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Epic 2018: Riding Tall(boy)

Oscar Foulkes December 4, 2017 Cape Epic No comments
I started the week feeling a bit deflated, having aborted a third of the way into the Double Century. However, there’s nothing like new equipment to provide some excitement.

In Piet and my case, it was a matching pair of Santa Cruz Tallboys, complete with Reserve rims (carbon). No, I didn’t suddenly come into a bunch of cash as a result of a racehorse winning a big race, or a distant relative popping her clogs. Piet has been a Santa Cruz brand ambassador since just before Epic, and it only seemed correct that both of us should be on the same bike for Epic 2018. Thank you, Rush Sports!

I’m no petrol head, but I seem to have turned into a pedal head.

Before you all fall about laughing at two average 50-something riders having a bike sponsor, give some thought to the logic of this. We’ll be on the route (i.e. visible) for many more hours than the pros. Plus, we’re quite happy to answer questions about the bikes while we’re riding (well, Piet is going to have to do the talking on my behalf, but you get the picture). If you wanted to ask a pro rider about his bike you’d first have to catch him – good luck with that!

Having a sponsor, even if it is just for bikes reminds me of Jonno Proudfoot’s “web of accountability”. He and Thane Williams swam from Mozambique to Madagascar, which is a much bigger thing than completing Cape Epic. However, to help him get through it, Jonno imagined everyone that he was accountable to, in undertaking to complete this massive challenge. In his case, there was also a sponsor on the list.

Jonno might have called it a prison of accountability, so firmly did he lock himself into those promises.

There was a gale force south-easter on Tuesday, but I was keen to take the new bike for a spin, mainly to get a sense of how it descends. It was certainly quick, but I was still getting used to the feel of it.

I went out for a hill session (five times six-minute hills) on Thursday morning, which didn’t give me much opportunity for play.

On Saturday, Piet and I did a big loop along the Atlantic Seaboard, turning at Noordhoek to go up the Ou Wapad. We dropped down through Tokai, and then worked our way back up to Rhodes Drive through the Constantia Green Belts, finally heading via Rhodes Memorial back to the City Bowl. There were plenty of opportunities to test downhill speed, and the Tallboy came through with flying colours. I’m still getting used to it, but it gives such a solid, stable feeling on the trails that I know it’s got plenty more to give – if I can get my head out of the way!

Regular readers will know how talismanic the breathing-impaired racehorse Sergeant Hardy has been to my Epic efforts. In fact, if we don’t get a team sponsorship for 2018, we may reprise the ‘Hoarse Power’ concept.

Anyway, on Saturday he was running in the Cape Merchants, one of the top three races for sprinters over the Cape season. I invited Spook and Erica to join me at Kenilworth, along with a psychiatrist friend, which opened the door to interesting conversation about the psychology of Epic teams.

Erica had many layers of interest in proceedings, given her work in training cyclists, as well as her background in dressage.

I was keen to get a picture of Erica and Justin Snaith together – he trains Sergeant Hardy, and Erica trains me. She has to deal with my breathing impairment, so she was interested in how Justin manages Sergeant Hardy’s breathing issues. Erica had many more questions about how racehorses are trained that I wasn’t able to answer. Her curiosity is part of what equips her to be great at what she does.

Sergeant Hardy has a quirk, in that he hangs (veers) to the left, which definitely got Dressage Erica’s mind ticking.

Anyway, in the race Sergeant Hardy was disadvantaged by racing on the less-good going on the outside. His natural running style is to go to the front, but his jockey probably did it at slightly too quick a pace. Whether one is a cyclist or a racehorse, too fast a pace is a killer, and the horse ran out of steam in the final stages.

Sunday’s ride was billed as 70km on the mountain, in zone 2, with a coffee stop. Yes, the coffee stop is in Erica’s programme. It was raining in the morning, so I headed out in the afternoon. It was a little odd to be going for a long ride in the afternoon, and it made for a strange-feeling Sunday night. I had several play opportunities as I made my way via Plum Pudding hill to the Green Belts and Tokai, matching or beating Strava PRs on a bunch of downhill segments.

There were times I felt as if I was in flight, so harmonious was the feel I got from the bike. It truly seemed as if I could aim it at any line, regardless of roots or rocks.

The one segment that was an eye opener (when I saw the time afterwards) was the big downhill from the Plum Pudding singletrack to the cattle grid at the Rhodes Memorial entrance. I had to stop to walk around a tree that had fallen across the road, which I didn’t do with any sense of urgency. Despite this, my time for that roughly 10 minute segment was just 7 seconds slower than my fastest. The Tallboy must have flown, because it’s not as if I went slowly on previous occasions when the road was clear.

I never got that coffee stop, but if La Parada had been closer to home I’d have stopped for a gin & tonic instead.

The Santa Cruz Tallboy is a sensational piece of machinery, but even this epicness is going to benefit from tweaking that is specific to each day of next year’s route. Spook’s mind has been hard at work with the ideal combinations of tyres and gear ratios.

I’m responsible for keeping the wheels turning. For all else, there is Santa Cruz, Erica and Spook. And Piet, because the teammate isn’t just there to make up the numbers (#psychology).

I’ve come full circle with Santa Cruz Tallboy. It was the first bike I test-rode in 2016, and very nearly bought. Read my report here. A lot has changed since then, which is inevitable given all the riding I’ve done this year.

Tallboy epicness - it looks orange, but is actually a slightly retro light brown (officially it's "rust", which is kind of ironic considering it's made of carbon)

Tallboy epicness – it looks orange, but is actually a slightly retro light brown (officially it’s “rust”, which is kind of ironic considering it’s made of carbon)

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