned to leave the US on December 24th for Portugal, moving on to the Azores, Madeira and a couple of weeks in Catalan Spain, before arriving in Cape Town on February 25th. Hopping from country to country with a mountain bike whilst trying to at least maintain some level of fitness was something I dreaded – it turned out that even though Europe was in the height of winter it was never too cold, definitely wet, and the riding could be brutally hilly or relatively flat, pretty much dictated by what I felt like doing.

Day 1 prologue course

View of Cape Town from the Prologue

University of Cape Town

The partnership

Day 1 finish chute at UCT

Overall I think things worked out well, with the bike making it from Miami to Portugal, on to the Azores, Madeira, then with a connection it arrived in Barcelona, and finally after another connection it popped out in South Africa unscathed! In each location I rebuilt it, rode for a couple of weeks, stripped it down, boxed it up and hoped that the airports baggage handlers would be kind. They obviously realized how important it was that great care was taken of the battered cardboard box as the bike and contents always appeared at the oversized conveyor after each flight!

My arrival in Cape Town was exactly three weeks prior to race day, and although a lot more time than the majority of overseas competitors get still only enough for minimal fitness gains – things were definitely about to get interesting. Riding with my team mate as a team was the priority, getting familiar with the 20km day 1 prologue a necessity, and spending as much time zipping through technical singletrack whilst trying to stay safe and in good health was the fun.

Fancy meeting these 2 from Boca Raton in Cape Town

Things fell into place nicely for the first few days, riding the fun trails in Table Mountain National Park the highlight, getting a full blown cold whilst my team mate was out riding on the last big mileage weekend the lowpoint. As the zero mileage days ticked by I was getting concerned! It was a fine line between heading out too soon and making things worse or letting nature takes its course and making it to the start line healthy. Turns out taking four days out of the saddle was the right decision as I’d arrived in Stellenbosch for a week of riding different trails feeling pretty good, a bit winded on climbs but nothing that would impact things too much.

Stellenbosch was a hive of activity, the Coetzenberg, Jonkershoek, and Dirtopia trail systems were all busy with recreational and professional mountain bikers; the pros preparing for the first round of the UCI World Cup and the not so skillful out there emulating their heroes. Effortless and ‘why the hell can’t I ride like even close to that level’ were words that kept whizzing through my head. There were a couple of riding days where I had gone out with big expectations of banging out miles and miles of last minute riding only to watch in awe at the big boys practicing on the 4.4km Coetzenberg loop.

Leading into the final couple of days I had hopefully learnt from the pros how not to fall when traveling at excessive speed downhill, gained some familiarity of the prologue course after riding it twice in around 1h 12m (only seven minutes outside of our projected finish time), and am now at the helm of a finely tuned piece of two-wheeled Specialized machinery.

Cape Epic Route & Ride Profiles

It was now time to suffer through eight days of the Western Cape’s finest trails, covering 658 dusty kilometers with 13,530m/ 44,390ft of climbing. The final request was that my 2011 Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper be kind on me, and yes it’s a hardtail, and yes no one seems to ride hardtails anymore, and yes I was going to suffer with back pain, and hell yes I was going to start, kick ass, and finish on this super lightweight trusty steed!

SIM Card & Coverage
Carrier: MTN, Usage: 16GB, unlimited SMS, unlimited mins
Cost: $37

Arrival/ Departure: Lusaka <-> Kigali, Carrier: RwandAIR
Cost: $397.58 pp

February 25th – March 17th 2018


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