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, 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!