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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.

Introducing Team Sergeant Hardy

Oscar Foulkes March 11, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
Throughout my training diary there are references to the information below. With Cape Epic kicking off in a week’s time, this is the quick and dirty introduction.

Who are the riders?
Piet Viljoen (54) – a man with a declared intent of doing something every year that scares him. Amazingly, in 2017, Cape Epic isn’t it. His main target this year is Unogwaja Challenge, which will see the group cycle to Durban over 10 days and then run the Comrades Marathon. He ran his first Two Oceans Ultra in 2016, and also has several Iron Man races under his belt. Cycling, however, is his first love. While this is his first Cape Epic, he has ridden just about all the major races. I’m in awe of the training programme he has followed, in simultaneously preparing for two different endurance events.

Oscar Foulkes (50) – that’s me. I guess I have a similar attitude to endurance as Piet does, except that he is a much stronger rider. My MTB track record encompasses all the usual suspects, although they were completed at a level of intensity that seems social by comparison with Piet’s. My Cape Epic journey has an extra dose of complexity due to my breathing being impaired as a result of multiple surgeries on my vocal chords to remove tumours. And, a year ago I had just completed a six-week course of radiotherapy that saw me losing 13% of my body weight (and it’s not as if I had that spare). Cape Epic was a great motivating factor as I started the process of building up my strength.

How did we meet?
We have a number of mutual friends, and one of them introduced us after I put up an Epic-related post for Valentine’s Day.

Who or what is Sergeant Hardy?
Sergeant Hardy is a racehorse I own in partnership with my mother. She bred him, but couldn’t sell him because he was found to have a paralysed vocal chord. This is so serious a defect that it’s grounds for cancellation of sale (after the fall of hammer, nogal) at a voetstoots auction. Despite his reduced breathing capacity he has won five of his eight starts, and he is the highest rated three-year-old sprinter in the country.

Why the pink kit?
Sergeant Hardy races in my mother’s colours – vieux rose with a white sash. It was Piet’s suggestion that we name our team Sergeant Hardy, and it then followed that the kit had to match the racing colours. If anything demonstrates how much of a team player Piet is, it’s his willingness to spend a fortune on pink cycling kit that he may never wear again.

Hoarse power?
That was my son’s comment when he heard that our team is being named after a horse. Breathing isn’t the only action affected by my vocal chords.

Our Epic aspirations?
To finish every day early enough in the afternoon that we have sufficient time to recover for the next day’s riding.

Our Cape Epic kit - that is a lot of pink!

Our Cape Epic kit – that is a lot of pink!

My mother and I leading in Sergeant Hardy after his first feature race win, on Met day 2016 (pic: Equine Edge)

My mother and I leading in Sergeant Hardy after his first feature race win, on Met day 2016 (pic: Equine Edge)

Recovery

Oscar Foulkes February 26, 2019 Cape Epic No comments
When I was training for my first Cape Epic, in 2017, I posted weekly training updates. Seeing as I found my riding partner as a result of a blog post (Be My Epic Valentine), it seemed only right to continue the story. The biggest motivation, though, was to share the journey from cancer treatment to Epic.

I posted daily updates during the event, and when I took on the 2018 race I did the writing all over again.

Not that you’d know it – because I haven’t posted about it here – I’m about to do my third Epic. I’ve done all the work, but none of the writing. Theoretically, this has nothing to do with powering my bike over insanely difficult routes. And yet, this event is almost as much a mind challenge as it is a physical challenge.

Writing, I find, is an extremely valuable tool in straightening out my thinking. Last year, I had some major life changes, which I wrote about using the tag “Adventures of Re-“ (click here for them). Further life changes followed at the beginning of February this year, when my now-adult daughter and son both left home (and Cape Town) for big adventures. None of the above makes for great emotional space, with “re-“ words such as ‘relevance’ becoming more appropriate to my personal perspective than the more exciting ones. In my journey along the road of reskill, retool, and reinvent, I have gone through some very dark days.

Sticking with “re-“ words, the process has tested my resilience, not to mention depleting my resources.

What I’m getting to, is that training for Epic in this condition seems to be far harder than my first, when I was battling my way through recovery (there’s a good “re-“ word) from radiotherapy, in addition to which I didn’t realise the extent to which my breathing was impaired. The one with big physical challenges should have been harder than the one with emotional issues. From this perspective, it doesn’t seem that way.

As usual, this time there was a heavy block of training over the holiday period, between Christmas and mid-January. Basically, I rode for two days in a row and then rested for a day. Each day of riding averaged something like five or six hours. I got back from this, and went straight into riding Attakwas (not called ‘extreme’ for nothing).

I had done all the work, but my body just wasn’t firing. Something felt wrong. At the beginning of February I bailed halfway through day one of a two-day race, and then rode day two at a sedate pace. Following this, I visited my GP, who has substantial experience in participating in ultra-marathon trail running events. He took blood for a variety of tests (all clear, including liver, miraculously), and supported coach Erica Green’s prescription that I needed a break for recovery.

I did nothing for an entire week, and then started riding a little in the following week. Last week I took part in the Knysna Bull, which is a three-day race plus prologue. I got through it all fine, returning to Cape Town feeling energised, and looking forward to rolling off the start line on 17 March.

Meanwhile, my riding partner, Piet Viljoen, has been in the form of his life. In 2017, he was also training for Comrades, and last year he was training for Ironman. This year, cycling has been his sole athletic focus, with obvious effects on his strength. Fortunately, he has been extremely patient with me, demonstrating that Epic is very much a team effort between the two riders. Epic’s theme of ‘conquer as one’ is real. There have been Epic stages when I’ve been the stronger (very few, admittedly), and it could happen again in 2019. The extremeness of the physical challenge takes riders into places that one can’t predict, no matter the levels of fitness or cycling prowess.

For all the physical slog I’ve experienced, while my body has felt ‘not-right’, the one bright part has been downhills. As the front wheel of my bike drops below the rear, I am immediately connected with my happy place. During Knysna Bull, there were three different timed descents, which I rode as fast as I possibly could. I think that played a big part in me finding my mojo again. Descending is certainly not the same as slogging through a long climb or a holding on for dear life on a pacey flat section, but I’m going downhill faster than ever, and it definitely helps to lift my spirit.

This year marks a change in our team’s ‘theme’. Previously, my top-rated racehorse Sergeant Hardy was talismanic of our Cape Epic efforts, because of our shared breathing problems. He’s just had a surgical procedure to increase his breathing capacity, and will return to the track later in the year. We are sporting new kit this year, bearing the logos of investment and financial services companies in which Piet is involved. The team name, Compound Cubed, is a reference to the miracle of compounding, which is the mathematical basis for his investment wizardry.

While I don’t know for certain if not writing training updates made any difference to how I felt at the end of January, I’m now feeling excited about Cape Epic 2019. I started writing about my Epic preparation as a way of sharing the journey. Perhaps the physical act of writing was also important for my journey.

I haven’t stopped writing, I’ve just been covering different material (click here for that). In a way, this is more manifesto than the recording of an experience.

Our ‘strip’ for Cape Epic 2019.

Another happy place for me – riding Sergeant Hardy on the beach. (pic: Donna Bernhardi)

Most Epic Steeds

Oscar Foulkes October 11, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
We Cape Epic riders know that big questions will be asked of us over the event’s eight days. Until the official route announcement every September, we just don’t know the detail. But we do expect them get their pound of flesh.

Two days of extreme heat made 2017 unforgettable, ending dozens of riders’ Epic aspirations. In 2018, we had four consecutive days of 110+km (along with everything else, of course). Continuing the theme of novelty for the wrong reasons, in 2019 we’ll climb more metres per kilometre than any other Epic. Of specific concern are the days with 2650m, 2700m, 2800m and 2850m of climbing.

I’m expecting it to be my toughest Epic. If the organisers ask for theme songs for Epic 2019, I nominate Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime. Here’s a selection of a few pertinent lines:

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around

My chest is aching, burns like a furnace


I just hope there is no reason to invoke the line about “mudd club” (that’s mud with one ‘d’).

We can’t control the route, so there’s no point getting hung up about it. Rather focus on the things we can do something about, like preparation, and our own attitude while we’re suffering our way through a tough stage.

Of course, we also get to choose our weapon, in the form of the bike we ride. I was provided with a Santa Cruz Tallboy for the 2018 Epic (read more about that here). I love its ability to comfortably negotiate just about any gnarly or technical terrain. Riding the Tallboy did wonders for building my confidence.

Since April, I’ve been riding the Santa Cruz Blur, a handy extension to their family of downhill and cross country bikes. It weighs 10kg (or slightly less), which makes it the bike that Sir Isaac Newton would have chosen if he was riding Cape Epic in 2019 (assuming, of course, that he could be teleported from the 17th century, and squeeze himself into Lycra).

Riding a bike that light is a game changer when there’s a lot of climbing to be done. Actually, it’s a game changer on the flat as well, but there won’t be much of that in 2019.

While on the subject of lightness, I lifted a time trial bike when was at my local bike shop a few weeks ago. I swear it weighed kilograms more than my Blur, which was a big surprise.

A lot of climbing means there’s also a lot of descending, much of which will be technical. This is where the Santa Cruz downhill pedigree comes into play. Riding a Tallboy for five months definitely upped my confidence levels (it’s pretty much bullet proof). My riding changed thanks to the Tallboy; on the Blur I’m descending as fast, if not faster, than on the Tallboy.

The Blur is also great on nippy singletrack that has many twists and turns, because its lightness makes it very responsive to small shifts in body weight.

The name of the Blur is a reference to its speed. However, in the way it handles technical terrain, it blurs the traditional lines between cross country and marathon bikes (take a look at Oli Munnik throwing it around in the video alongside).

Last week, on a gentle Zone 2 ride, I passed a rider on a downhill bike as I hit the gravel at the end of Tafelberg Road. Even though it was an ‘easy’ day, my plan was to go full-gas on the descent to Vredehoek. He seemed to be having some casual fun, but clearly caught the bug, because I had him on my tail all the way down (huge trust from him to ride at pace, this close to someone of unknown skills). It was an exhilarating dash, especially with the drier weather having left the corners very loose and gravelly.

To some extent, it was a case of taking a knife to a gunfight, but the Blur acquitted itself extremely well.

When I was researching bikes before my first Epic I may have mentioned a couple of technical specs of one bike to Oli. “How does the bike feel?” he asked me. I realised that I was already doing that. I just didn’t trust myself to base a big decision on that.

Since then, and making allowance for my very average abilities on a bike, I’ve become more aware of ‘feel’. So, while the Blur is on a par with Tallboy in the way it handles technical stuff, how it feels is different. On the Blur, I feel a closer connection with the trail, and yes, I do have to ride it slightly differently.

While on the subject of ‘feel’, last week I rode Sergeant Hardy for the first time. You can click here for more detail, but the short version is that he’s a racehorse I own in partnership with my mother. We both have impaired breathing (that’s where the similarities end, unfortunately), but despite this handicap he was one of the top-rated sprinters in the world earlier this year. Our Epic team is called Hoarse Power because of him, and he has been talismanic for our mountain biking exploits.

Sitting on his back while walking through the waves on the beach is one of the most memorable physical experiences I’ve ever had. The feel was extraordinary – and that was without even breaking into a canter.

In horse racing, Newton’s Second Law can be applied to calculate the difference in result when the weight carried by the horse changes (i.e. jockey and saddle). Sergeant Hardy weighs more than 550kg, and yet a kilo or two in weight carried makes a significant difference over 1200m.

I’ll be around 76kg when I ride Epic, which covers much bigger distances. The lightest bike makes a big difference to how much effort I’ll expend in getting around the route.

A Blur, a Blur! My kingdom for a Blur!*

*with apologies to Shakespeare

(Disclosure: I have the use of a Santa Cruz Blur, but have not been offered any inducements or rewards to say nice things. This is 100% about the bike getting under my skin.)

Riding a different kind of ‘tall boy’ – me on Sergeant Hardy.

Adventures of Re: May

Oscar Foulkes June 5, 2018 Adventures of Re- No comments
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

– Dr Seuss

During my conversation with Heather Parker (read about it here), she mentioned that in addition to her executive MBA, she had also trained as a life coach. On the basis that I wouldn’t dream of tackling Cape Epic without a coach, I felt that this important process similarly needed a coach.

At the end of the day, the coachee is the person doing the work and making things happen, but it helps to have the structure of a process, as well as an outside pair of eyes to help find perspective.

At Heather’s instigation, one of the first steps was to do an Enneagram test. The results generally fell within the parameters of what I thought I knew about myself, but also opened my eyes to a few things. These were overlaid with the outcomes of the ‘purpose exercise’ she shared with me. This was used to get a rough outline in place.

In the spirit of active recovery, I made contact with a friend who runs an NGO. It turns out that this organisation is about to embark on a radical reinvention process. My friend immediately included me in a bunch of meetings related to their intended changes. It remains to be seen how I can contribute (it’s looking to me as if they are pretty well resourced from a skilled humans perspective), but it’s been exciting to witness the emergence of something as revolutionary as they are planning. It’s certainly been an eye-opener to experience the openness with which I’ve been included.

One of the benefits of this interaction is that it’s giving me the opportunity of trying out the ‘wild card role’ that I’ve often been drawn by, and which seems to be indicated by the Enneagram results.

Regardless of self-indulgent reinvention processes, one needs income. One of the commercial enterprises I identified was pinhooking, essentially the purchase of yearling Thoroughbreds, with the aim of selling them as early two-year-olds on a Ready to Run sale, which is something I’ve done on a small scale before. I’m doing this as part of a partnership, so that I can get something of a portfolio in place to spread the risk. We did most of our buying in April, but during May we also bought a weanling that we’ll sell as a yearling in January. The downside, of course, is that the income is preceded by expenditure, but at least it’s a start.

A major positive is that I don’t need to take on the risk of starting a fully-fledged business. And, it flows naturally from existing skills, knowledge and experience.

Horses also feature in my interim plan, by way of Sergeant Hardy and others. The month started hopefully, with Sergeant Hardy contesting a major race in Johannesburg. Being the top-rated sprinter in the country, and having won a similar race at the end of January, I had high hopes of him finishing in the money. However, altitude seemed to get the better of him, and he ran unplaced.

The one thing I can say for certainty about the ‘business’ of owning horses is that one lives in hope. Over the seven-day period from 26 May, we had six runners. Four of them were favourites (i.e. the top selection in the betting), including Sergeant Hardy. There’s no need to go into the details of what happened in each case, but the end result was two fifths and two fourths. The positive is that each of them must be close to being winning prospects next time out. Well, that’s the hope.

It can be tempting to give in to the embrace of depression. It doesn’t take much more than some sleep deprivation, perhaps combined with a broken exercise pattern and a couple of things that haven’t turned out as expected. Before you know it, your brain has started to assemble confirmatory negative thoughts. While cycling on Sunday morning, I noticed my brain doing this. In response, I made a concerted effort to snap out of it. I don’t mean to trivialise the situation of people for whom depression is an illness. However, I’d be failing this process and accompanying journal if I didn’t report those feelings, however temporary.

One of my coffee sessions during the month was with Vanessa Raphaely, who left her position as Cosmopolitan editor, not to mention the structure/comfort of family business, to find a new direction. Her advice boiled down to two words: “Just do.”

In the course of ‘just doing’, she has written a children’s book and a novel. But perhaps her biggest achievement over the past few years is a Facebook group, The Village, which is a brilliant resource for parents of tweens and teenagers. It must rank as one of the very few parts of the Internet where comments are made in huge quantity without even the slightest bit of trolling, flaming or hate speech. In fact, it may be the online world’s most supportive space, which could explain its growth to nearly 20 000 members, a high percentage of whom engage on a regular basis.

“Just do” also happens to be a perfect antidote to the states of mind that most easily slide into depression’s dark embrace. More importantly, by ‘doing’ we take the first steps into the future.

In theory, this woolly chap is going to develop into a strapping yearling by late January.

In theory, this woolly chap is going to develop into a strapping yearling by late January, earning us a profit.

Epic 2018: Hoarse Power

Oscar Foulkes March 26, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
Every Stage of Epic, whether long or short, has its own challenges. In the case of the final one, from Wellington to Val de Vie, the pressure point was doing more than half the day’s climbing in the first 18km. Piet and I had agreed that we’d ride this at a manageable pace, expecting to suffer for anything up to two hours, and then see what we’ve got left in the tank.

I woke up on the Sunday morning noticing that my legs were considerably less painful than they’d been all week. Good start.

We were also blessed with a cool start to the day, thanks to overnight drizzle and remaining cloud cover. Also good.

Due to the obscene amount of climbing, the start operated as batches of three groups all going off together. It wasn’t long before we got into the climbing. I need to understand the phenomenon a bit better, but there is something quite different to the pain at the start of a day than at the end. To take my mind off it, in my head I replayed a video I’d been sent the day before, of Sergeant Hardy taking a roll in the sand (posted on my Instagram account).

The top of the Hawequas climb is just below Du Toitskloof Pass, which is a long way up when you look at it from the perspective of the valley floor, and the slopes are steep. There was a group of drummers at the end point of the climb, who could be heard from a long way away. That was cool.

Due to traffic on the descent, we couldn’t make as much use of the free miles as we might have wanted to, but at least we were no longer climbing. Shortly after the first water point there was another significant climb, and then we were into a route profile one could describe as rolling hills.

From the second water point to the end was a distance of about 30km. However, the final bit was all downhill or flat, so we effectively had just over 20km to the end. Once again, I was like a horse on its way back to the stable. I didn’t mind taking the pain of riding hard on hills, because they weren’t long climbs, and were followed by descents. This was not only recovery time, but also additional opportunity to pass other riders, especially when the terrain was making them think about what lines to take.

We may have passed 50 or more teams between the second water point and the top of the final climb. I was in the red, but unlike the previous stage when I had desperately been clinging to Piet’s back wheel, this time I was setting the pace (being in the driver’s seat does make a difference). I suspect I may not have been able to do it if that stretch had all been on the flat. The undulations gave me recovery time, and letting the Tallboy loose on the downhills got the adrenaline going.

Then we reached the section I’d been waiting for since the start of Epic. The Land Rover Technical Terrain for Stage 8, called Bone Rattler, is a zig-zag descent that ends at the entrance to Pearl Valley. The terrain of the final zags comprises rocks of varying sizes, up to baby head and slightly bigger. I pedalled hard at the top of the hill to get momentum, pointed the Tallboy, and released brakes. The bike is made for that stuff, and handled beautifully.

Then it was just a case of getting across the finish line.

Last year, Piet pulled me up Franschhoek Pass. Over the final 20km I was just going through the motions. It made a big difference to reach the end of Epic feeling the strongest I’d felt all week. If this isn’t proof of Erica Green’s excellent coaching then I don’t know what is.

On every stage, we moved up the GC, ending just below mid-point in the field. Considering that my participation was in doubt 10 days before the start, and that the final month of preparation was interrupted by injury, I’m delighted with the outcome. But regardless of GC position, it was a great week on the bike.

However, it’s not just about the bike. Cape Epic is a team sport, and as a partner Piet is investment grade. My top tip for people contemplating Epic is to make sure you have the right partner. I don’t know how one assesses this stuff in advance, because I got lucky.

Of course, none of this would be possible without my family completely embracing this project, and giving me the support and time to do it. Thank you!

P.S. Being a noisy breather, especially when the going gets tough, results in a wide range of comments from other riders. At the top of a particularly difficult climb this week, Piet asked me how I was. “I’m breathing”, was my answer, indicating that at that point I was capable of the bare minimum of biological activity to sustain life. The sounds of my laboured breathing suggested I was inhaling more than my fair share, because quick as a flash, a rider close by pipes up: “Leave some oxygen for us!”

Team Hoarse Power (pic: Amanda Bloch)

Team Hoarse Power (pic: Amanda Bloch)

Epic 2018: Taking the Tallboy line

Oscar Foulkes March 19, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
There are all kinds of issues related to riding 110km Cape Epic stages. From the perspective of this daily update, however, the major consideration is that getting in after 2.30pm doesn’t leave a lot of time for penning something worthwhile. I’ll leave the rest of the issues to your imagination.

I’m going to start with the obvious, given that the race village at Arabella occupies the Normandy Stud paddocks in which Sergeant Hardy frolicked as a foal. For those of you new to the story, Sergeant Hardy is the breathing impaired horse I race in partnership with my mother. On Sun Met day, he beat the best sprinters in the country, and was last week included in the Longines-sponsored list of The World’s Best Racehorses. Our Epic kit is inspired by my mother’s racing colours (worn by the jockey when Sergeant Hardy races). The Hoarse Power printed on our cycling shorts ties together my own breathing issues and medical history with that of Sergeant Hardy (although unlike me, he is a proper athlete).

Nostalgia made further appearances this morning, when we cycled through Excelsior, which is where I spent a big chunk of my childhood. And later we rode through Piet’s brother’s farm, Steenboksvlakte.

Today’s stage started at quite a pace – we ticked off the first 15km in 30 minutes, and the pace stayed pretty steady until we hit the first big climb. The Land Rover technical zone was the descent from this climb. As we entered it, there was a group of riders ahead of us. Getting past them required the application of what I call The Tallboy Line (with apologies to golfers who make use of The Tiger Line). In case you hadn’t guessed, this required some off-piste cycling over terrain that would generally be avoided. Unless you’re riding a Santa Cruz Tallboy, of course.

Once we got past these riders, it was pretty much full gas over some pretty gnarly terrain. Such fun!

A bit later, we were able to repeat the exercise from the top of the Skuilkrans climb, passing something like 20 teams in the process. Again, this required regular use of The Tallboy Line, on the rockiest, steepest, off-camber parts of the track. There doesn’t seem to be a segment for this on Strava. I did promise that ego would not make an appearance today, but it would have been interesting to see how us schleppers at the rear of the field stacked up against the more talented riders in groups ahead.

I did a blog post when researching bikes for Epic (click here to read it). Given my breathing difficulties, I was more concerned about having a bike that made up for my breathing (along the lines of an Iron Lung). I’ve learnt that being assisted in descending quickly can be as valuable. And, even if it doesn’t translate into a shorter time out on the road, letting rip on the Tallboy is a huge amount of fun.

We ended the day comfortably within our budget of seven hours (with about 20 minutes to spare). Three long days await, so this afternoon we’re deep into recovery mode.

Sergeant Hardy returns to the winner's enclosure after the Cape Flying Championship

Sergeant Hardy returns to the winner’s enclosure after the Cape Flying Championship

Epic 2018: Paddock time

Oscar Foulkes February 19, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
During the week I was sent a little video of Sergeant Hardy in the paddock at the Snaiths’ farm. After three races in five weeks he earned the break from full training! Interestingly, his ‘paddock buddy’ is Copper Force, which nearly beat Legal Eagle in the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate.

This week I also received my training schedule leading up to Cape Epic. Apart from the fact that I need to recover from Tankwa Trek, Erica thought she saw indications of fatigue in my Wattbike stats. Admittedly, I may have recovered from some of this in the extended taper leading up to Tankwa Trek, but she’s taking no chances. As she put it to me, “rather a week off now, than in two weeks’ time.” In a sense, I’m having my own version of ‘paddock time’.

I didn’t expect to feel fresh on my gentle Wednesday morning pedal, but I knew that I needed to get it out of the way.

I was supposed to do an easy 70km on the road on Saturday. Instead, I spent just about the entire day on the road, except that I was driving from one chore to the next.

I met up with Piet for Sunday’s 80km on the road. We rode from Camps Bay, setting off at quite a pace. On the approach to Llandudno I realised that my heart rate was way too high for the type of ride intended. While I backed off, Piet chased down an ebike (ever the wheel chaser!). I managed to keep it sensible going up Chapman’s Peak, but allowed myself to get a little carried away on Black Hill. I pushed a few watts as my heart rate peaked at 172 bpm.

At the bottom of Black Hill, we turned left on Main Road, taking advantage of road closures for the Peninsula Marathon. I was intrigued to see the runner carrying the flag for sub-5:00 running solo. Had he out-run his bus, or had they out-run him? Or was no-one interested in running sub-5:00?

Later we passed a group of riders on Coco-Mat bikes. The collective noun for a group of cyclists is a peloton. If they are riding on wooden bikes (as these were), does it become a grove? Orchard, I’m assuming, would only apply if the wood used for the bike construction came from a fruit-bearing tree.

We completed just over 78km in exactly three hours, which qualifies as recovery pace.

With four weeks to Epic, my attention now turns to the wine list (you can read about our 2017 wine list here). Given that we’re doing a mountain bike race, the theme for this year’s list is wineries (or wines) with mountain/berg in the name. Mont would be the French equivalent (not be confused with mons, although the two words have similar etymology). We’re taking a broad view on this one, allowing words denoting parts of mountains, like Côte (slope).

If the temperatures in 2018 are anything like 2017, wine from Côte Rôtie (roasted slope) would be entirely appropriate!

We passed a group of these wooden bikes on Sunday (would that be a grove of them?)

We passed a group of these wooden bikes on Sunday (would that be a grove of them?)

Epic 2018: Dreams & Plans

Oscar Foulkes January 29, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
“A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline.”

Completing the Absa Cape Epic is the living embodiment of this quotation by Harvey Mackay. I should add that it’s a highly manageable goal. While preparation is less time-consuming than most people would think (for riders in the middle of the field, few weeks need to exceed 10 to 12 hours of training), it’s critical that the hours are applied according to a plan. “There is magic in process” was my motto for Epic 2017 training, because following a process delivers results (as long as the process has both a plan and a deadline).

My aim with these weekly training reports has been to share the journey, because the “eight days of courage” that comprise the event are just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. And, while it’s less of a factor this year than my preparation for 2017, I’ve had to overcome some substantial physiological impediments in achieving the dream.

Long rides – such as those I did in the base training during my holidays – are certainly important. However, the keys to a training programme that is going to take just 10 or 12 hours per week are the high quality interval sessions. Last year, I did almost all of them on a bike, but this year the majority have been on Wattbike. The beauty of the Wattbike is that the entire session is 100% measurable, and there’s nothing like measurability to turn plans to reality.

The Wattbike, once again, made a starring appearance in the week’s training, with six by six-minute hill repeats on Tuesday, followed by Erica’s Epic Intervals on Thursday. I’m sworn to secrecy as to the composition of these intervals, but both Wattbike sessions did a pretty good job of reducing me to something close to jelly.

Having so emphatically made a point about sticking to training plans, I’m about to contradict myself, by telling you how I deviated from the plan this weekend. I couldn’t ride on Saturday, because of being involved in supporting the management of Sun Met hospitality in the grandstand. And, having been on my feet all day on Saturday (with many flights of stairs climbed), my legs weren’t exactly in pristine condition when I rode on Sunday.

I had made an arrangement to show some of the Val de Vie riders the Prologue route. While it passes very close to my house, we met at the Rhodes Memorial entrance in order to attack it from the correct end. This year, Cape Epic asked riders to submit an expected completion time for the Prologue, which I’m assuming is going to lead to some kind of seeding. For those still in doubt of a time (although the deadline for submission may have passed), I can tell you that we took about 90 minutes, riding quite slowly in parts, and with several minutes of stoppage.

Bear in mind that an extra five or ten minutes spent on Prologue makes little difference to the overall finish position of those of us who will make up the bulk of the field. However, the residual effect of riding in the red to make up five minutes during Prologue can have a disproportionate negative effect on the stages that follow.

The Prologue route is pretty straightforward, with the exception of the Plum Pudding singletrack that is looking particularly sketchy at the moment. There are two short, steep climbs on the City Bowl side that are slightly lung busting, and potentially problematic if someone stops just ahead of you.

We then rode the big Southern Suburbs loop to Tokai. The ride didn’t start until 8.00, we’d ridden slower than usual, and people had commitments to get to, so we ended at 57km when we got back to our vehicles.

The result was that I didn’t do all I was required to last week, but I’m guessing (hoping!) that Erica was expecting a little leeway when she set up the programme. For example, I could have had a few days off ill (which I haven’t).

Returning to dreams. The probability of breeding or owning a top racehorse can be improved, but it remains a pursuit in which uncertainty needs to feature as a key component of the planning. Horse racing is a sport that runs on dreams, and my personal one has centred on Sergeant Hardy, particularly because his story bears relationship to mine (purely the breathing impairment, not athletic ability, I should stress).

Given the way that the Sergeant Hardy story has formed so much a part of my Epic journey, I need to share with you the wonderful news that on Saturday he beat South Africa’s best sprinters in the Grade I Cape Flying Championship.

Dreams are fine for horses, but getting to the finish line of Cape Epic takes real work. Thanks to Erica’s training programme, my body is feeling in great shape. With the Prologue deadline looming just seven weeks away, I need to keep it that way!

Sergeant Hardy returns to the winner's enclosure after the Cape Flying Championship

Sergeant Hardy returns to the winner’s enclosure after the Cape Flying Championship (pic: Donna Bernhardi)


Daniel Saaiman, the resident photographer for Val de Vie, put together these snippets from our ride on Sunday.

Epic 2018: Another Kind of Tall Boy

Oscar Foulkes December 24, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
With the Western Cape being in the midst of the worst drought in decades, it’s become a badge of compliance to drive a dirty car. The same goes for bikes – although the chain should be kept clear of grit to prolong its life.

With this in mind, I’m loving the light brown colour of my Santa Cruz Tallboy. Officially, it’s ‘rust’, which is not something one would normally associate with a carbon frame. Be that as it may, a light coating of dust suits its bush credentials perfectly.

Given my equine interests, I’ve taken to calling the colour ‘light bay’.

Sticking with horses, Sergeant Hardy is a giant in both achievement and physical appearance, standing a good few inches taller than his competitors. He’s definitely a ‘tall boy’!

On Saturday, Sergeant Hardy made light work of near-top weight, charging home in the feature race at Kenilworth. The second horse carried 9kg less (that’s almost the weight of a Tallboy), which equates to about six lengths. January will be a busy month for him, with the Cape’s most important sprint races coming up on the 13th and 27th. Having him on point for both of those will be an impressive training feat by Justin Snaith.

Erica has no such concerns with me, although in some respects my training objective is similar to Sergeant Hardy’s, in that we both need to be super-fit to lessen the impact of impaired breathing. The current part of my training programme is all about base training – long, slow distance, most of it on the road.

On Saturday, I did a 95km spin to Simon’s Town, and on Sunday, an 80km run out to Koeberg and back. For me, there isn’t a whole lot of fun in this kind of riding. In addition, I’ve decided that my road bike is uncomfortable to the point of me having to be Stoic just to sit on the damn thing after pedalling for a couple of hours.

I may end up doing most of my base training on the Tallboy, which is an extremely comfortable ride.

Comfortable, on the other hand, is not how one would describe Piet at the prospect of wearing the Sergeant Hardy-inspired pink kit we wore for Epic 2017.

It’s not the colour of the bike, nor the kit, that makes a difference. There is work to be done…

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Sergeant Hardy's South Easter Sprint

Sergeant Hardy’s South Easter Sprint