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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

One of the purpose-built sections of trail above Kirstenbosch (pic: Desmond Louw, from

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.

Epic 2018: Different strokes for Foulkes

Oscar Foulkes January 8, 2018 Cape Epic No comments
A few weeks ago I encountered the word “coachability”. It would seem to be obvious that if an athlete has an objective, and enlists the services of a coach/trainer, they would do their best to act on the direction they are given. In other words, to be coachable. Apparently not.

On the other hand, what kind of coach would one want? Over the months, my training reports have been liberally sprinkled with references to Erica (Green), Spook (Groenewald) and Daisyway Coaching Systems, the brand that joins them and the rest of their team.

Given my horse racing background, a trainer is the person responsible for getting the athlete to peak fitness. A coach takes a more holistic view of performance, including technique, strategy, psychology and more. It would not be inaccurate to refer to Erica as my trainer, but that would be diminishing the amount of care and attention to detail that she puts into all aspects of her athletes’ performance.

She and Spook happen to have been on holiday in Keurbooms while I’ve been in Plett. At her instigation, we all rode in Harkerville together on Tuesday. There was plenty of fun to be had riding the singletrack sections, but she spent some time adjusting my pedalling technique when going up short inclines. I have this habit of surging, which wastes energy and is not ideal for multi-day marathon events.

I should mention that watching Erica on a bike is a treat, because her upper body hardly moves, and her legs seem to effortlessly rotate the cranks, regardless of the terrain. The gliding of a swan across a pond springs to mind, but one can easily map her cycling technique onto that of a dressage rider, which was her sport before cycling.

So, Tuesday was a relatively relaxed 29km with fun sections and some on-the-bike coaching.

Spook and Erica joined me for the first 30km of a 100km off-road ride on Wednesday. The stroke coaching continued, getting me to focus on the lateral pull-push at the top and bottom parts of the rotation. We stopped several times for Spook to make adjustments to seat height and saddle position. The objective was to get me into a comfortable position that would enable the most effective/efficient pedal stroke.

Thursday’s ride was 120km on the road. I went via Keurbooms, meeting them at 6.30am, so that Spook could sort out the setup on my road bike. I continued on the N2, with a beautiful detour via Nature’s Valley. My back did get a bit sore after I’d been climbing, but my comfort levels were dramatically improved.

Friday was a rest day (thankfully), but Saturday and Sunday continued the base miles theme. On Saturday, I did a 116km spin to Storms River Village and back. It was definitely the most comfortable I’d been on the road bike, and I felt fresh afterwards.

I need to share a little about my riding partner’s training over the holiday period. Piet is competing in the Iron Man in East London at the end of January. While I’ve been doing high volume base training, he has been doing a high intensity final push. His Saturday consisted of 60km of cycling intervals, followed by a very tough 20km straight off the bike.

He was understandably not that gung-ho when we did our off-road 70km (was supposed to be 100km) on Sunday. Notwithstanding his residual fatigue, after a couple of hours of pedalling, he reverted to his usual machine mode. It took every scrap of adjusted stroke technique, and recently upgraded fitness, to stay on his back wheel up the final climb. This was all about watts.

When we crossed the bridge at the Belvedere turn-off for the final section to Knysna, I decided to keep the ‘short on kilometres, long on watts’ theme going, with a 15-minute push (into a headwind) that took me to the edges of my comfort zone.

Returning to the coach question, it’s game changing to be on the receiving end of the kind of attention that Erica and Spook put into riders and their bikes. It’s a boutique service with built-in limits for the number of clients, and I regard myself as being extremely fortunate to count myself as one of them.

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…



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, 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:

The Welvanpas scenery is as spectacular as the riding (pic: