The super cheerful Woolies staff were a blessing at the end of every stage. They greeted us with refreshing wet face cloths that they applied to the backs of our necks along with words of praise and encouragement. In this Woolworths feeding zone they then handed out packets containing chocolate milk, a wrap or sandwich, as well as packets of snacky things. For riders wanting something more substantial, we also had the choice of spaghetti bolognaise or cottage pie or burgers, which could be warmed at a bank of microwaves.
Woolworths also provided the food at the waterpoints, as well as the family-sized picnic at the Grand Finale. Their sponsorship of Cape Epic must cost them millions, but the way it was done, and the attitude of their staff, put them at the top of most riders’ hit parade. Woolies delivered a masterclass in how to partner an event.
Staying with food, the steak dinner that Dish Food & Social delivered to us on the Friday night before the queen stage changed our lives.
Our wine list (read more here) was pretty damn good. The wine of the week was probably the Newton Johnson Family Vineyards Pinot Noir.
It’s tempting to not want to spend any more money than the large amounts already expended on entry fee, equipment, training, kit and more. The competing perspective is that one has invested too much in this landmark experience to be uncomfortable (and thereby risk valuable rest). We rented a camper van, which comes with attendant costs (the hiring company bills an Epic surcharge, and then there’s the mobile home fee payable to Cape Epic). It was worth it the entire week, but particularly on 40-degree afternoons when we could rest in air-conditioned comfort).
The additional benefit of this arrangement is that you’re not bound to eating the mass-produced dinner in the dining marquee.
Apart from the fact that the camper van has to be moved several times during the week – for which one needs a driver – it’s extremely useful to have someone assist with daily ‘admin’. We had Eddie du Toit, a biokineticist with several years’ Epic support experience, who also took charge of our daily massages. Eddie made a big difference to our Epic. Yes, it’s extra expenditure, but it’s worth it.
Our training programmes were put together by Lezandré Wolmarans, of the Sports Science Institute. The fact that our strongest day on the bikes was the queen stage, on the second last day, says a lot for our conditioning. I should also mention that the majority of non-racing weeks involved no more than 10 hours’ training (excluding gym). Training for Cape Epic is a major commitment, but it needn’t take over your entire life. This aspect is in keeping with the theme of being consistent with respect to the size of the commitment. Unless you really know what you’re doing, get a professional involved in your training programme.
What I can do on a bike changed dramatically after I started riding a Yeti. The same happened to Piet when he switched to Santa Cruz. Say what you like about these bikes making up for a lack of talent on the part of the rider. The fact is that our Epic would have been less fun, not to mention slower, if we hadn’t made the switch.
As far as selection of bikes is concerned, let’s just say that S-Works is not necessarily the best bike for all riders. Get out there and test ride what’s available.
The Haarkapperspoort single track on Stage One wins the “white knuckle” prize. It was long, steep, loose and rocky. Having said that, there were several other big descents that were no less tricky, because of the speed at which they were taken.
The single track from UFO on Stage Two wins because of its length, but there were many fun descents that just happened to be shorter.
There wasn’t any stage that I felt as if I was suffering. It was more a case of having to dig deep at various times. The thing about endurance activities is that the focus cannot extend much further than the next action that needs to be taken. When you frame it this way, it’s less likely that you’ll perceive any part of the whole as being harder than any other.
We were very lucky on the technical front. We had no flats or broken chains, which is a good thing, because we lost plenty of time over the first three days as a result of our bodies battling in the conditions. The closest we got was my chain getting incorrectly threaded through the derailleur. Oh, and a bottle of corked wine.
Max, on his steel-framed single-speed without any suspension, unfailingly brightened my day. Reuben van Niekerk, who could spawn a series of memes along the lines of “What’s your excuse?” is a huge inspiration, along with his partner Kevin Benkenstein. The never-ending banter that surrounded Rudi de Bruyn and Matthew Cook (amongst others) should be released on podcast.
And, of course, there is my own partner, Piet Viljoen. As I’ve said before, he commits to a degree that is more “I do” than “yes”. There was some tough love when he told me to search the pain cave for additional reserves, but there was also another kind of toughness when he pulled me up Franschhoek pass. I look forward to riding Epic with him again. Despite our unequal abilities, it’s a team that works.
The bum clinic
My early morning visits to the bum clinic put me in a good mood for the rest of the day, not to mention physically enabling me to be sufficiently comfortable to sit on a bike for five or six or seven hours.
Vomiting during exercise isn’t something I experienced before Stage Two. Thankfully it was just once, but it took a while before my body bounced back. Fortunately, I was able to finish the shortened stage. While on the subject, we had done most of the day’s climbing by the time we reached Caledon, so it wasn’t the biggest cop-out ever to be let off the final 40km.
However, the biggest war story didn’t reveal itself until the Thursday after finishing Epic. I knew all along that my breathing was impaired. When the surgeon finally went in to snip away the web of scar tissue between my vocal chords, I discovered that I’d substantially underestimated the extent. I was nearly in tears when I saw the before and after pictures. If I’d known before the time I could have claimed some credit, but I got conned into this one. We have powers of endurance way in excess of what we can imagine. Sometimes it’s better to not know too much detail.
Being able to have a hot shower at the end of a day’s riding is the best mood changer. This aspect was extremely well organised – I think the longest I waited in the queue was five minutes.
Dimension Data set up a kick-arse WiFi network, covering the entire race village. The speeds were truly stupendous, but it was a cruel exposure to Nirvana, because no real life WiFi ever seems to match this little glimpse of the perfect world.
At every turn there were people, whether friends, family or complete strangers, cheering or helping in some way. The majority of it is aimed at Epic riders as a group, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t benefit individually. I also had many messages before, during and after the event. It’s a wonderful spoil to be the recipient of this many good wishes!
I’m interested to hear from other riders – what was on your “most epic” list? Add a comment…