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Cape Epic

Some People vs Most People

Oscar Foulkes October 23, 2018 Cape Epic, Uncategorized No comments
I have sat through many extremely dull and unnecessary race briefings during mountain biking stage races. As farm manager Rickus Jooste put it while doing duty during The U, the fit and skilled riders will say afterwards, “What were you talking about, that was easy.” The unfit and unskilled will say, “Jeez, they didn’t say it would be this difficult.”

But, it helps to know – basically – what to expect. In his dry, understated way, Rickus prefaced his route briefing by putting up a slide of a bell-shaped curve, recording the previous year’s results. The fastest and slowest riders were annotated “some people”, sandwiching the main part of the curve, which was labelled “most people”. Along with a few other dry-as-Swartland-in-summer comments, it quickly descended into the funniest race briefing I’ve ever attended.

He repeated the humour on the second night when using dance/music videos to illustrate the need for “rhythm and flow”. The all hips and generally loose bodies in Uptown Funk were juxtaposed with a wooden Theresa May doing her wooden best to sashay onto the stage to strains of Dancing Queen.

The some/most people comparison could equally be applied to pretty much the entire event.

It’s the kind of outlier experience that one hesitates telling others about, because you don’t want to put pressure on the 200 available slots for the following year’s event. However, when as much thoughtful attention to detail has gone into the planning and execution, it is only right to heap praise. They deserve nothing less than deep and profuse expressions of gratitude.

It was striking how much more peaceful the event was with just 200 riders, as opposed to the 1200+ of Wines2Whales or Cape Epic. There was no sense that we were in the middle of a hyped-up jamboree. This was about great trails, a stunning setting beside the dam, country hospitality, and the fellowship of keen mountain bikers. The closest one can get to the same experience is by doing the Imana Wild Ride.

There are very few parts of The U that follow jeep tracks or farm roads. This is all about trails that have been finessed through the fynbos. Of course it took a lot of work, but it’s generally a case of accommodating rocks and protea bushes, or finding a way uphill that doesn’t involve going straight over the top. There’s a lot of twisting and turning, and at times it almost felt as if the trail had been routed to specially traverse flat rock outcrops, of which there are many.

One has to concentrate all the time, watching for rocks in the trail, or the ones adjacent that could snag either pedals or handlebars. Some turns or passages are extremely tight.

With all these mini obstacles, one is often required to apply a little extra power. Also, due to corners sometimes being taken a little slower than usual, extra power is required when exiting. The Piket-Bo-Berg (PBB) trails also have more switchbacks than any other route I’ve ridden – getting up and around the tight, steep turns is also power hungry. As a result, a large number of riders (myself included) cramped on day one, and I was in danger of cramping for much of day two.

Liberal use has been made of bridges that keep the trail flowing across parts of the mountain where there is no trail.

Due to the technical terrain of the PBB trails, downhills are seldom free miles, but man oh man, are they fun to ride!

I don’t want to scare people off, because it’s all rideable (by “most people”), but there might have been more technical stuff in the two days of The U than in all the stages of the two Epics I’ve ridden. There are certainly more switchbacks.

I’ve never been a confident rider of downhill switchbacks. Eventually I was riding pretty much all of them. What helped was having secure berms on the outsides, in just another example of sensational trail building at work. I’m hoping my switchback riding has turned the corner (I promise I didn’t mean that as a pun).

This is not quick riding – if we rode Epic at the same pace we rode The U (and we were “most people”) we would be in danger of not making cut-off.

The landscapes we rode through – and viewed from afar, generally up high – are spectacular. Given that the PBB trails can only be ridden during an organised event, of which there are just two per year, one must grab those opportunities when they come along.

I need to make mention of the catering, which falls into the “some events” category. The lunches were in the style of Ottolenghi – mostly vegetarian, with loads of fresh, crunchy things – which might not have been to the taste of “most people”, but I loved it. Dinners were tasty, if somewhat under-catered from a quantity perspective, especially considering how many calories we were burning on the trails. Breakfasts were fine, although curiously lacking in butter for the bread.

The orange juice station involved two fruit bins of oranges from the farm plonked next to the juicer. Can’t get fresher than this!

Truth Coffee did a roaring trade, as well as CBC beers, the delicious Piekenierskloof wines and the Sugarbird gin. Pura’s “adult sodas” were handed out as we crossed the finishing line.

Race medals comprised little handmade wire bicycles. The organisers’ attention to detail showed in the bike boards on these miniatures being printed with the actual number of the rider receiving them.

Back to real bikes (of the carbon variety) – our Santa Cruz Blurs performed very well. I got pushed beyond my comfort zone a few times, but that was more about what was happening in my head. I had more than enough bike for the job. While the Blur might have been pitched as a marathon bike when it was launched, it is so much more than that.

I urge you to work your way through Chris Hitchcock’s event pictures on the PBB trails Facebook page.

These are “some trails”.

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.

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: Fun Day

Oscar Foulkes March 24, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
We’ve made a point of riding relatively conservatively to ensure that we don’t blow up on the early stages. However, whatever we kept in reserve was liberally distributed over the Wellington landscape this morning. Piet rode with a sense of urgency from the moment we rolled across the start line. It would not be inaccurate to say that he was in a ‘galloping mood’. I was solidly in the red all day, as I desperately clung to his back wheel (or as close as could be described as being on his wheel).

Descents were the only time I was able to recover just a little, and then Piet would unceremoniously toss me straight back into the pain cave.

We did a total of 2000m of climbing, so there was a lot of lung busting going on, but I do need to make special mention of a climb called the Green Mamba, which is a similar gradient to the final part of the Big Tree climb to Tafelberg Road, except that it’s 1.6km long instead of 200m.

The Green Mamba climb was just after the first water point, which we reached soon after the sublime experience of riding down the 2.5km Rollercoaster without any traffic to slow us down. For a few minutes I was able to forget all the hardships that Cape Epic has thrown at us this week.

We also rode large sections of the Welvanpas singletrack, although not in the usual configuration. I need to make special mention of the True Grit section, which is a very rocky piece of singletrack that runs behind the old stables on Doolhof.

Completely coincidentally, we entered it just behind another team in which both riders were also on Santa Cruz. Given that every second bike on Epic is a Specialized of some description, this was a rare sight. True Grit is Tallboy territory – there were a couple of times that I picked the least ideal of the lines available to me (read: should have ended in a fall), but I got through fine.

Much of the singletrack we’ve ridden this week (especially getting to, and from, Worcester) was just hard work. The trails were rode today were a heap of fun. We worked for the downhill fun in the climbing we did, but this sport is called mountain biking, after all.

Thanks to Piet’s pacesetting, we had our best stage finish, and crept a few more spots up the GC. The main thing, though, is that we had fun and finished in one piece, ready for the final push to Val de Vie.

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 3.59.33 PM

Epic 2018: This ain’t no party

Oscar Foulkes March 23, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
When the 2018 Epic route was announced, there must have been widespread rejoice at the 39km of Stage Five. A chorus of “rest day!” was heard in coffee shops around the land (you know, the ones that have so many bikes parked against railings that access is nigh impossible).

Then reality started sinking in. Almost all the 1430m of climbing in the first 28km, with the final dose being delivered by way of the Seven Peaks trail. There’s a cut-off time of slightly over four hours. And don’t forget that it’s coming immediately after roughly 450km over four consecutive days.

Today dawned bright and clear. Neither cloud nor breeze made an appearance to mitigate the effects of late summer sun in the oven that is Wellington. The top riders set off in the relative coolth soon after sunrise. Our start time (9:58) ensured that we would finish at around 1:00, in the heat of the day.

All I did was walk to the start, and sweat was already pouring off me. Riders huddled in scant shade, desperate to remain cool for as long as possible.

We rolled off the start line, pedalling out of the race village at a sedate pace. The brief from Coach Erica was not to ride on heart rate, but rather on ‘feel’ (every day on Epic drops riders’ heart rates a little). The first little climb on tar was hard on the legs, and then we entered farmland. The climbs came thick and fast, with too-brief recovery flats and descents in between. We more-or-less stuck to the plan of keeping it conservative, but many of those ‘testers’ were so steep that effort was required to get up them. I was in too much discomfort to feel gratified that the effort was translating into passing teams that had started ahead of us.

By the time we covered 18km we’d already climbed 900m. In the words of Talking Heads:
This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around

I drained two bottles before we hit the water point at 20km. There was temporary respite, and then the climbing started all over again.

Seven Peaks may be one of the most depressing climbs in the Western Cape, because every time you round a corner, thinking that you’ve finally beaten this thing, you see riders on the hillside above. It’s relevant to point out that the chain of riders takes the form of a zig-zag reaching up the mountainside. You just know you’re in for a tough time.

Suffering eventually comes to an end. We reached the top, and then descended via Cool Runnings, eventually getting to the finish roughly three hours after starting.

We continued our pattern of gaining GC positions on every stage. We’re now halfway in the Grand Masters, but I can’t see us getting to halfway on the overall GC.

This week has flown, probably because of the length of stages one to four. Basically, our days have consisted of waking up early, eating breakfast, getting everything ready to start riding, and then riding until early afternoon. Thereafter, it’s a rush to hydrate and eat, drop bikes for wash and service, shower, followed by rest. By this time it’s supper, and bedtime is soon thereafter. Repeat for four days.

Tomorrow and Sunday are cooler days, which is a blessing, because Wellington and Paarl can get really hot. While both days are significantly shorter than stages one to four, we have 2000m of climbing on both days. Knowing how steep the mountains are around here makes me aware of the need to respect what awaits.

Just one of many climbs today (pic: Greg Beadle/Cape Epic)

Just one of many climbs today (pic: Greg Beadle/Cape Epic)

Epic 2018: Hou bene, hou

Oscar Foulkes March 22, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
I wrote yesterday about the spectators along the route. The majority of them have some kind of vested interest in the race, but given the routing through farms and past schools, at various points we also have the wives and children of farm workers. Apart from the kids pleading for “sweeties”, the standard chorus of encouragement is “hou bene, hou.”

The translation is something along the lines of “hold legs, hold” or “last legs, last.”

Legs were top of mind for me last night. Every time I moved in my sleep I could feel my legs complaining about being forced to pedal me around the Cape Epic course. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get through the Queen Stage.

The first 10km this morning were mostly on the flat, and were done at quite a lick. First we were on a stony gravel road, mostly riding into the wind. Then we were on a tar road, and then back onto gravel, before entering vineyards.

One of the strengths of Piet on a bicycle (there are numerous) is his ability to ride strategically, especially in picking riders to sit behind. The windy conditions made that a necessity, and we got pulled along very nicely.

Once in the vineyards, we started hitting sand patches. Riding through them is also a ‘technical’ skill (although not often on riders’ practice schedules). We managed to negotiate them fairly well, passing many riders in the process.

Erica’s Epic Intervals were designed with the Goudini-Slanghoek section in mind, but I thought they were particularly useful in helping my legs deal with the particular type of pedalling required in sand.

The route deviated into numerous singletrack sections on the mountainsides between Rawsonville and the start of Bain’s Kloof. They were mostly rocky, sandy and unsculpted, resulting in slow progress. A lot of walking was being done.

As expected, the singletrack climb (and descent) starting at Goudini Spa was extremely tough, and also took a long time to get through. There was a welcome water point soon after this, and then the route (once again) took a detour up a gratuitous hill with gnarly terrain. The gnarliness continued until the final waterpoint at the base of Bain’s Kloof, and then the slog started.

Yes, it was on tar, and the gradient isn’t steep, but it seemed to take forever to get to the top. At various points we had a stiff head wind. Eventually we crested (slightly earlier than indicated by the route profile, which must be a first for Cape Epic). Due to head winds, we were having to pedal quite hard to get some speed on the downhill.

About halfway down, we were diverted onto a big gravel descent above Doolhof. Piet graciously let me lead, and in the exhilaration of the descent, I seemed to find my mojo again. It helped that we started overtaking other teams for the first time since starting the Bain’s Kloof climb.

We reached Welvanpas with less than 10km to go, and then had to do some more climbing. With about 5km to go, it seemed all downhill (well, there was a steep descent just ahead of me). At this point, the Tallboy took charge, especially when it spotted another couple of teams just ahead.

Without turning to check with Piet that he was fine with it, I sped up (or, as he put it me at the finish, I behaved like a racehorse that knows it’s headed for home). We passed those riders, and then close to the finish I spotted another few teams ahead. By now, all aches and pains were forgotten; in a completely misdirected and pointless moment of flamboyance I sprinted for 364th position, which is a big improvement on all our stage finishes thus far. Partnership counseling isn’t a premium service currently offered by Cape Epic, but if there were I’d be signing up tonight.

My top tip to average Epic riders (like us) is to start conservatively, and to just ride at a comfortable, steady pace. Thanks to this – and Piet’s strategic riding – we’ve consistently gained positions on every stage since Prologue.

The Time Trial tomorrow will be interesting, and then we have two stages that are more sensible in length.

Hou bene hou!

The route profile.

The route profile.

Epic 2018: Stage Three

Oscar Foulkes March 21, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
No Cape Epic has had successive ‘long’ days like the first four stages of this year’s race. The demands of four days in the vicinity of 110km or further has probably been the main incentive driving riders to ‘do the work’. I know it has been top of mind for me.

Today, being the longest, had a special place in my apprehensions. We rode the stage at an average speed comfortably in excess of 18 km/h. Even at that pace, which for me used to seem like an impossible speed to maintain over long distances, 123km took us six-and-three-quarter hours. That’s a long time to be on a bicycle, regardless of conditions.

Once again, the route designers found all kinds of twists and turns. These, I should add, were mostly detours up the slopes of the Langeberg that line the route. Imagine the mountains representing a wave, and the route as a surfer carving his way up the wave to extend the ride.

Starting at Arabella, just 10km by road from Robertson, we rode about 40km before we could finally say that we were en route to Worcester. There was a similar detour between the final two water points, and then another after the last one.

On the plus side, I discovered parts of the valley of my childhood that I never knew existed. By way of aches and pains, I’m similarly being alerted to parts of my body to which I haven’t given a thought for ages.

The prevailing southerly wind was occasionally a headwind, but it was mostly at our backs, for which we were enormously grateful.

The spectator support all the way along the route has been magnificent. One woman popped up in so many different locations today we thought she might have a twin.

Our own support crew was on the start line this morning, having cooked an extensive dinner for us last night. Perhaps frustrated at our early departure for bed, they apparently ‘made quite a night of it’. Piet and I might have had an easier time getting through the day than some of them, but that didn’t stop them cheering with maximum enthusiasm at various points.

There is a lot of apprehension about tomorrow’s stage. Once that’s behind us we can hopefully all start to relax a bit.

My massage awaits. I hope it doesn’t hurt too much.

We managed to have some fun along the way today as well (thank you for the pic, Amanda).

We managed to have some fun along the way today as well (thank you for the pic, Amanda).

Epic 2018: “Nobody Feels Any Pain”

Oscar Foulkes March 20, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
The theme for our Cape Epic wine list last year was wines from the regions we rode through. This time, the name of the wine has to have the word ‘mountain’ or equivalent in other languages.

Piet is the resident playlist compiler, and assembled an Epic playlist along similar lines. Yes, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough does feature. You get the picture.

So this morning, when I was still motivating myself to get a cup of coffee together, the first lyrics that came out of the speakers were “Nobody feels any pain.” I laughed loudly (laughter at any point on an Epic day is a good thing), thinking that this was Piet’s occasionally off-beat sense of humour making an appearance. It turned out that this wasn’t on the playlist, and we quickly switched over to some banging Foo Fighters and Green Day. Our camper van is not a rock-free zone.

Even if it was inadvertent, there is a message in this. Everyone in the field feels pain, from the leaders to the Hyenas following the stragglers. The point is what one does with the pain. Barring crashes or technicals, getting to the finish requires the ability to overcome pain’s insistence that this activity ends immediately.

Today was a classic Cape Epic stage. It was long and hard, without any ‘free’ kilometres (i.e. the ones on the descent from big climbs). I felt as if I spent the day just grinding away. At about 75km I thought I could allow myself a small feeling of levity. Piet thought so too, posing the question: “How hard can 30km be?” He did the same to a fellow rider with 25km to go.

And then the route planners showed us, in no uncertain terms, just how much extra pain they can throw at Epic riders. For the record, Piet is banned from asking any such questions for the remainder of the week, no matter how rhetorical the intention.

There is a simple bit of science to the effort expended in endurance events, which is that one gets nearer to the finish with every pedal stroke. There was nothing pretty about our performance today. Nor did we have the moments of fun we had on Stage One. So, it was a surprise to find that we’d advanced a few positions in our category (Grand Masters).

We have two more big days to get through before we can feel that we’ve got over the hump, but first there is the small matter of a few glasses of Hartenberg Gravel Hill Shiraz tonight. There are plenty of mountain references there!

Reuben van Niekerk has completed four Cape Epics on a prosthetic leg. We briefly caught up to him in the Bosvark section, while Bob Dylan's lyrics were on repeat in my head. What an inspiration he is!

Reuben van Niekerk has completed four Cape Epics on a prosthetic leg. We briefly caught up to him in the Bosvark section, while Bob Dylan’s lyrics were on repeat in my head. What an inspiration he is!

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: Rob Beffa & The Needles

Oscar Foulkes March 18, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
It was a huge relief to be able to push off the start line today, because 10 days ago it didn’t feel as if my body wasn’t going to come to the party. Rob Beffa is a miracle worker with his needles (could there be a band name in that?).

The Prologue course followed routes that I have ridden hundreds of times. It’s literally my back yard. If I’d been racing for a podium finish it might have been an advantage, but of course I’m not. We’re just regular middle-aged men in lycra just trying to get to the end of Cape Epic in one piece, with medals hanging from our necks, a picture to put on the wall, and a story to tell our grandchildren.

It is therefore beyond me how my nervous system decided to dial my heart rate up to maximum today. Believe me, barring getting off the bike to relax under a tree for ten minutes, I tried everything to get it down. I pedalled gently up hills, I relaxed on the downhills, and for good measure I even chatted to Piet. The nett result was an average of 165 beats per minute, with a maximum of 184.

These are trails I know like the back of my hand, and I was hoping that my local’s knowledge would enable me to take advantage of planning for the recovery portions of climbs. All to no avail.

The one positive is that at no stage did my legs feel as if I was in the red. This was all about heart rate. I hope today’s revving heart rate doesn’t come back to bite me in future stages.

The high point of the day was the climb to the Big Tree, where a cacophony of cowbells and cheers energised us. It was probably one of the high points of my Epic experience thus far (and that includes all of 2017’s Epic).

The toughest climb of the day was one that the race organisers have euphemistically called Quarry Climb. Locals call it Motherfucker for good reason. Don’t be fooled by the soft-soaped version. This is proper.

We’ll be starting Stage One near the back of the field, which is a good place to be for the first few stages because there’s less chance of a rush of ego pushing one to ride too hard early on.

Unlike my race day heart rate, the ego dial is controlled by my brain. Four consecutive stages in excess of 110km are good reason to keep a lid on things!

This is not the heart rate of someone actively trying to take it easy ... with this level of apparent effort I should have ridden the Prologue 10 minutes faster!

This is not the heart rate of someone actively trying to take it easy … with this level of apparent effort I should have ridden the Prologue 10 minutes faster!