Cape Epic – The untamed South African Mountain Bike Race
What a crazy week! This is billed as the toughest mountain bike stage race on earth and it certainly was just that for many reasons.
A 20km dash up and around Table Mountain set the scene for the prologue which decided our starting times for Stage 1 of the race in Elgin.
739 kilometers of mountain biking over 7 stages with a vertical gain of 20,000 metres demands a lot from your mind and body. Living in tents and out of bag for 8 days whilst trying to perform beyond your physical and mental ability also presents its own challenges and add another dimension to the race.
Day 1 was apparently one of the toughest days in Cape Epic history as the weather turned and caught us ill prepared for cold rain and strong winds.
With the 10 hour cut-off time looming, the pressure was building from the very first day. Once you miss a cut-off, you cannot be an official finisher of the race. Essentially, you’re out.
The terrain is unforgiving and very technical and the heat was often in the mid 30’s. A day in the saddle was a minimum of 6 hours (sometimes nearly 10), going as fast as we could up hill, downhill and on gruelling sandy flat sections, often into strong headwinds.
After the first day, I seriously had to question whether I had the ability to continue and sustain such intense racing over 7 full days. With an eventful day 2 in the bag (riding on a flat tyre for 10 bumpy and rocky kilometers) the option of quitting disappeared – but never entirely. It just fades the closer you get to half way.
As usual, the incredible support from loved ones, friends and colleagues gives you a reason to continue and fight through the negative moods that descend on you out of nowhere. You don’t want to let anyone down and remind yourself of the generosity people have shown and unwavering belief in you. The dark times make the good times that much sweeter.
As we settled in to our second stage village, a milestone had been reached and the feeling of Ground Hog Day almost helped just accept what lay ahead each day and helped with the routine of preparation.
You could feel the anticipation amongst the other riders ahead of a brutal climb or dangerous descents and coming away unscathed was a miracle in itself. On a mountain bike, especially downhill, you have to make loads of split second decisions in order to stay on the bike. Your brain is constantly calculating the changes in terrain which determines your choice of speed, line, gearing, energy output, position, braking, technique etc. This relentless need for concentration and application is mentally tiresome and punishes anyone who dares to switch off even on seemingly innocuous terrain.
Despite full suspension bikes, the speed in which you move over the unforgiving ground rattles every bone in your body and keeping relaxed and fluid is a constant challenge. Your arms, shoulders and neck become tight and quickly fatigued and the downhills you’ve looked forward to are often more tiring than the climb as you hover out of the saddle, quads and gluts screaming with the isometric work.
Catching up with Slatts and Stan wherever possible, gave me some much needed company and motivation. Not to mention a pelaton to tuck into in the strong headwinds and some peace of mind in the case of mechanical breakdowns. The Stanley Fields Express is one helluva train!
As the week goes by, you settle into the bubble that is the Absa Cape Epic. Life becomes focused on pretty much just the race and everything is provided to enable you to retain that focus.
Having done many single and multistage bike races, this was the toughest.
They say you either come away with a finishers medal or a lesson in personal development. I, thankfully, came away with both.
The ethos of our children’s charity, Oridnary2extraordinary (O2e) is to get out of your comfort zone through exercise and adventure. I think we ticked that box.
Thank you so much for the donations so far. The page is still open so if you feel compelled to donate, you have my huge appreciation.
HUGE thanks to everyone who supported me with their encouragement, time, donations, understanding, love and constant belief in my goals.