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Having fun, writing about the stuff I like

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)

A Job For Life

Oscar Foulkes July 25, 2017 Horse Racing No comments
Speaking additional languages isn’t just about making oneself understood. One also needs to be aware of the polite word for things – and I don’t mean words that are impolitely used to refer to faecal matter. Take the Afrikaans word bek, for instance, as used in the expression “hou jou bek”, which translates as “hold your mouth”. It’s the “shut your trap” equivalent of “hold your tongue”, because the polite word for mouth is mond.

Admittedly, I never thought about it with any great latitude, but I couldn’t understand how bek could be mond, until I was on a trip to Montreal and saw the French word bec, indicating the spout of a milk carton. Bec, of course, is also the word for beak, so now it all makes sense.

When Afrikaners say, “Hy is nie op sy bek geval nie”, which is directly translated as “he hasn’t fallen on his mouth”, they are referring to someone who isn’t slow to open his mouth to say something. In a dry and slightly obtuse way, it’s more likely to refer to someone who is witty, sharp, opinionated or arrogant than a run-of-the-mill chatterbox.

I’ll get back to bek in a minute.

There is a perennial shortage of commentators in horse racing. These are the guys (yes, because women hardly ever volunteer) who ‘call’ the races. In the days before video coverage, their job was even more important, but it remains necessary for someone to tell fans where each horse is in the race. Good commentators will flesh it out with comment about horses that are squandering their chances by running wide on the bend. Great ones will spot the supposed no-hoper at the back of the field, with tons in reserve, about to mow down the leaders.

In the late 80s, Sandy Bickett had long since retired as Cape Town commentator. So desperate was the need for commentators that they kept him on even though he regularly made mistakes. Current head commentator Jehan Malherbe started under Bickett. He’s had a succession of understudies, and has been trying to switch off his mic for decades, but management won’t let him leave. It’s for good reason, I should add, because Jehan is a great commentator, in the sense of truly being able to ‘read’ a race. That is a skill that comes from watching tens of thousands of races.

The point of this story is that racing’s operators are perpetually on a drive to recruit aspirant commentators. For someone with the ‘gift of the gab’ – partially similar to nie op sy bek geval nie – an employment opportunity awaits. This may be the only lifetime employment currently being offered anywhere, although I’m sure Jehan wishes it wasn’t.

Given my laryngeal issues, these days I tend to speak only when I have something important to say, and even then – especially in noisy surroundings – I’ll often hold back. However, when my youth was at its brashest, my bek was in full swing. There were many times my future self should have put a hand on my shoulder and told me to shut the fuck up. At the time, I was doing some television presenting for horse racing. I was always keen for some extra money, so I thought I’d give it a go.

There is no school or handbook for learning to be a commentator. You may sit in your bedroom with a tape recorder and call a fictitious race. That’s relatively easy. Harder is to sit in the stands mouthing a commentary on a real race.

Nothing beats the chill that engulfs your entire body when you’re sitting in front of a live mic, looking through binoculars, and realising that there are jockey silks that you can’t match to a horse. Or vice versa, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The plan was that I would make general racecourse announcements and call horses to post for a few weeks. When I did my first actual call, Jehan would be standing by my side, ready to prompt me if I stumbled over the horses. The problem was that I got impatient. Instead, when I did my first call, Jehan was standing next to a crackly speaker on Greyville racecourse wanting to listen to the Cape commentary. When he heard my voice, I suspect he felt the same kind of chill I described above. Or perhaps it was just anger. Had there been cell phones he could have taken immediate action, but there weren’t.

It all started fine, but somewhere along the line a horse’s name escaped me, or maybe a few. The speaker at Greyville – and thousands in off-course Totes and bookmakers’ rooms around the country, went silent. The crackle was no indication of technical problems. This was commentator malfunction, or put it another way, this was crackle without the cackle.

Soon after the horses turned for home I was able to pick it up again, and managed to finish the race. There must have been a stand-in commentator, although I can’t recall whether it was Neill Duffy, Mike Wanklin or Shaheen Shaw. It could even have been James Bester, so long was the list of Jehan’s successive understudies, until Rouvaan Smit came along.

This was not my finest moment, to put it politely. I knew that I’d screwed up big time, I felt terrible about it, and I was determined to fix it next time. Things weren’t improved by the article that Annabel Andrews wrote for the Cape Times in the week thereafter, with a headline that clearly didn’t tax the sub-editor: “No Oscar for this commentator”, or something to that effect.

The following race meeting, with Jehan back in Cape Town, we did it the way it was supposed to happen first time around. As I was calling the horses into the stalls, the phone rang. It was Mike Louw, the course manager (although I can’t be sure that I’ve recalled his job title correctly): “Get Oscar out of the commentary box!”

“I can’t”, said Jehan, “I haven’t learnt the colours.” And then he took the phone off the hook.

The call wouldn’t have won any prizes, but it was fine. I got through it. That should – or could – have been the first step to redemption, but racecourse management had other ideas. The following week I received a letter from Mike Louw banning me from the commentary box for life.

Of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, this was possibly the one with the greatest cringe factor, demonstrated by the fact that it’s taken me nearly 30 years to tell the story. Until a clean-out last year, I had both the newspaper clipping and Mike Louw’s letter in a dusty file. Instead of keeping glowing school reports, I kept a vicious newspaper article and a letter of rejection. I couldn’t tell you why I kept them, but now that I’m finally telling the story, I’m sorry I threw them out. It would have been fun to post them here.

Partly because of what’s happened to my voice, I listen with pleasure and admiration to people who employ their voices by singing or speaking in public. Beautiful voices are like birdsong. Perhaps the reference to beak is a good one, after all.

Here are some fun commentaries:

Dress-up Fun

Oscar Foulkes June 20, 2017 Uncategorized No comments
“Do you like dressing up?”

I could have left out the quotation marks, which would have denoted me asking a question of my readers. However, on Saturday night, the question was directed at me, and it caused me to pause while I collected/collated a response.

In fairness, at the time this question was asked of me, I was wearing shiny gold tights, lace-up boots to a couple of inches above my ankles, a red t-shirt with a somewhat crazy print including more shiny stuff, and a cheetah print coat. I may also have been wearing over-sized oval sunglasses with sequins on the sides.

I wasn’t portraying any particular character, simply expressing the party’s theme: “vixen, foxy, quirky, tart or come as you are if you’re an old fart”. It wasn’t exactly the kind of get-up I’d be wearing to a business meeting, or even a casual Friday night visit to the neighbourhood burger joint.

I found it interesting that I found the need to pause before answering the question. Somehow, for a 50-year-old man, who lives (and dresses) a very conventional lifestyle, it felt like a question that was laden with all kinds of implications. Look at it this way – kids dress up all the time (see pic alongside of my brother and me, aged about four), but somehow it’s different for adults.

It’s a ‘thing’ to get into something crazy when you’re a spectator at a cricket test match, or for rugby sevens. One may dress as a recognisable character, whether it’s Elvis or a superhero. There is a ‘cover’ in these; they can be done without putting oneself too much on the line, as it were. Sometimes, dressing up is done with an exaggerated degree of silliness, which may also be part of the cover.

There is also a certain amount of cover if the outfit, from head to toe, has been rented. In the case of my party gear, the coat was given to the women in the house by our ex-neighbour (a fashion designer), I own the t-shirt, and actively went out and bought the shiny gold tights (admittedly for AfrikaBurn). The ‘out’ of renting doesn’t apply in this case.

There is so much of dressing up that can cause a raised eyebrow, a giggle, or outright judgement, from cosplay to cross-dressing. Perhaps it’s all about the degree of seriousness with which it’s approached. It’s ‘ok’ if it’s all a big laugh, but if something personal is being expressed then the terrain becomes a bit more complicated.

But it doesn’t have to be about expressing deep-seated psychology. For some, it’s just being creative – or even a bit crazy – seasoned with a sprinkling of exhibitionism. Technically, this may fall into the realm of having a particularly individual style, because it’s how these peeps go out on any average day, even though it may come across as ‘dress-up’.

Dressing up is more fairly the subject of an entire book, not just a few hundred words of my ramblings, so I’m going to keep this focused around the initial question.

My admittedly safe answer was something along the lines of me feeling comfortable doing it when circumstances require (or is that, when the opportunity arises?), which is not the same as saying “Yes!”

On one of the days of AfrikaBurn this year, I wore pretty much the same get-up, with the exception of the t-shirt, in that I was bare-chested under the cheetah print coat. My body is not buff, and I don’t have the skin type that takes on any tan, so this was a big step for me. It felt liberating to cross a line of vulnerability by exposing my upper body to this extent.

Somehow, it’s different to being shirtless by the pool. So, dressing up can also be about facing one’s vulnerabilities – which can take many forms.

During the party, someone asked if I ‘was’ Mick Jagger or David Bowie. Her mindset is clearly that dress-up is an attempt to represent a known character, which wasn’t a consideration for me. She wasn’t entirely wrong – in a sense I was shedding conventionality by taking on a rocker’s look, of sorts. And I had fun doing it.

Play is good for adults, too. So, yes, I enjoyed dressing up on Saturday.

A little dress-up fun as little boys – my brother on left, me on the right.

A little dress-up fun as little boys – my brother on left, me on the right.

The Most Epic

Oscar Foulkes April 9, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
In no particular order, here’s a summary of a few of the most epic parts of Cape Epic…

The super cheerful Woolies staff were a blessing at the end of every stage. They greeted us with refreshing wet face cloths that they applied to the backs of our necks along with words of praise and encouragement. In this Woolworths feeding zone they then handed out packets containing chocolate milk, a wrap or sandwich, as well as packets of snacky things. For riders wanting something more substantial, we also had the choice of spaghetti bolognaise or cottage pie or burgers, which could be warmed at a bank of microwaves.

Woolworths also provided the food at the waterpoints, as well as the family-sized picnic at the Grand Finale. Their sponsorship of Cape Epic must cost them millions, but the way it was done, and the attitude of their staff, put them at the top of most riders’ hit parade. Woolies delivered a masterclass in how to partner an event.

Staying with food, the steak dinner that Dish Food & Social delivered to us on the Friday night before the queen stage changed our lives.

Our wine list (read more here) was pretty damn good. The wine of the week was probably the Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Pinot Noir.

It’s tempting to not want to spend any more money than the large amounts already expended on entry fee, equipment, training, kit and more. The competing perspective is that one has invested too much in this landmark experience to be uncomfortable (and thereby risk valuable rest). We rented a camper van, which comes with attendant costs (the hiring company bills an Epic surcharge, and then there’s the mobile home fee payable to Cape Epic). It was worth it the entire week, but particularly on 40-degree afternoons when we could rest in air-conditioned comfort).

The additional benefit of this arrangement is that you’re not bound to eating the mass-produced dinner in the dining marquee.

Apart from the fact that the camper van has to be moved several times during the week – for which one needs a driver – it’s extremely useful to have someone assist with daily ‘admin’. We had Eddie du Toit, a biokineticist with several years’ Epic support experience, who also took charge of our daily massages. Eddie made a big difference to our Epic. Yes, it’s extra expenditure, but it’s worth it.

Training programme
Our training programmes were put together by Lezandré Wolmarans, of the Sports Science Institute. The fact that our strongest day on the bikes was the queen stage, on the second last day, says a lot for our conditioning. I should also mention that the majority of non-racing weeks involved no more than 10 hours’ training (excluding gym). Training for Cape Epic is a major commitment, but it needn’t take over your entire life. This aspect is in keeping with the theme of being consistent with respect to the size of the commitment. Unless you really know what you’re doing, get a professional involved in your training programme.

What I can do on a bike changed dramatically after I started riding a Yeti. The same happened to Piet when he switched to Santa Cruz. Say what you like about these bikes making up for a lack of talent on the part of the rider. The fact is that our Epic would have been less fun, not to mention slower, if we hadn’t made the switch.

As far as selection of bikes is concerned, let’s just say that S-Works is not necessarily the best bike for all riders. Get out there and test ride what’s available.

Trickiest descent
The Haarkapperspoort single track on Stage One wins the “white knuckle” prize. It was long, steep, loose and rocky. Having said that, there were several other big descents that were no less tricky, because of the speed at which they were taken.

Most enjoyable descent
The single track from UFO on Stage Two wins because of its length, but there were many fun descents that just happened to be shorter.

Toughest section
There wasn’t any stage that I felt as if I was suffering. It was more a case of having to dig deep at various times. The thing about endurance activities is that the focus cannot extend much further than the next action that needs to be taken. When you frame it this way, it’s less likely that you’ll perceive any part of the whole as being harder than any other.

We were very lucky on the technical front. We had no flats or broken chains, which is a good thing, because we lost plenty of time over the first three days as a result of our bodies battling in the conditions. The closest we got was my chain getting incorrectly threaded through the derailleur. Oh, and a bottle of corked wine.

Hero riders
Max, on his steel-framed single-speed without any suspension, unfailingly brightened my day. Reuben van Niekerk, who could spawn a series of memes along the lines of “What’s your excuse?” is a huge inspiration, along with his partner Kevin Benkenstein. The never-ending banter that surrounded Rudi de Bruyn and Matthew Cook (amongst others) should be released on podcast.

And, of course, there is my own partner, Piet Viljoen. As I’ve said before, he commits to a degree that is more “I do” than “yes”. There was some tough love when he told me to search the pain cave for additional reserves, but there was also another kind of toughness when he pulled me up Franschhoek pass. I look forward to riding Epic with him again. Despite our unequal abilities, it’s a team that works.

The bum clinic
My early morning visits to the bum clinic put me in a good mood for the rest of the day, not to mention physically enabling me to be sufficiently comfortable to sit on a bike for five or six or seven hours.

War story
Vomiting during exercise isn’t something I experienced before Stage Two. Thankfully it was just once, but it took a while before my body bounced back. Fortunately, I was able to finish the shortened stage. While on the subject, we had done most of the day’s climbing by the time we reached Caledon, so it wasn’t the biggest cop-out ever to be let off the final 40km.

However, the biggest war story didn’t reveal itself until the Thursday after finishing Epic. I knew all along that my breathing was impaired. When the surgeon finally went in to snip away the web of scar tissue between my vocal chords, I discovered that I’d substantially underestimated the extent. I was nearly in tears when I saw the before and after pictures. If I’d known before the time I could have claimed some credit, but I got conned into this one. We have powers of endurance way in excess of what we can imagine. Sometimes it’s better to not know too much detail.

Hot showers
Being able to have a hot shower at the end of a day’s riding is the best mood changer. This aspect was extremely well organised – I think the longest I waited in the queue was five minutes.

Dimension Data set up a kick-arse WiFi network, covering the entire race village. The speeds were truly stupendous, but it was a cruel exposure to Nirvana, because no real life WiFi ever seems to match this little glimpse of the perfect world.

At every turn there were people, whether friends, family or complete strangers, cheering or helping in some way. The majority of it is aimed at Epic riders as a group, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t benefit individually. I also had many messages before, during and after the event. It’s a wonderful spoil to be the recipient of this many good wishes!

I’m interested to hear from other riders – what was on your “most epic” list? Add a comment…


The Week After Cape Epic

Oscar Foulkes April 1, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
I made the promise, on the day of finishing Cape Epic, that there would be a ‘decompression post’. I suspect there may be potential for several of these things as time passes.

The big theme of ‘my’ Cape Epic (apart from re-building my strength after radiotherapy) was my impaired breathing hence the “hoarse power” on the backs of our shorts, as well as the reference to Sergeant Hardy in our team name. I wouldn’t say that I had a victim attitude to it, but it must have shaped my views of what my limits were. I realised afterwards that somewhere along the route I stopped thinking in terms of limitations. Yes, on steep climbs my breathing was like a donkey’s braying, but I got on with what was in front of me without couching it in some kind of excuse structure.

Perhaps subliminally I realised that it was a waste of energy to think in those terms, or maybe it was the effect of watching Reuben van Niekerk do it all on one leg. Apart from these factors, Epic is relentless. Eventually, all one can think of is the here and now of keeping the cranks turning. It empties the mind of much irrelevant thinking.

My impaired breathing was the result of a web of scar tissue growing across the pointy end of my vocal chords. My surgeon, Prof Fagan, had suggested a procedure whereby this would be split. In view of recovery time, it had to wait until after Epic.

I was on the phone to his rooms first thing on Monday morning, and surgery was booked for Thursday. As I was being wheeled into the operating theatre I asked them to take pictures, both before and after.

I’m not going to say that I felt no emotion at the finish of Epic, but what I felt when I saw those pictures (see alongside) was different. I was almost in tears when I saw that I’d ridden Epic on something like 50% breathing capacity. It’s not the same as breathing through a straw, but you get the picture.

Even while lying in the hospital bed, my breathing felt easier.

In my head, I had lost 10% to 20% breathing capacity. Sometimes it’s better not to know – if I’d known that the impediment was more like 50%, perhaps I wouldn’t even have started the Epic process. Or, if I had, my attitude (see paragraph two above) would have had an even greater limiting effect.

Last year, in a letter of fatherly guidance, I said to my son: “We have powers of endurance that are far in excess of what we might imagine.” Little did I know the circumstances under which I would experience that for myself.

If only we knew how to access that extra capacity without having to get conned into it!

Before: the web of scar tissue still in place

Before: the web of scar tissue still in place

After: the 'normal' extent of the vocal chords restored after removal of scar tissue

After: the ‘normal’ extent of the aperture restored after removal of scar tissue

Cape Epic: Stage Seven

Oscar Foulkes March 26, 2017 Cape Epic 2 comments
One of the traditions of Cape Epic is that a bagpiper wakes the campsite at 5.00 am. Apart from the lack of snooze button, that sound could wake statues. This morning, miraculously, perhaps because the piper doesn’t work on Sundays, or maybe because Epic has an eye on easing us back into normal life, I could wake of my own accord.

In normal life, early morning consists of words beginning with “sh”. For Piet and myself, it became the three Bs – bike, butt and breakfast. As usual, that section of the clinic was filled with laughs, especially so when I told the nurse that if I’d known I’d have to remove plasters from that place, I’d have had a ‘sack and crack’ at the same time as having my legs waxed.

For today’s stage we were moved up a start group, and then they lumped us together with the two groups ahead of us (read: faster riders). The first 5 km were supposed to be a neutral zone through Grabouw, but no-one paid much attention. The riding was fast and furious. If there’s a wheel ahead of him, Piet has to be on it. In this company, he was like a racehorse that’s bolted.

I did my best to hang on, but eventually had to fall back into a rhythm that I could sustain (especially after the exertions of the day before). Piet was waiting for me at the foot of the first big climb of the day, 10 km after the start. Strava tells me I set a personal record on this climb. It certainly didn’t feel that way while I was doing it. The climbing continued for about 10 km, before we dropped down in the Villiersdorp valley.

We followed farm roads and jeep tracks to the base of the Franschhoek pass. Once again, the pace was on. We got to 40 km in two hours. As long as we were on the flat or downhill I could stick with the bunch. Any incline had me falling off the back. Piet was exhorting me to greater efforts, but my legs just didn’t have the extra bit of gas required. Going up the Franschhoek pass, Piet eventually resorted to pulling me. For once, his heart rate was above mine.

I took a moment while at the top to admire the view (without interrupting my pedalling, mind you) and then took full advantage of the pass being closed to traffic. We briefly stopped at the second water point, and then set off for Val de Vie.

Over the next 25-ish km, it felt as if we rode along every sandy road in Franschhoek (there are many). The route went up and down hills in a similar fashion to a surfer eking more out of a wave, except that every up move for us required a bunch of extra effort. I was perfectly capable of keeping the pedals turning, but Piet’s sense of urgency was working in overdrive. By now, he had discarded earlier methods of dragging an extra big effort out of me, and instead directed me to look around my pain cave. I did, but extra efforts seemed to fizzle to nothing before long. There was nothing left in the tank.

There was, however, just enough left to do a showy, but completely unnecessary, sprint around the final corner to the finish, where we were met by cheering family and friends. They have been the most massive support.

We came into this thing without any expectations. One of the high points I’m going to take away from this is our 18th place finish for yesterday’s Queen stage, in the Grand Master’s category. It’s not something I could have imagined a year ago, when I was getting by on soup and morphine, and it certainly wouldn’t have happened without Piet by my side (OK, in front of me).

There is magic in following a process.

It’s going to take me a few days to get perspective on the entire experience. It’s been huge. My plan is to do a decompression post once I’ve got my head around it all.

Until then, I want to say the most enormous thank you for the many messages of support. Thank you!

Crossing the finish at Val de Vie

Crossing the finish at Val de Vie

Getting onto the first page of Grand Master results (this was Stage 6) was one of my high points.

Getting onto the first page of Grand Master results (this was Stage 6) was one of my high points (click to enlarge).

Cape Epic: Stage Six

Oscar Foulkes March 25, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
By the end of yesterday we’d been riding for roughly 35 hours. Barring some cramping on Monday, nausea on Tuesday, and an unspecified flat day on Wednesday, our bodies have generally held up well.

Except, I have been holding back on a delicate subject. It’s one you may have been thinking about, but have been too polite to ask. Yes, the point of contact with the saddle was raw by the end of yesterday. Soon after six this morning Piet and I presented ourselves at the medics tent for an advertised “brand new butt”. It’s a common problem, and they are very well set up for it.

Picture the scene – three or four men bending over with their pants around their ankles while a medic is applying plasters to sensitive areas. You may think that dignity is abandoned under these circumstances, but by tuning into the humour of the situation it’s possible to walk out of the clinic in a fabulously good mood.

Today was billed as the Queen Stage because it was the day with the most climbing (2750m), and a take-no-prisoners 103km over Groenlandberg and other big climbs. In preparation I changed my chain ring to a slightly smaller 32T to make climbing a bit easier on tired legs. After our steak dinner and a good night’s rest we felt good.

We climbed almost solidly for the first two-and-a-half hours, which is how long it took to reach the top of Groenlandberg. The descent can be treacherous, but that didn’t stop Piet descending at a pace that led me to asking him if he’d filed a flight plan with air traffic control. Much of this is thanks to his Santa Cruz Tallboy, which descends like a champion. In fact, throughout the day he rode that bike as if he was impersonating Greg Minnaar.

Our plan was for me to set the pace up the big climbs, and for Piet to do it for the rest. I did my best to hang onto his back wheel. After just under seven-and-a-half hours of riding we rolled over the line as the 18th Grand Masters team (an improvement on the previous stage’s 20th), which pushed us to 28th in the GC for the category. I can’t see us improving much from there because we lost too much time on the first few stages.

We’re looking forward to a positive finish at Val de Vie tomorrow.

Cape Epic: Stage Five

Oscar Foulkes March 24, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
Today was nominally an easier day, at a billed 84km, with 2150 metres of climbing. That’s the theory.

We did 25% of the day’s climbing in the first 10km, and 50% in the first 26km. It’s a tough way to start, so the game plan was to take it easy until about 30km. This was when we started the first of the singletrack, and we would then decide how we would ride. That was the theory.

In practice, Piet was particularly frisky today, even by his standards. In fairness, he had two dreadful days on Monday and Wednesday. Why hold back a man who is on form?

On the initial few climbs I did my best to keep him in sight, although not to the extent of tracking him on the Cape Epic app (he is carrying our tracking device). He waited for me at the tops of climbs, and from the first singletrack we were in closer proximity for the rest of the day.

In keeping up with him, I wouldn’t describe my level of exertion as ‘taking it easy’. We then rode the singletrack at a furious pace, partly because the A-to-Z series above the Grabouw Country Club requires constant effort, and also because we kept having to power past slower riders.

The technical skills (or, lack thereof) of some riders turned into a frustration throughout the stage. I’m not claiming extraordinary skills on our part, but on Epic one would expect something more confident than we encountered. There was so much singletrack on today’s route that it wasn’t the day for patiently sitting it out.

The tactics we employed to pass some riders were much more aggressive than one would expect from a team heading for a position 360 finish on the day.

At this point I should probably issue a general apology if we ruined anyone’s day. I have already apologised in person to Ashley, with whom I brushed handlebars in my eagerness to attack the berms. I’m not holding my breath waiting for an apology from the German rider who cut corners to drop into the trail ahead of me after water point three, and then proceeded to descend like a granny.

While we’re being polite it’s probably appropriate to express my gratitude to Cape Epic for not taking us the hard way up Nuweberg. Yesterday’s over-delivery of climbing is forgiven. We’re good.

It is a subject of study by sports scientists that riders’ heart rates drop during Epic. Today my average heart rate was 131. Based on the degree to which I was gasping for breath much of the way, it’s a ride I would usually have done somewhere closer to 140. My maximum today was 161, whereas I would ordinarily have peaked above 170.

In trying to get perspective on why I felt quite as poked as I did, I had a look at the day’s final results. Today we were the 20th Grand Masters team home, having been in the high 30s and 40s all week. That’s what happens when Piet is the captain of the Sergeant Hardy team.

Tonight we’re having a steak dinner, delivered courtesy of the Dish Food & Social team. It’s just the thing to fuel up for a day that has 2750 metres of climbing. Well, that’s the theory.

Today's route profile

Today’s route profile

Cape Epic: Stage Four

Oscar Foulkes March 23, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to see a cloudy day with some faint early-morning drizzle. It did get up to 30 degrees later, but the couple of hours of coolth were gratefully received. The price we paid was a head wind for large sections in the first 80km, but it was worth it. Another day of extreme heat would have been a problem.

The day was billed as 113km, with 2150 metres of climbing. We seemed to cover slightly less distance, but we must have climbed at least an extra 200 metres. One can’t accuse Cape Epic of short-changing us on our entry fee. Under-promise, over-deliver. Ha-bloody-ha!

More than 1000 metres of climbing was in 25 of the final 30km. We struggled to reconcile the route profile with what we were experiencing, which made me a little bit grumpy. I got over my grumpiness when we hit the singletrack sections that took us to the finish – that was fun.

The route had me confused at times. When we reached the N2, when I would have expected to turn right towards Bot River, we instead turned towards Caledon, where we did a close inspection of the wind turbines. These are the same wind turbines we’d viewed from other angles over the previous two days. I don’t know how much more I need to learn by viewing them, other than experiencing first-hand why they build them where they do (think riding up several hills into a wind many forces stronger than the surrounding area).

The route took a few more detours further along, to the extent that it would be no exaggeration to say that the route had more detours than my mother-in-law telling us about her trip to the supermarket to buy eggs and milk.

After the second water point there was a gravel road section with a strong head wind. A Columbian team decided to lead the way, and we gratefully followed. However, they weaved across the road from the extreme left to the extreme right. And back again. It’s almost as if the lack of a white line disorientated them, if you get my drift. OK, enough innuendo for one paragraph.

The water points were at roughly 30km intervals, which is the distance of an easy training ride. So, I didn’t view the route as one chunk of 113km, rather three-and-a-bit training rides. That worked fine until Cape Epic lied about how much climbing we had to do.

The bottom line is that Piet and I both had a good day. Actually, we had a great day. We passed many teams, making up more than a starting batch worth of places. I know I said that the finishing position doesn’t matter, but it’s a nice affirmation of the many hours we’ve spent training, especially seeing as we have each had our turns at having off days this week.

One of the successful aspects of our riding partnership is that we have a similar attitude to descending. Being able to go downhill confidently is an easy way of making up time. Of course, having cautious riders ahead of us is an easy way to lose time, which is why we make an extra effort to get ahead of the bunch at the tops of hills. This is especially important just before entering singletrack sections.

Last night I had a text message from former pro rider Dave George (currently in 20th position on the GC with his team mate Justin Tuck), in which he said that the body adjusts to the fatigue, and that one gets stronger and stronger as the stages pass.

We go into the last three stages with our bodies and bikes in good shape, feeling good about the tests that await. Dave may be right.

Today's route profile

Today’s route profile

Cape Epic: Stage Three

Oscar Foulkes March 22, 2017 Cape Epic 2 comments
“I knew when I met you an adventure was going to happen.” – AA Milne (Winnie the Pooh)

Today would have been my brother’s 49th birthday. He was big on adventures, and this was a quote he often used. It was at his instigation that we went on the first season of Ultimate Braaimaster, and then followed up the following year with a supercar road trip (click here for that story). He also suggested that we do Cape Epic together, but canned the idea when his behind got sore after a leisurely pedal while on holiday in Vietnam.

In the final few years of his life we had some memorable adventures together, and I’m hugely grateful to him for setting up the opportunities.

Cape Epic is an adventure. OK, it’s perhaps a bit more extreme than an adventure needs to be, but it’s one nonetheless. For the riders at the pointy end of the field it’s a race. The rest of us just want to get around safely, in a sensible amount of time, and have some fun in the process. Whether one finishes 300th, 400th or 156th is actually irrelevant. Having the adventure is what counts.

Today’s stage was a relatively user-friendly 78km, with 1650m of climbing, in a big loop around Greyton. That doesn’t mean it was an easy day, though. The field lost a few more teams, with just 538 remaining in the GC. As an indication of how testing the conditions are, one of the ‘hyenas’, Robert Vogel (a very strong rider, by the way), ended up on a drip after shepherding the tail-enders to the finish.

Most of Greyton’s trails are open to anyone with a permit. They are less congested than other parts of the Western Cape, and an excellent reason to spend a weekend out here. The singletrack sections are fun, with some challenging climbs (especially the zig-zag climb up Botmaskop). The most fun, though, was the 5km Land Rover technical section, comprising flowing singletrack from the top of the UFO climb. I was lucky to mostly have a clear run all the way down, so no need for excessive braking. This is the reason why we do this sport!

I felt strong today, but I know from experience that one doesn’t always feel strong. It’s at these times that words like “digging deep” or “Rule 5” or “hurt box” get used. Wherever one is in the field there are riders fighting their own personal battle to summon up the strength to continue.

There is nothing supernatural about endurance. It’s simply the action of taking the next step towards the goal, and the one after that. I’ve spent some time over the past three days riding in proximity to Reuben van Niekerk, who has completed three Epics. On one leg.

Whether he’s on the bike, or off it, getting around the course is many multiples harder than it is for riders with both legs. Huge respect!

I’m surrounded by acts of great courage. It’s an inspiring kind of adventure to have.

Reuben van Niekerk has completed three Cape Epics on a prosthetic leg. Barring accidents, he is on track to take his tally to four.

Reuben van Niekerk has completed three Cape Epics on a prosthetic leg. Barring accidents, he is on track to take his tally to four.