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Cape Epic

Epic 2018: ‘Holiday’ riding

Oscar Foulkes December 30, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
On Christmas Eve, I casually mentioned to Andrea how tired my body was feeling, and that I just didn’t know how I could drag myself through a four-hour ride on Christmas Day. As far as my Epic lark is concerned, there is no more supportive spouse. In fact, if there were a parallel competition for long-suffering spouses, Andrea would certainly be on the podium.

“Are you joking?” was her response, while looking at me in a way that warned of the imminent launching of daggers. Of course, I was only joking, although my original plan had been to get into cycling kit immediately after opening Christmas presents. The fact that I’m here to share the week’s training report with you is certainly a product of that bit of sensible discretion.

I was supposed to do 100km on the mountain bike, mostly on the road, on the 26th (Tuesday), but the drive to Plettenberg Bay got in the way.

Wednesday’s ride was supposed to be 90km on the road, but I was so excited to be on holiday that I headed off on my mountain bike instead. The excitement also translated into me riding at higher intensity than Erica intended for base ride, and I also did a lot more climbing, partly thanks to riding all the way to the Diepwalle forest station (I needed to be sure of getting to 90km).

The highlight of the ride was bombing down the Petrus-se-Brand singletrack on the Tallboy, especially the steeper sections with roots and little drops. What a great piece of machinery! A close second in the highlights stakes was a toasted cheese sandwich at the Diepwalle tearoom, paired with extra large Coke.

Piet had also done a bit much for his Wednesday ride, so I suggested an easy road ride for Thursday (even though my programme had it as a rest day). I met him in Knysna for a 94km spin to Wilderness. The plan was to stop for coffee before turning for home. When we got into Wilderness I was following him on the assumption that he had a preferred spot, perhaps even an artisan French baker with the best croissants on the Garden Route. We rode past some likely prospects, until rounding a traffic circle about a kilometre later.

“I wanted to get to 50km”, he said while giggling sheepishly. Seeing as he’d ridden a few kilometres extra to meet me, reaching a round 100km by the time he got home didn’t apply to me. Epic partnerships have to endure much more than a small FFS moment in Wilderness.

We stopped for toasted cheese & tomato and cappuccinos (with double shot, please), and then headed back to Knysna.

Friday was going to be a rest day for me, until I saw the Rush Sports posts on social media about a relaxed ride in Harkerville with Greg Minnaar as guest of honour. It was more informal than relaxed, with some youngsters and racing snakes setting a cracking pace from the start. Greg couldn’t have been more chilled if he tried, but the young guns were showing some serious skills as they went racing through the forest. It was fun riding behind these guys, although the ride back to Plett on the N2, solo into a headwind, was less so.

Missing Tuesday’s ride had messed up my programme somewhat, so the 120km base ride on the road that was intended for Friday got moved to Saturday. Piet and I rode from Plett to Storms River and back, clocking a healthy 128km. At the halfway turn we again stopped for toasted cheese & tomato – if anyone from Woolies is reading, could we please have these at our Epic feeding points in 2018? I’m quite happy to have them cold, by the way.

Sunday is programmed as a rest day, so I could theoretically do Saturday’s 80km MTB ride, which would bring me up to speed with the week’s programme. However, I have to fly back to Cape Town to be present at the New Year’s Eve party our restaurant is hosting for Pearl Valley residents and hotel guests, so Sunday will remain a rest day.

Next week has four big rides. Starting it fresh will be a good thing.

The positive of doing these big distances on the road is that there’s less effort involved than doing it off-road. Plus the work gets done in a shorter time. The downside is that my road bike is fucking uncomfortable (apologies, the F-word is appropriate in this context). While I’m totally in love with the Tallboy, I’m headed for divorce with the road bike unless there’s a set-up issue that Spook can sort out.

The programme for Monday and Tuesday has gaps for a bit of playtime on the Tallboy. I can’t wait!

The obligatory pre-ride group shot (without me, because I was late). Pic: Warren Fleming, courtesy of Rush Sports.

The obligatory pre-ride group shot (without me, because I was late). Pic: Warren Fleming, courtesy of Rush Sports.

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

Epic 2018: More torque…

Oscar Foulkes December 20, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
In recent years, Cape Epic has been criticised on the basis that the route is partly made up of trails that one can ride any time one wants. There is some truth in that.

Except.

Except, without access to private land one cannot connect the public trails, plus who is ever going to subject themselves to the equivalent test of “eight days of courage”? And, Epic isn’t just those eight days – it’s the six to twelve months of training that precedes the event.

As weeks of training go, this one started off fairly normally. I did a core/conditioning session on Monday. Tuesday was a crazy day, so I moved the Hills session to early Wednesday morning. To recap, ‘hills’ are strength training, in which one rides up a hill in a difficult gear at low cadence. In the case of this session, it was six minutes of effort, repeated five times. It may not seem like a lot, but it all adds up.

My 90-minute Thursday ride got swallowed by work commitments, but I wasn’t that stressed about it, because I knew that I had four days of Daisyway Boot Camp coming my way.
As a marketing-orientated person, I’m big on benefits, so here are my views on the benefits of taking part in the boot camp:

  • getting exposed to key parts of the route, so that one knows what to prepare for
  • meeting fellow Epic riders – we’re all sharing the same journey, and it’s helpful to join the tribe
  • brushing up on skills, especially with route specifics in mind
  • four consecutive days of riding for five to six hours

The first day involved a look at parts of the Robertson stages, which we were lucky to ride in cool conditions. I can’t add more than I wrote previously (read that here), except to say that I’ve seen what we do in the stages that follow. One definitely wants to take it relatively easy, even if the terrain might suck one into riding harder.

Parts of the transition stage from Arabella to Worcester are long and flat. For day two of the boot camp we rode from Nuy to Rooiberg (close to Robertson) and back, climbing under 1000m over 80km. In mountain biking terms, that’s the equivalent of riding on the Makgadikgadi Pan. All well and good, except that at roughly 75km into the stage there is a mother of a climb, with another 40km remaining. This is another stage that is going to suck testosterone-fuelled riders into going too fast.

We were shown around the Worcester leg by one of the local MTB enthusiasts, who is responsible for building many of the trails. There were times I looked longingly at his e-bike. Given the many hours to think, and with us being in a part of the country where English is only spoken in self-defence, I pondered the Afrikaans name for an e-bike. Bear in mind, also that I have a fascination for descriptive Afrikaans words or expressions (read more here).

I humbly put forward karaokefiets as my candidate, in the sense that the technology is providing assistance to the efforts of the rider.

Day three of the boot camp involved a look at the route from Worcester to Wellington. Once again, there’s a longish stretch to the start of the day’s climbing. The first bit, behind Du Toitskloof winery is pretty straightforward. These recently completed trails (some of which we rode, but aren’t part of Epic) deserve special mention. Most South African readers will be familiar with the expression “boer maak ‘n plan” (farmer makes a plan). This is almost a case of boer maak ‘n pad (road), in that the local farmers have built a trail that would have earned the respect of Thomas Bain (the road engineer responsible for Bainskloof pass). The trail is just a little wider than usual, and beautifully moulded into the natural features, which means that one can really gun it on the flowing sections.

Get out there and ride them – they are fantastic!

The Slanghoek single track that follows, on the other hand, is – in parts – nothing more than a glorified hiking trail. It’s narrow, off-camber, rocky, steep and steeper. Riding it takes constant concentration, varying intensities of effort, and it’s slow. This is going to be possibly the toughest part of the entire 2018 Epic, especially if the temperature gets up to 40 degrees.

Given the length of time it is likely to take to get between the water points that straddle it, I’m considering riding that stage with a hydration pack, in addition to a water bottle.

I return, once again, to the climb up Groenlandberg, which is something of a benchmark. It’s a big climb, but the terrain is relatively smooth. One can spin one’s way to the top without any major energetic penalties. Slanghoek doesn’t offer that luxury. This is constant effort, with bits of extra effort in between, and occasionally another layer of effort above that.

The extra effort comes in the form of torque required to pedal over rocks, or up loose or steep sections, hence Erica’s Epic Intervals. My theme song for this section is All You Do To Me Is Torque Torque.

Attention then turns to Wellington’s Welvanpas trails, which was where we rode on the final day of the boot camp. Except for the succession of technical issues that befell unfortunate members of the group, necessitating long waits on the mountainside, the riding was a pile of fun. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Welvanpas may be the most underrated riding in the Western Cape.

I need to give special mention to a section called True Grit, where the Tallboy felt totally at home on the rockiest of rocky parts.

The Western Cape lays claims to being home to one of the world’s biggest concentrations of great mountain biking trails. Yes, some of them get incorporated into Epic routes, but there’s a symbiotic relationship between Epic and the growth in trail building. Everyone benefits.

The next step is an emerging tourism offering, along the lines of outfits that take care of visitors’ skiing holidays.

Anyway, the next step for me is 1000km of base training between now and 7 January. Having seen what awaits on Stages One to Four, I have a big incentive to get all that work done!

The Welvanpas scenery is as spectacular as the riding (pic: Capetownmountainbikingtours.com)

The Welvanpas scenery is as spectacular as the riding (pic: Capetownmountainbikingtours.com)

Epic 2018: Wind-ervals

Oscar Foulkes December 11, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
Erica’s Epic Intervals were back on the programme this week. I had previously done them on the bike, but ran out of mountain, so it was interesting to do them on the Wattbike. Tuesday was a big, happy tick in the ‘done’ column. I felt strong.

Thursday was just a regular 90-minute ride, which I shifted to early Friday morning to avoid the heat wave. Before talking about the ride, I do need to mention that we rode Stage One of Epic 2017 in the same kind of heat. No wonder so many riders ended up in the Medics tent!

I duly set off at 6.00am on Friday morning, and purposely included a few sketchy descents. I’m enjoying exploring the Tallboy’s downhill capabilities, which are regularly producing new PRs when descending. Thankfully, I haven’t yet found myself in the situation of running out of talent.

I don’t think it’s just a placebo effect – the bike gives a secure, solid feel, which builds confidence.

Erica’s programme had the 112km Race2Nowhere down for Saturday, but I had commitments in Cape Town. The problem with not doing the race is that there was a gale force South-Easter blowing in Cape Town, so I couldn’t replicate the ride locally. It was of similar strength to the wind that caused the Cape Town Cycle Tour to be cancelled earlier this year.

The first climb out of Deer Park is a little bit sheltered from the wind, so I did a bunch of circuits (up from Deer Park, turn right on the road towards the Big Tree, then turn right again after a couple of hundred metres, which brings one back to the start of the climb). The entire circuit is about 1 km, with about 46 metres gained. One gets roughly three-and-a-half minutes of effort, with a minute-and-a-bit of recovery, so it makes a nice interval. Because this is my go-to wind route I’ve called them wind-ervals.

It was so windy on Saturday that the clouds were getting pushed far enough over into the City Bowl for a rainbow to be formed.

However, even an hour of these intervals didn’t make up for 112km under race conditions, so the plan was for Piet and I to do a long ride on Sunday morning. The wind had moderated overnight, but was still very strong.

Piet’s renowned stoicism doesn’t quite extend to training in the wind, so we headed to the gym for a Wattbike session. I’m very pleased we did, because I inadvertently learnt something. Well, I knew it already, but it was very clearly illustrated.

About 10 minutes into a Building Blocks session on the Wattbike app, I looked over to Piet’s phone. It wasn’t quite as furtive a glance as someone cribbing another’s exam paper, but this stuff is a little bit private (until it gets onto Strava, of course). The Velominati should have a rule about this. That would make it #96.

Anyway, I noticed that my target power for each interval was a bit higher than Piet’s watts. Rule #97, if there were one, would relate to the need for cycling partners to know each other’s MMP (maximum minute power). I couldn’t tell you Piet’s ‘number’, but I know it’s higher than mine, which means that my target power has to be less than his.

I decided to implement Rule #5 (HTFU), but then the required power jumped again, and I realised I was heading for trouble. I could match the power, but not for the full extent of the session.

I fiddled with the app settings, and started the session again. However, the damage had been done – I could turn the cranks at a reduced power level, but anything that required proper effort had me stumped. And that was all as a result of riding at too high a power output for 13 minutes. That is all it takes to ‘blow’.

There is such a thing as Epic pace. I can be thankful that my impaired breathing forced me to be conscious about riding at a moderate pace for much of the event.

I’ve received my training programme for the next month. There will be some interest this weekend, with the four-day Daisyway Boot Camp.

But then it changes – from 23 December to 7 January, I’ll be riding more than 1000km, most of which will be base training. This is not exactly the kind of riding that gives me opportunities for fun on the Tallboy. The Santa Cruz Stigmata, on the other hand, is perfect for that kind of thing.

There was a time when the drive to our holiday would involve me loading assorted kids’ bikes. This time there will be multiple bikes, but they’ll both be mine (i.e. road bike plus Tallboy). Given the amount of time I’ll be riding, followed by recovery on the couch, the concept of family holiday could end up being largely theoretical.

On the upside, I’ll be able to – or should I say, I’ll need to – spend many of my waking hours eating. That feels like holiday.

Please excuse the quality of this pic that I grabbed off the interwebs, but I wanted to illustrate the view one has when riding a Wattbike at the Virgin Active in the Silo District.

Please excuse the quality of this pic that I grabbed off the interwebs, but I wanted to illustrate the view one has when riding a Wattbike at the Virgin Active in the Silo District.