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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!

Epic 2018: Flirting with disappointment

Oscar Foulkes March 11, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
I ended last week’s training report with a comment about getting bike and body to the start of Cape Epic in good mechanical working order. The body reference came about because I’d been battling discomfort/pain in lower back and right hip, which I assumed would get fixed by a visit to Rob Beffa, along with a follow-up massage.

I did, indeed, feel much better on Tuesday night. The relief of having ease of movement was immense.

On Wednesday, Piet and I rode the Prologue route with Jeroen Hirdes, who had arrived from Amsterdam that morning to start his acclimatisation for Cape Epic. I stopped a few times to stretch my lower back, which was a concern.

I had a follow up appointment with Rob on Friday afternoon, by which point I had major doubts about even getting to the start line. Any movement was seriously uncomfortable.

He needled many muscles in my right leg, all the way up to the glute area, after which I had another massage. By the evening, I wasn’t feeling much better. Depression grew, almost to the point of tears at the thought that the hundreds of hours of preparation and training were about to be flushed down the tubes (metaphorically, of course, because there’s no water to flush anything in Cape Town at the moment).

I called off riding the Cape Town Cycle Tour, and lined up an easy ride on the road for Saturday morning, which did wonders for my mood – it was great to be out with the guys. I felt fine on the bike, as long as I didn’t ride the hills too hard. The main thing, though, was that it left me with the sense of possibility. Hope replaced despair.

I’m feeling less discomfort today (Sunday). I’m seeing Rob again tomorrow, and am confident that I am finally on the road to recovery.

The final five weeks of my Cape Epic preparation are feeling quite disjointed in comparison with the tempo of the months that led up to Tankwa Trek. The two weeks immediately after Tankwa involved a few easy recovery rides, along with additional rest days. With me carrying this injury, the past two weeks have also involved less volume or intensity than programmed. The final week before Epic will be easy, so I’m certainly not going into the event overdone. If anything, I’m going to be slightly below peak, which is better than the alternative.

If you’re planning on watching any of the stages, the Cape Epic Ride Guide is a great resource (click the image above to download it). In addition to the suggested spectator points for the Prologue route, I’d add Deer Park. It is likely to be less congested than other spots, there’s parking close by, and there’s a climb (riders will be going slower, so you have the opportunity of actually seeing the riders you’re supporting, rather than just having them flash past).

If you’re planning on watching any of the stages, the Cape Epic Ride Guide is a great resource (click the image above to download it). In addition to the suggested spectator points for the Prologue route, I’d add Deer Park. It is likely to be less congested than other spots, there’s parking close by, and there’s a climb (riders will be going slower, so you have the opportunity of actually seeing the riders you’re supporting, rather than just having them flash past).

Epic 2018: A fortnight away

Oscar Foulkes March 4, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
Over the past 20 years, I’ve been on a fairly regular cycle of seeing chiropractors three or four times a year, most often to sort out misalignment in my hips, which leads to lower back pain and ultimately headaches. This changed about three years ago, when Rob Beffa suggested I do complementary exercises.

Before I get to the detail of that, I should mention that Rob is not your regular vertebrae-crunching chiropractor. He takes a holistic view, and doesn’t start an adjustment without first releasing muscles, with needling being his go-to technique. The relief is monumental.

At the rear of Rob’s practice is a ‘gym’ area informally referred to as The Gunshow, where Derek Rau and Michael Watson guide their clients (some of them high-profile endurance athletes) through a series of exercises aimed at improving mobility, as well as a variety of strength-building exercises (core, upper body and legs). In the time that I’ve worked with Derek the frequency of my visits to Rob has dropped dramatically.

My time slot with Derek coincides with Michael (aka Miguel) training Mark ‘Zone’ Pienaar and his Epic partner, Oli Munnik. Contrary to the phrasing of the preceding sentence, Mark is not the reason for Oli’s claim to mountain biking fame, as you’ll discover by reading their Cape Epic team profile. There’s plenty of banter, much of which is mountain biking chatter. The Gunshow sessions are good for my body, but they’re also great at getting me into the right headspace for Epic. These guys are a big chunk of my Cape Epic journey.

Rob and crew are top of mind today, because I’ve been battling painfully stiff hips all week (don’t blame Derek – this is more work stress induced than the product of exercise). I soldiered through yesterday’s ride, but I’ve decided against even an easy spin on the road today. Rob’s needles are calling, followed by a massage on Tuesday.

I had the last of my proper Wattbike intervals on Tuesday this week, with five by seven minutes in zone five, and then Thursday’s easy ride fell prey to work demands.

On Saturday, I met up with the Daisyway gang for a look at some of the Wellington routes. The ride comprised the big climb on the final stage, followed by the main climb on the Time Trail route.

I was a bit apprehensive about Beulah (whenever there’s concrete on a mountain road it generally indicates extreme steepness). I’m happy to report that while Beulah is not an insignificant climb, the reason for the concrete is that the terrain is decomposed granite, which is very prone to erosion. It’s less steep than I expected. Plus, the concrete provides a nice surface for spinning to the top.

Directly after Beulah one begins the Hawequas climb, which basically goes straight up the mountain to just below Du Toitskloof pass. Yesterday we had the added challenge of a headwind blowing straight down the mountain. The final stage is not going to be any kind of gimme!

After this big climb we dropped into the time trial course, and basically started climbing all over again, except that we were no longer fresh. The Seven Peaks climb in the middle of the time trial is big and challenging. I understand that the cut-off is going to be double the time of the winning time for the stage. Four hours might seem like a lot of time for 39km, but given the terrain, for many riders this isn’t going to be a relaxed spin.

The work is all done. Now it’s just a case of ensuring that bike and body arrive at the start line in good mechanical working order.

When I was a kid in boarding school, on weekends that we were allowed out, the trips to and from Cape Town went over Du Toitskloof pass (until the tunnel was built, of course). There was a ‘bigness’ to the pass, accentuated by me being a child, and the journey being so arduous. It didn’t occur to me that 40 years hence I’d ascend to the highest point by bicycle - off-road - via a route much steeper than the one followed by the pass. And, for good measure, that I’d be embarking on a bike ride that would take me from Robertson to Paarl, doing a long route replication of what those back to school trips entailed, as I’ll be doing in two weeks’ time.

When I was a kid in boarding school, on weekends that we were allowed out, the trips to and from Cape Town went over Du Toitskloof pass (until the tunnel was built, of course).
There was a ‘bigness’ to the pass, accentuated by me being a child, and the journey being so arduous. It didn’t occur to me that 40 years hence I’d ascend to the highest point by bicycle – off-road – via a route much steeper than the one followed by the pass. And, for good measure, that I’d be embarking on a bike ride that would take me from Robertson to Paarl, doing a long route replication of what those back to school trips entailed, as I’ll be doing in two weeks’ time.

Epic 2018: Coached, not trained

Oscar Foulkes February 26, 2018 Cape Epic 1 comment
Last week, my son’s school hosted an information evening for parents of the Matric class. Two numbers jumped out at me. Firstly, that there are just 108 teaching days in 2018 (of which 25% have already been expended). Secondly, from the time they start writing mock exams, they are in permanent exam mode for 80 days.

This strikes me as being a lot of time being spent in limbo. Or, to put it more charitably, a lot of time without the directed structure of them learning new material. This is feeling very familiar to me at the moment, as my Cape Epic training programme enters its final few weeks. In terms of both volume and intensity, the workload has dropped considerably.

The bottom line is that I can’t look to training rides to provide affirmation that I am getting either stronger or fitter. I just have to trust in the seven-month process laid out by Erica’s training programme.

Racehorse trainers refer to horses that are having a small break in training as being on the “easy list”, which is where I’ve been for most of the time since Tankwa Trek. However, I was back on the Wattbike on Thursday for some LT intervals. LT is the acronym for ‘lactate threshold’, and these intervals involved five sets of six minutes in zone 5, with three minutes of recovery in between. I felt as fine as one can feel after an intense Wattbike session.

On Saturday, I was down for 100km on the road. Piet was away in Knysna riding the Knysna Bull, so I did a solo spin to Simon’s Town, which ended up being just over 94km. Once again, I felt fine and on track.

I was back on the mountain on Sunday, for 70km “on a hilly route”. There was a strong south-easter blowing, so I made my way around to Newlands and then followed the usual Kirstenbosch-Constantia route to Tokai. The only problem was that I felt extremely flat. I hadn’t had a late night on Saturday, nor could I point to any particular cause, so it was a bit disconcerting to not be frisky after having had a period of less intense training. It was still very windy when I got back to the City Bowl, and with my legs out of gas, I called it at 55km.

As if Erica doesn’t have enough other athletes’ issues to deal with, she then received a panic WhatsApp from me. This is likely to come down to psychology more than power to weight ratios, and Erica is brilliant at both.

Piet spent the weekend charging around the Knysna Bull course, apparently in the form of his life. My work is going to be cut out for me between 18 and 25 March!

Erica Green, coach extraordinaire (pic: Erica Green)

Erica Green, coach extraordinaire (pic: Erica Green)

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: Some days are diamonds

Oscar Foulkes February 12, 2018 Cape Epic 2 comments
For many, TankwaTrek is the final step in preparation for the Cape Epic. Certainly, one can’t just pitch up and ride it, as one might for Wines2Whales. Even walking through the race village, you know that it’s a different kind of race, because the majority of riders have the lean look of people who train hard.

Relegating this event to prep status, though, would be to denigrate its unique challenges. Yes, few people would be fit enough to ride TankwaTrek if they weren’t training for Epic, but it’s a race that is iconic in its own right (I encourage you to check out the pictures and videos on their Facebook page).

With the exception of the MTB trails at Houdenbek, and the odd bits of district road, none of the rest is publicly accessible. The many miles of single track wend their way between bushes, rocks, trees and whatever else the natural topography throws up. If any clearing or trail building has been done, it’s just the very basics required to enable bicycles to pass through. Nothing is manicured, the terrain tests strength, fitness and technical skills. And it tests bikes (more on that later).

In some parts, one is simply following the channels carved through rocks by millions of years of water flows.

Then there’s the climbing, much of which is on energy-sapping terrain. The iconic climb, on day two, is the Merino Monster. The total metres climbed from valley floor is more than 1000m, but the final 800m is at an average gradient of 10% (yes, average means that some parts are steeper than 10%). There’s no time for relaxing just because one has reached the summit (or “climax” as Mauritz Walters so hilariously described it during the race briefing) – the Merino descent is as much a test of technical skills as the ascent is of strength and fitness.

Having ridden TankwaTrek for the second time, I would ride it even if I weren’t doing Epic. If you love mountain biking, this is a must-do event.

When I rode it on a Yeti ASR in 2017, at no time did I feel as if I was bringing a knife to a gunfight. It’s more than enough bike for the job. What I got this time around from the Santa Cruz Tallboy is a bike that is rock solid on just about any descent. In fact, whenever I saw the ‘danger arrows’ (see pic alongside), they almost presented as flashing carnival lights, announcing fun and excitement.

Having built up TankwaTrek, it seems wrong to report on the event from the perspective of our Epic training. Piet had some trepidation, because much of his December and January training was focused on the 70.3 Ironman in East London, plus he was recovering from a cold. However, judging by the way he attacked the trails, you wouldn’t have known that. Piet is a very strong rider, regardless of the circumstances.

We completed 2018 TankwaTrek more than two hours faster than in 2017. It still puts us well down the field, but it was great to experience a tangible benefit of all the hours of training.

The biggest benefit, though, was being fit enough to enjoy the experience of riding three days of these unique trails. Some days are diamonds!

One should always employ caution when these signs appear on the trail, but they can also signal that extra fun lies ahead (depending upon technical skills and the bike one is riding).

One should always employ caution when these signs appear on the trail, but they can also signal that extra fun lies ahead (depending upon technical skills and the bike one is riding).
(pic: Oakpics, courtesy of TankwaTrek)

Epic 2018: Six Weeks to Go

Oscar Foulkes February 5, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
As far as both intensity and volume are concerned, last week was the easiest week of my entire training programme.

I’m riding the Tankwa Trek this weekend, so last week was in a taper phase. Tuesday and Thursday’s rides were each supposed to be easy 90-minute spins. However, work got in the way of riding on Tuesday, so I shifted it to Wednesday morning. However, as there was an extremely strong (verging on gale force) South-Easter blowing, I made my way to the Tamboerskloof side to ride in relative shelter on the slopes of Signal Hill/Lion’s Head, and managed to find the one end of a trail that was built there last year.

The end I found was the exit, so I rode up what must be a great downhill run, with a few ‘testers’ of technical climbing skills. As Arnie would say, “I’ll be back” (although one has to temper confident riding with an element of humility).

On Thursday, I was about to do a spin from Pearl Valley to Franschhoek and back, when I instead turned onto a jeep track I’ve ridden a few times. I believe it might be the final descent on the last stage of Cape Epic 2018, and will therefore be the Land Rover Technical Zone.

On Strava, the up part is named “R301 Climb”, and I would put it close to top of my list for international riders wanting to get a quick induction into Western Cape terrain. Almost all of it is pretty loose, and there are a few sections that are more technical.

During this ride my throat felt a bit sore, which I assumed was because of the hot and dry conditions (I need to take particular care to keep my throat well hydrated). I can’t remember when last I was ill – and I certainly haven’t lost any training as a result of being unwell – but by the following day I felt the beginnings of a cold.

I already had an arrangement to do a road ride with my son and Piet on Saturday morning. Piet had been off with a cold the whole week, and I was a bit concerned about my own health, so we just did a relatively easy 40km spin to Chapman’s Peak.

The weekend’s programme was for a 60km road ride on Saturday, and 40km on Sunday, which meant that I’d taken care of part of the weekend’s riding. I had to work on Sunday, so there was no time to do the 60 km ride.

Some of my Epic-rider friends did big mileage over the weekend. However, they are at different stages in their training programmes, and they aren’t riding Tankwa Trek. Context is everything.

Piet completed the Iron Man 70.3 in East London at the end of January (looking fresh as a daisy, it must be said), which meant that our training programmes didn’t often overlap. I’m looking forward to sharing the three days of Tankwa Trek with him.

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: Back to work

Oscar Foulkes January 22, 2018 Cape Epic 2 comments
It’s easy to make fun of MAMILs on their expensive bikes; the quintessential weekend warriors. Of course, there are various degrees of physical exertion, but judging by the proliferation of bikes parked at Bootleggers outlets, they all involve a coffee stop.

While there may be different levels of intensity with which the bikes are ridden, almost every cyclist has an actual job, with accompanying stresses (to which I can testify). This was my first week back at work after holiday, and by the end of it the stress had exhausted me. I’m getting ahead of myself, though.

The previous week was the end of a training cycle. However good it may have felt to get through the workload, there is still a great deal of work to do over the final two months. I was eased into it with a core session on Monday, followed by Hills on Tuesday and Thursday.

For the non-cyclists, Hills involve riding at a high percentage of maximum power at low cadence, which builds strength. My programme has six repeats of six minutes each, interspersed with six minutes of recovery spinning. I do them on the Wattbike, because of the precise measurement of both power and cadence, and by the end of both sessions my kit was as wet as if I’d jumped into a swimming pool.

This brings me to the weekend, with two big rides on mountain bike. Erica had put me down for 120km on Saturday (minimum 1800m of climbing) and 100km on Sunday (minimum 1600m of climbing). This is a lot harder than doing the same distance on a road bike, and also takes more time. Just getting one’s head around this kind of riding is difficult when you’re already exhausted from a stressful week.

My plan had been to do a 40km loop with a non-Epic friend, followed by 80km on my own. However, there was a gale force South Easter blowing on Saturday, which required a change of route (and resulted in the loss of riding partner). The wind is usually stronger in the City Bowl than in the southern suburbs, but one still needs to cycle through the wind to get there. It blows directly down the mountain, so any climbing involves the double whammy of riding into the wind. The gusts from the side can blow cyclists off their bikes.

Sure enough, there was hardly a breath of wind in Newlands. I made my way to the top of Tokai via the path above Kirstenbosch, and then along the Constantia Greenbelts. The distance was around 42km by the time I reached the Silvermine boom. On my descent, I hit a rock awkwardly, which seemed to result in the loss of sealant in my rear tyre, because after this I was stopping to inflate the tyre every 10 to 15 minutes. Eventually I detoured to Freewheel Cycology in Kenilworth to get the sealant topped up.

The ‘admin’ chewed up time, so I ended up riding 87km, with 1721m of climbing (could be understated, though, because my Garmin isn’t 100% accurate in this department).

Prior to Cape Epic 2017, Justin Tuck, the workshop half of the partnership at The Gear Change, gave me the top tip of riding with a small bottle of sealant taped to my bike’s frame, which I duly did. However, when I changed to the Tallboy, I didn’t get around to moving the bottle of sealant, which cost me a lot of time and frustration on Saturday.

Spook Groenewald’s top tip is to ride with a small pump. It’s all very well to have CO2 ‘bombs’, but one can easily run out, and having a pump with me on Saturday enabled me to limp home.

Non-Epic friend from Saturday joined me for the first part of Sunday’s ride, which also involved going out to Tokai and back. This ride was 87km (instead of 100km), with 1825m of climbing. I started in dense, wet fog, and by the time I finished the temperature had got up to a toasty 38 degrees.

I didn’t make budget on the total distance for the weekend, but I over-delivered on metres climbed (over 3500m, instead of the required 3400m).

A large number of foreign riders will be descending on the Western Cape prior to Epic 2018 to check out the trails and attempt to acclimatise to the heat. My top tip to them is to ride the trail above Kirstenbosch that joins Newlands and Constantia Nek. Click here to read more (although the portage section has subsequently been removed). It is a magnificent way of experiencing Cape Town!

One of the purpose-built sections of trail above Kirstenbosch (pic: Desmond Louw, from Bicycling.co.za)

One of the purpose-built sections of trail above Kirstenbosch (pic: Desmond Louw, from Bicycling.co.za)

Epic 2018: Riding the mountains flat

Oscar Foulkes January 15, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
Erica sends me a month’s worth of training at a time, which is great, because I get a sense of what’s coming up. In the case of the dauntingly heavy load of base training rides between 23 December and 7 January, it helped to be able to mentally prepare myself for the task ahead. However, I hadn’t quite finished that block, when she sent out the next instalment, for the four weeks starting 8 January.

The first week of this new period was also the last week of my holiday. Therefore it was no coincidence that it kicked off with three big days, starting on the Tuesday. So, there was still work to be done on the current programme (i.e. the weekend’s two rides), with something of a monster coming my way the following week. And, it’s not as if I was starting the week fresh.

Tuesday’s 90km on the road was relatively straightforward. There was no halfway stop for a cheese toastie, and I may not have eaten more than one or two bars. I ended it feeling fresh, with the thought that perhaps my body was starting to get conditioned to this thing of being out on the road for long stretches.

Wednesday was another story, with the parameters being 120km on mountain bike, and a minimum of 1800m of climbing. From a previous ride, I knew that a big loop from Plett, via Wittedrif, up to to Buffelnek on the Uniondale road, and then back via Petrus-se-Brand, would be 100km. All I needed to do was add the Harkerville Red Route, and I’d have my 120km. The Red Route is a ride all by itself – admittedly for riders in holiday mode – and here I was casually adding it to make up the miles.

If there can be such a thing as a Queen Stage in a training programme, this was it. The total climbing ended up being closer to 2300m, and it took me just over seven hours to complete. I rode it unassisted, so food stops didn’t come at the ideal times.

I was solo, with music for company, and it seemed entirely appropriate to be listening to the Foo Fighters (loudly) as I entered the Petrus-se-Brand singletrack, with hell-for-leather pace in mind.

So, why is this an exciting piece of riding? For starters, one is flashing past trees, which accentuates the feeling of speed. Then there are varied gradients, including some fairly steep sections. The trail goes over many roots, including small drops. And, because I was riding it on the Tallboy, the terrain didn’t necessitate a change in speed. It’s basically a flat-out ride, with an occasional light touch on the brakes to moderate speed when going into a turn.

About half an hour later I realised that I’d forgotten to engage my front shocks before entering the singletrack (I’d locked them out when standing to climb an earlier hill), which meant that the impact of every one of the obstacles traversed by the front wheel travelled up my arms and through my body. Along with Taylor Hawkins’ Foo Fighters drumming, I was having an immersive percussion experience. Full credit to the Tallboy geometry for carrying me through it on rear suspension only, without me realising that fatigue had caused me to miss an important detail.

By the end of the ride, I was drained. In fact, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to go out and ride 80km the following day. But, it was on the programme, so I had to do it. I tried a new route, entering Harkerville via the coastal path from Cairnbrogie. The initial pace was a relatively relaxed spin, which is a great way of getting rid of past days’ residual pain. After about 10km, my body was back in the game. Without planning it specifically, I reached the designated 80km just as I arrived home, four-and-three quarter hours later.

I had two welcome days off, followed by an easy hour-and-a-bit by way of R&R (recovery and recreation) on Sunday.

In Afrikaans, if you want to make a point of saying you’ve searched all over the house, you’d say: “Ek het die huis plat gesoek.” Similarly, if you’ve driven all around the country you’d say: “Ek het die land plat gery.” It’s a mystery to me how the word for ‘flat’ or ‘flatten’ came to be used to accentuate the extensiveness/intensity of an activity, but that is the expressive beauty of Afrikaans.

Having ridden close on 1300km in 12 base training rides over the course of three weeks, I could say: “Ek het die berge plat gery*.”

But that would be in a manner of speaking only, because the mountains are no flatter than they were before I started.


*Direct translation: I rode the mountains flat

I’m doing a 120km mountain bike ride around Cape Town on Saturday (i.e. 20 January) if any other riders-in-training want to join.


Listen what happens when you do a direct translation of a simple hunting story.

What a landscape to be riding through: the road between Wittedrif and Buffelsnek.

What a landscape to be riding through: the road between Wittedrif and Buffelsnek.