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Epic 2018: Embracing Erica’s Epic Intervals

Oscar Foulkes November 20, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
This week saw the international launch of Erica’s Epic Intervals, especially developed with the 2018 route in mind. You may think that I’m about to go into a detailed explanation of what they are, especially seeing as there’s no patent protection for something like this, but no, my lips are sealed. If you, too, want to be preparing for Cape Epic with this bit of training in your toolkit you’ll need to sign up with her.

I would normally do intervals on the Wattbike, because there’s no guessing the power level at which one is pedalling. However, the only way my Tuesday was going to work out was if I did this session in the morning, which meant that it was going to have to be close to home. The first issue I encountered was that it started raining 10 minutes into the ride. Then, believe it or not, I ran out of mountain, in that the first climb I chose wasn’t quite long enough for the intervals.

Erica’s Epic Intervals left me with jelly legs, but I can see them working very well (more on that in a bit).

Wednesday morning kicked off with an hour-and-a-quarter root canal session, for which I prepared by getting myself into a state of ‘Epic mind’. It turned out to be not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Perhaps the Stoics were onto something.

After this, my week got insane, with multiple competing demands for my time, fires that needed to be put out, and generally high levels of stress. In short, everything that gets in the way of having the time and energy to do high intensity training sessions. Thursday ended with a score of Life 1, Super Intervals 0.

I was involved in a horse auction on Friday night, which saw me getting to sleep well after midnight. I was awake at 4.30, my mind abuzz with the events of the week. I had to rise at 5.30 anyway, so I eventually got up and caught up on two days of emails before heading to the Absa Pride training camp at Boschendal.

Saturday’s ride was 70km, with about 1600m of climbing. We rode up and over Helshoogte, then to the very top of Jonkershoek. We bombed down various trails, then around to the Paradyskloof trails and the G Spot, before returning to Boschendal. Riders were grouped roughly according to ability/strength, and led by a marshal. I ended up in the intermediate group more by coincidence than design, but it was the right place for me to be.

Sunday’s ride was a big loop around the Franschhoek dam, where the terrain is very different to Jonkershoek, prompting me to say to fellow riders that nothing says “Welcome to the Western Cape” quite like our loose, rocky mountainsides. In places, they are almost like rocky sandpits on an incline, and these are why one needs Erica’s Epic Intervals.

Groenlandberg is one of the Cape’s iconic climbs. Yes, it’s long (9km), but you can spin your way to the top. It’s just a long grind in granny gear.

By contrast, the loose stuff requires a prolonged transfer of power with even pedal strokes to avoid the back wheel spinning and losing traction. Actually, spinning out can happen even with perfect technique, but the bottom line is that riding climbs like this saps energy.

I’d never ridden the trails around the dam, which have plenty of loose climbs, and some fairly technical singletrack. I was riding up one of the steeper of the loose climbs when I heard complimentary remarks about my technique from the rider behind me, who turned out to be James Reid. There’s nothing like praise from a former SA Cross-Country Champion and Olympian to put a spring in your step (if such a term can be applied to cycling). I may as well have had an simultaneous infusion of EPO, HGH and methamphetamine.

Erica has a footer on her emails: “Don’t join an easy crowd. You won’t grow. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform and achieve are high.” With this thought in my mind, and James’ praise still ringing in my ears, I latched onto the fast group after the next water stop. I discovered later that some of the riders in this group had aspirations for a podium finish in the Grand Masters category. If I’d known this I’d have stuck with the intermediate group I’d ridden with the day before. Sometimes, as I’ve said before in relation to this stuff, it’s better not to know.

On the off-road climbs I was admittedly only just hanging onto the back end. We regrouped when we got back onto the tar for the spin back to Boschendal, which is when they really turned up the pace. For about 9km I managed to hold onto the wheel of the rider ahead of me, my heart rate well above 160 and eventually maxing at 175, as James set a pace of at least 40km/h. There was no letting up on the inclines. With a couple of kilometres to go, my impaired breathing could no longer cope with my heart rate, so I had to tap off, but it felt good to have tagged along with the ‘non-easy crowd’ for a bit.

A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined where my body is now. Similarly, in the midst of the week’s multiple crises, it would have been easy to get sucked into imagining impending disaster on a scale from which there is no recovery.

I wrote last week about ‘monkey mind’. I far prefer ‘Epic mind’ … keep the pedals turning!

I struggled to find appropriate pics using the Google - imagine this, but rockier, and going up instead of down. (Pic: Sportograf, poached from Kate Slegrova's website www.cycletraining.co.za)

I struggled to find appropriate pics using the Google – imagine this, but rockier, and going up instead of down. (Pic: Sportograf, poached from Kate Slegrova’s website www.cycletraining.co.za)

Epic 2018: Letting sleeping dogs lie

Oscar Foulkes November 13, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
It’s a ‘thing’ to have an answer to “where were you when [insert momentous event in world history]?” This isn’t exactly the same, but the saying “let sleeping dogs lie” has its own tags in my memory.

Whenever a teacher didn’t appear for a lesson (not often, admittedly), a schoolboy discussion would ensue. I say “schoolboy”, because there were significantly contradicting points of view, and the discussion would need to take place at low volume so as not to alert someone in authority. Inevitably, the day would be won by the person reminding the class about those metaphorical sleeping dogs, so that we could have a free lesson.

After a heavy schedule the previous week, I was feeling a bit knackered, even by Tuesday. I hadn’t yet received the next month’s programme, so I was very much in that “sleeping dogs” mindset. I knew that if I had the programme, Tuesday would involve a 90-minute recovery ride, but there was a gale force South-Easter blowing. Plus, I had all kinds of demands on my time that day. Monkey mind was doing a brilliant job of keeping me off the bike.

People, this is why one has to have the programme. There is no negotiating with a task that has a day assigned to its completion.

Thursday, I guessed, would also be a recovery ride (if I had the programme, that is). It was also a busy workday with a late finish, but I managed to persuade the kids to shop for – and cook – dinner, so I went out to do the work required.

I’m riding the Double Century for the first time this year. On Saturday, our team met in Green Point, for a 5.30am departure. We did the Cape Point loop along the Atlantic Seaboard. The one cool thing about leaving that early is that by 7.15 we were in Simonstown, and we were back over Chapman’s Peak by 8.30.

This ride would have happened regardless of programme, and was in any case the kind of activity that might have been on it, so all was good.

Sunday was bit of a problem, because I needed to be in Paarl by 10.00. Fitting in three hours would have required another 5.30 start, for which I really wasn’t in the mood (oh, the negotiation that’s possible in the absence of a schedule!).

I compromised by knocking out two hours on the mountain, but forcing myself to press on the descents. I also went down the Plum Pudding singletrack below the Blockhouse, which will be part of the Epic Prologue. The top video alongside was made when the trail was still in relatively pristine condition. It’s subsequently become very rutted, with much bigger drops at the steps. I included the second video to give another perspective.

There were several collarbone fractures the last time the Plum Pudding singletrack was part of Prologue, which has contributed to its ‘fear aura’.

Completing Cape Epic isn’t just about being able to pedal the bike for as many hours as required. Technical skills are just as important, if only to reduce the risk of a race-ending crash.

I wonder if riding a bit of technical singletrack makes up for going out for two hours, instead of three or four?

Yesterday, the saying “who will guard the guards” popped into my head. Time will tell whether it becomes fixed in memory the same way as the one about letting sleeping dogs lie.


Epic 2018: Sergeant Hardy leads the charge

Oscar Foulkes November 6, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
The talisman of our 2017 Cape Epic, and indeed our entire ‘team story’, is a racehorse by the name of Sergeant Hardy. To recap – he has a paralysed right vocal chord, which reduces the amount of air he can inhale. Following five surgeries on my vocal chords, as well as a six-week radiotherapy course, my breathing was also restricted.

The similarities end there, because my equine brother is not only seriously talented, but also much better looking.

Regardless of his physical handicap, he has claims to being the best sprinter of his generation. It is one of the great privileges of my life to be associated with so fine a racehorse, by virtue of my mother having bred him, and the two of us racing him together. He runs in her racing colours, which Piet and I adopted for our Epic kit.

He made his seasonal debut at Kenilworth on Tuesday, against a strong field of sprinters of various ages. In fact, it’s pretty much the same line-up that will contest the major sprint races this season. Despite this being a prep run and him not being fully wound-up, he stormed home under close to top weight. The fairy tale lives on.

Tuesday would usually be a training day. I did get home in time to jump on the bike, but I postponed to Wednesday morning. This was a hill session on the mountain, and then on Thursday I had another hill session (this time on the Wattbike).

Hills are basically about strength training, riding in a big gear at low RPM for six minutes at a time. This week involved five repeats per session.

Saturday’s ride was supposed to be three-and-a-half hours on the mountain, but Piet wanted to get in some training for the Double Century. So, we rode to Simonstown on the road. I tacked on the ride to meet him, plus getting home over Camps Bay drive, so ended up on close to four hours.

An 80km mountain ride was on the programme for Sunday. I rode with some mates as far as Tokai, following the trails above Kirstenbosch and then dipping to the Green Belt. They continued to Kalk Bay on the road, while I headed up to the Tokai trails. I mistimed my entry to the singletrack, and got stuck behind a large group of riders, many of whom were walking down the steep sections. As frustrating as this was, it was also satisfying to be able to compare with my former self. There was a time that I would also have been walking in some places.

Getting back was a slog. My legs were toast – the cumulative effect of a big week, as well as riding to Tokai into a headwind. Including a stop for buying and eating a sandwich in Tokai, the day ended up on five hours.

While on the subject of headwinds, I have an apprehension about Stage Three next year, in which we ride from Arabella to Worcester. If there’s a cold front coming in – and early ones are possible in late March – we’ll be riding into a headwind for pretty much all of the 122km.

Justin Snaith, who trains Sergeant Hardy, believes in having him super fit as a way of reducing the impact of his impaired breathing. As a big, strong horse, he is capable of doing a lot more than his more average stable mates.

I don’t have the same physical attributes as Sergeant Hardy, but Erica Green is following a similar strategy with my training programme. The fitter and stronger I am, the less I’m affected by reduced air intake.

We’ll have a new (still-to-be-decided) team name for 2018. Whatever we decide on, Sergeant Hardy remains a personal talisman.

Sergeant Hardy leads the charge, beating a fine field.

Sergeant Hardy leads the charge, beating a fine field. I’m sure Erica could repurpose jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe’s perfect balance for charging down singletrack.

Our 2017 kit was drew inspiration from my mother's racing colours.

Our 2017 kit drew inspiration from my mother’s racing colours.

Epic 2018: Of false tops and fun riding

Oscar Foulkes October 30, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
There are times when going up mountains, whether walking, running or cycling, that one encounters ‘false tops’.

As one reaches new highs, these become vantage points to look back on the journey thus far. Few are more dramatic than cresting the hills along the Wild Coast, because most of the riding is on the beach where perspective is limited. Those vistas that take in ocean, beach and rolling hills are just breathtaking.

In a sense, I’m experiencing the same thing with respect to how my body feels, and what it can do, compared with a year ago (for example, riding the STBB race an hour faster in 2017 than in 2016). Sometimes it’s better to not know what one doesn’t know. Unconscious ignorance can be a good thing.

I must have had rocks in my head to think that embarking on the Cape Epic project would be a good idea so soon after radiotherapy, in addition to not being able to breath properly. Anyway, I did it, which goes to show that this lark is perhaps more mental than it is physical.

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

My training ride on Tuesday was supposed to be 90 minutes in Zone 2, which is basically a recovery spin. However, a little seed had been planted when I collected my bike earlier in the afternoon. Justin, who runs the workshop at The Gear Change, had a glint in his eye as we chatted about how the great the Yeti feels on descents.

The first part of my ride was a climb to get onto the mountain at the jeep tracks at the top of Molteno Road. What goes up, has to come down…

As I hit the descents I got into play mode. From Deer Park, the climbing started again, but I forgot about Zone 2. I may not have many people agreeing with me, but that high intensity blitz to the Blockhouse (20-ish minutes) is quite a buzz. I think it helps to understand the context. My training programmes (since May 2016) generally have had very specific parameters. “Go out and have fun,” said very few coaches/trainers ever.

On Thursday, I was back in captivity, with an hour-long Hills session on the Wattbike. In its own way, this was also good, although my admission may cause you to wonder whether I have developed fully blown Stockholm Syndrome.

Saturday’s ride was three-and-a-half hours on the road. It was a magnificent day to be riding alongside the ocean on the Camps Bay-Hout Bay-Chapmans Peak-Noordhoek spin, which I took as far as Black Hill and then turned.

Piet is finally back, so we went out to Durbanville for an intended four-hour ride on Sunday. The Tygerberg MTB trails are sensational, although one requires The Knowledge to navigate the connecting sneaks to make it one big ride, rather than three small ones. We started at Contermanskloof, riding to the top to meet up with the members-only corridor to Meerendal. There, we basically went straight up the hill/mountain with the hope of riding down to Hoogekraal on the same route we did for the Epic Prologue. However, the gate was closed, so we had to descend again.

Descending from the very top of Meerendal is no hardship. To start, there are magnificent views in every direction, but particularly towards Table Mountain, and that’s before one gets into innumerable berms and corners.

We ended up having to ride to Hoogekraal on the tar, entering at pretty much the same point we did for the Prologue. The major climb on Hoogies is Spykers Hill, which is not the hardest in the Western Cape, but it’s one of the more interesting. It’s all on singletrack, with a large number of corners and switchbacks (admittedly, not the trickiest to ride). On Sunday, I rode it nearly a minute faster than during Epic, so I got another perspective on how my body has changed. And, my average heart rate was 156, as opposed to 170 on the Prologue.

One of the features of an Epic team is that it’s a surprisingly intimate relationship for one that involves two men on bicycles (I can’t comment on women’s teams), often in the absence of any verbal communication. It would say that our team is more taciturn than most, in my case, for the purely practical reason that I’m occasionally incapable of producing a sound.

Having reached the top of Hoogekraal, this mystical male interface determined that we needed to cut the ride short. We bombed down the long singletrack run (again faster than on Epic), but still had a lot of climbing ahead of us to get back to Contermanskloof.

We ended up riding about three hours instead of four. Although the climbs in Durbanville may not be the highest, they are steep, so what we lost in time we made up for in intensity.

20 weeks to go.

I grabbed this pic of mountain biking in Durbanville from iRide, who do great skills training sessions. If you ride the trails, please join the club and ride with the bike board.

Epic 2018: 21 weeks to go

Oscar Foulkes October 22, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
When I was a child, my parents had a Betamax tape of a Willie Carson documentary. I’ve never forgotten the five-time British Champion Jockey using the analogy of judging a race being like pouring water out of a jug. As the jockey, his job is to make sure that the water is not depleted before the end of the race.

During last weekend’s Java MTB, I was probably guilty of pouring the metaphorical water too quickly (although I suspect that insufficient lunch the day before the race may also have contributed to my fatigue).

By contrast, after yesterday’s 60km STBB4Good race on the Bottelary trails, I felt as if I could have ‘poured a bit faster’. I finished strong, and felt good afterwards.

As I alluded in last week’s training report, riding at the correct pace is a huge part of successfully completing Cape Epic. Of course, riding 700km over eight days is not the same as a one-day blitz of a 60km course, so one is bound to have something extra in reserve if 60km is ridden at Epic pace.

The STBB is a race I’ve done every year, and the route is largely unchanged, so it’s an interesting basis for comparison. My 2016 time was a full hour slower than 2017, and 40 minutes slower than 2015, which is an indication of how much my body was affected by radiotherapy (six weeks between January and March 2016).

The week’s riding was supposed to consist of relatively easy 90-minute rides on Tuesday and Thursday, followed by the race on Saturday, and then a three-hour road ride on Sunday. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, life got in the way of the Thursday ride, but everything else happened as intended.

It’s hard to believe that Cape Epic 2018 is just five months away. With training following a pattern of short, high quality sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and longer rides over weekends, those 21 weeks will fly by.


The STBB4Good race is the only event to make use of the fabulous Bottelary MTB trails

Epic 2018: Beware of death by a thousand cuts

Oscar Foulkes October 15, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
It’s a rainy Sunday morning. According to YR, the afternoon will be dry, so I can park myself on the couch for the morning with clear conscience, although, to be honest, I’ve seldom allowed conscience to get in the way of slothing on the couch.

The focal point of this week’s riding was yesterday’s 80km Java MTB. The start was at Van Loveren, but the race took place on the McGregor side of the Breede River. It’s mostly on Epic routes, which was the primary attraction.

The trip to Robertson was also an opportunity to spend a night with my mother, and to look at the yearlings she’ll be selling next year. Sometimes the overlap between MTB and horse events works, but I’ll miss Attakwas next year because of a clash with a yearling auction. Similarly, I’ll miss day one of a November three-day training camp because of an auction.

After the relatively easy previous week, I was back on the Wattbike on Tuesday, for a Super Interval session. After a warm-up, there’s four minutes in zone 5 followed by 50 seconds at maximum and another four minutes in zone 5. Then six minutes of recovery spinning before doing it all over again. Four reps in total.

Thursday was supposed to be an easy hour(ish), but chores got in the way. I thought it was something I could get away with not doing (sorry, Erica).

The Daisyway team was out in full force for the Java race, with the intention that we’d all ride as a group. However, my participation in group activities somehow didn’t happen. I felt so comfortable for the first five or ten kilometres that I didn’t notice I had pulled clear of them. Then I got caught up with a group of much younger riders who were going at bit of a pace. I eventually realised that I was probably pushing harder than I should have, but I didn’t dare get caught by ‘Mr Steady Pace’ Spook, so I just kept going.

He would have had choice words for me if he had. I couldn’t have ridden the race at that pace and survived the rest of Epic, well not at current levels of fitness.

The Java MTB route doesn’t have any really big climbs. Instead, there are many mini climbs. Because the route allows for generally good momentum there’s a risk of riding the climbs harder than one would if they were bigger. As one rider put it to me yesterday, it’s like burning matches. By the time I reached the finish yesterday, I felt as if I may as well have ridden over Groenlandberg, and all we’d done was 1500m of climbing.

Seeing as this will largely be Stage Two of Epic 2018, I need to also mention a section called Bosvark, a 9.5km twisting and turning singletrack that works its way up a kloof and then back down the other side. It gives the impression of being recently constructed, so it’s quite loose in places. Yesterday, we reached it after about 60km, and it was an unpleasant grind. On Epic, it’s the Land Rover technical section, about 80km in. I can’t see it being any more fun than it was yesterday.

Queen stages get all the attention, but don’t underestimate riding 110km on this terrain. With a lot of work still to be done on the remaining five stages, overcooking it on Stage Two could amount to death by a thousand cuts.

Update: When I did the three hour road ride late in the afternoon, my legs were toast, so I definitely overdid it slightly during the Java MTB (perhaps I should have said my legs were roasted?). One thing I forgot to mention is that part of the route goes through Stephan Viljoen’s farm, Steenboksvlakte, where he’s built some great singletrack. Stephan is the brother of my Epic partner Piet, so there’s all kinds of familiarity to the route (not that it makes it any easier that parts of it are a home game).

My mother's paddocks at Normandy Stud are on Arabella. From 18 March this will be the race village for three nights.

My mother’s paddocks at Normandy Stud are on Arabella. From 18 March this will be the race village for three nights.

Epic 2018: Riding in a Daisy chain

Oscar Foulkes October 8, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
“Recovery week” is a great phrase to see on a training programme; much like reaching an oasis in the desert, cresting a big climb, or even a 25-24 loss to the All Blacks after a bad season. It means that Tuesday and Thursday’s rides are each in the vicinity of 90 minutes of non-intense spinning. The body gets the opportunity of shaking off aches and general fatigue.

To be honest, I don’t feel apprehensive about ‘big’ mid-week sessions. Having a stoic’s ambivalence to the work that needs to be done, I suppose, goes with the territory of taking part in endurance sport. So, I have a similar attitude to recovery rides as more intense sessions, but I do enjoy the rest.

On Saturday morning I joined the Daisyway team on the Helderberg MTB trails (read more about Erica and Spook here).

Joining us on the ride was another of their clients, as well as their 13-year-old son, Tim, a hugely talented downhill rider in his own right.

As we got into the single track, Erica told me to follow Tim. She could have added: “if you can keep up”. Over the course of the next couple of hours I was learning by watching how Tim handled the trails, with Erica calling instructions to me from behind: “drop your heels”, or “elbows”, or “point your knee more”.

I was in the middle of a Daisy chain, doing my best to keep up with a fearless youngster, aided by small adjustments to technique that were being pointed out to me from behind. The changes weren’t much more than an inch here and there, but they make a big difference to how the bike handles the trails.

Erica’s programme had me down for a 100km road ride today. With Piet away, I was scrambling for cycling buddies. A few weeks ago I rode 113km as ‘Norman Nomates’; not only was it boring, but riding on the road without a peloton is a lot more work. I’m stoic enough to do it, but if there’s an opportunity of riding with a gang, I’ll choose it.

The big decision comes when the other guys decide to turn early. Today this meant that I under-delivered on the 100km required. In fairness, I went at the climbs quite hard, which eases some guilt.

It’s not just the cycling that’s better when you’re in a group; the coffee stop is also a whole lot more interesting. A few weeks ago I was introduced to the concept of intermittent fasting. This morning we had a discussion about Colin’s vegan month (while Rob, at the end of the table, ate his way through five poached eggs).

These posts are aimed at recording what’s involved in getting to – and through – Cape Epic. However, I’d ride my bike anyway (not quite as much, though) for general fitness and wellbeing. Similarly, brushing up on skills and riding technique with the Daisyway team would be a good idea for recreational mountain biking, even if there aren’t races planned. Apart from increasing your enjoyment on the trails, improved skills also reduce the risk of injury.

Mountain biking is poaching market share from golf, a sport that few would approach without some technical guidance. On the other hand, relatively few mountain bikers will get skills training before bombing down a mountain at 40 or 50 km/h.

The Helderberg MTB trails are fantastic (and jumps are optional).

Epic 2018: Heading for a new normal

Oscar Foulkes October 4, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
In the early days of my road to Epic 2017, I recall talking about the need for a ‘new normal’.

Health issues aside, by 2016 it wasn’t hugely intimidating for me to take on a three-day stage race (like Wines2Whales). However, as I pointed out to friends, every day of Cape Epic is roughly 50% more, in both distance and metres climbed. Or, to put it the other way, Wines2Whales is two-thirds of an average Epic day. The difference is that Wines2Whales is finished after three days, and on Epic they may sneak in a day that’s double the climbing and distance.

So, I needed to reach the point where a 90km ride held the same value as 60km used to. Hence the ‘new normal’.

I’ve discovered a few other ‘new normals’ along the way, starting with people riding bikes that cost the same as small cars (and on tyres that certainly exceed the cost of car tyres). It’s normal to do two 60 to 90 minute training rides during the week, followed by another three to four hours on both Saturday and Sunday.

On Sunday, I had glimpses of something else I hope is a new normal, in that I rode a fairly big climb at the same speed as my PR on that segment, except that my heart rate was nine beats per minute slower this time around.

If you’ve been reading these updates from the beginning of my training process, you’ll know how significant this factor is to me (read more about my impaired breathing capacity here).

I think there are two major contributing factors to this (hopefully permanent) change in performance. Firstly, there’s the work that I did leading up to Epic, and during Epic itself. In fact, if I compare how I’m feeling at the moment, with the fog I fought my way through during last year’s recovery process, I don’t know how 12 months ago I thought I could be aiming for Epic 2017.

The second factor is Erica Green’s training programme, which is very specific in terms of the power levels required for the high intensity sessions (i.e. intervals, hills, and super intervals). I’ve been doing them on a Wattbike, because of the very precise measurement of power output on every part of the pedal rotation, for each leg.

The other difference in Erica’s programme is that I’ve been doing a lot more on the road. Two weekends ago I did over 200km on two rides, and last Saturday I knocked out another 100km. Mountain biking is more demanding of the entire body than road riding, and often requires bursts of power. Road riding, on the other hand, is more about long stretches of consistent pedalling, without the micro breaks one gets while mountain biking.

The first four stages of Cape Epic 2018 are long – a total of 455km on potentially loose terrain, which increases the difficulty factor. That’s a kind of new normal that requires a lot of training!

The data from all my training rides/sessions gets uploaded to Erica's special platform, and she checks everything. Any cutting of corners gets picked up (and corrected) immediately.

The data from all my training rides/sessions gets uploaded to Erica’s special platform, and she checks everything. Any cutting of corners gets picked up (and corrected) immediately.

Epic 2018: Work to be done

Oscar Foulkes September 24, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
The 2018 Absa Cape Epic route was revealed this week. The big feature that jumped out at me is that Stages One to Four are all in excess of 110km, with Stage Three weighing in at a lengthy 122km. It’s little consolation that none of the seven stages has more than 2000m of climbing (unlike 2017’s five stages that comfortably exceeded this).

Throughout those four days, I’m sure, my attention will be fixated on Stage Five’s 39km time trial. Riders that are aiming for podium will be racing. Guys like us will maintain a comfortable enough pace to get us through the stage without risking elimination. From this perspective, it’s looking like a ‘rest’ day.

There’s plenty of familiarity to the route. The Prologue is on trails that I have ridden dozens of times (although not necessarily in this configuration). The race village for the first three nights will occupy my mother’s paddocks (Normandy Stud is on land that is part of Arabella). And, the finish is at Val de Vie, where we are responsible for all hospitality (the Polo Club restaurant, as well as events in the ballroom).

So far, so good, but pain will also be a familiar feature of those eight days. We all have different ways of coping with discomfort; what works for me is to see it as transient. As long as I keep moving, the minutes and miles tick by. Before I know it, a point of relief has been reached.

Of course, the best strategy is to be as fit and strong as possible. This year, Erica Green is training us. Apart from the physical benefit of the training, having a documented training regimen takes all negotiation out of whether one wants to go out on a training ride or, indeed, what one does while on the bike.

To be honest, those four 110+km days are a pretty big incentive to do the work. I really don’t want to be out there for nine hours a day. With this in mind, I’m pleased that I’ve got the 230km (in one stage) of TransBaviaans under my belt.

Both of this weekend’s rides involved big distances on the road, with plenty of climbing stipulated. I joined a new group for the Saturday ride, which was supposed to be 120km. However, due to very strong headwinds, the peloton turned early, so I got in just 91km. This counted as the 80km ride, but I still needed to do the 120km, which I ended up doing today. Spending five hours alone on the road – with beautiful views as consolation – was a major test of resolve, especially on tired legs because of riding harder than intended yesterday.

This may fall into the category of TMI. However, seeing as I’m sharing the experience of preparing for – and riding – Cape Epic, I’d be remiss in glossing over this particular bit of discomfort. For the past week, or so, I’ve had an infected area in the part of my behind that bears my weight on the saddle. It seems to be a large-ish boil thing surrounded by a several smaller members of its family. The quickest way to get them to heal is to lance them. The problem is that I’m incapable of clapping eyes on that part of my body, and at the moment I’m home alone. If I already were on Epic I could wander over to the Bum Clinic, where a nurse would cheerfully take care of the treatment without any damage to dignity. It seems too minor an ailment to trouble the emergency room at my local hospital (although it would add nicely to the list of craziness for which members of my family have been treated there after hours).

Despite this relatively minor ailment, compared with the state of my body a year ago, I feel great, for which I’m hugely grateful.

Regardless of all the months of preparation, we have no control over the conditions. Heat, cold, wind or rain can make Epic even more epic. There may be a day that one’s body is just having an off day.

There’s a reason why it’s described as “eight days of courage”.

“Work to be done” is the ‘Epic mantra’ shared with me by Mark Pienaar

No matter the pain in one's legs; cycling over Chapman's Peak is one of the world's great treats.

No matter the pain in one’s legs; cycling over Chapman’s Peak is one of the world’s great treats.

Sharing the Road

Oscar Foulkes August 27, 2017 Uncategorized 1 comment
We need to talk about bikes, specifically when they share the road with motor vehicles. I have to put it on the table, right up front, that not all riders are shining lights of responsible road use. I see far too many cyclists riding two or three abreast. For those same riders to then get aggressive with motorists that point out their transgression is beyond the pale.

It’s a subject that comes up on talk radio from time to time, which generally airs strong views at the extremes of the debate. In my view, it’s part of a much bigger issue, relating to the non-defensive and often negligent way in which many people operate their motor vehicles.

Road ‘accidents’ are rightly referred to as crashes by road management authorities. To call them accidents would be to absolve drivers of any responsibility for the actions that led to the incidents, when we know that error, negligence or outright criminality is the cause of the majority of crashes.

While cycling, I have twice been struck by cars. The first, on 16 March 2002, was a car driven by a young woman who had been out partying all night. She shouldn’t have been driving. I was hit from behind, and was extremely lucky to walk away from the scene. Ironically, I was on my way to ride on the mountain to get away from cars.

I avoided riding on the road since then. However, training for marathon mountain biking races does require time on the road as well, so Cape Epic training has lured me back onto the road.

The route for yesterday’s road ride necessitated getting through the Salt River-Woodstock precinct, for which there is a handy bike lane along Albert Road. As you can see from the picture alongside, the City has attempted to give it maximum visibility. However, it seems that the green paint is simply an invitation for the space to be invaded by cars, car guards and other parts of the Saturday morning ecosystem around The Biscuit Mill.

I dodged all sorts as I led through this section, riding as defensively and proactively as possible. However, I had no way of knowing that a car approaching from behind was about to turn left across the bike lane, wiping me out in the process. Once again, I was very lucky to get away from this with nothing more serious than roasties, bruises, and a scuffed saddle. Yes, there is a certain amount of irony to getting taken out in a bike lane.

The thing is that, over the course of three hours, we experienced several incidences of careless driving that could have caused us harm if we’d been in the wrong place at the right time (or is that the right place at the wrong time?). The final infraction resulted in my riding partner riding to catch up with the vehicle, so that he could express his feelings on the driver’s lack of road awareness (there was, admittedly, some shouting involved).

Bicycles don’t belong on all roads, but is it too much to ask motorists to take extra care when there is a clearly demarcated bike lane adjacent to the road?

My experience along the Atlantic seaboard stretch to Hout Bay is that motorists generally give the multitude of recreational riders a safe berth. On Chapman’s Peak, the tolerance is even greater, perhaps because it’s a sightseeing route, so drivers are more patient.

I’ll continue to cycle responsibly/defensively, and ask other cyclists to do the same.

To drivers, no matter how great your frustration, I ask you to bear in mind that every person on a bicycle is more vulnerable than you. If there is a rock-paper-scissors of road use, surely vulnerability trumps all other considerations?

The bike lane in Salt River (Pic: Abbas Harris)

The bike lane in Salt River (Pic: Abbas Harris)