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.
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.)