By Timothy Hammond
EPIC HIGHS AND EPIC LOWS – Experiencing the notorious 8-day Absa Cape Epic mountain bike race from the front.
Coined by many as the “Tour de France of the mountain biking world”, the Cape Epic is exactly as its name suggests – an epic mountain bike race around the Cape Winelands in South Africa. It is, however, different from the Tour de France in that anyone (with lots of cash to burn) can enter, not just the pros. But don’t be fooled, this event isn’t for everyone. In fact, almost a fifth of the teams entered this year dropped out at stage 1! Completing the race takes a huge amount of preparation, both logistically and physically. To put it into perspective, my preparation involved 5541 km’s and 245 hours of training over the 4 months leading up to the Epic. According to my bike computer, this burned 166199 calories, which is roughly 654 hamburgers.
Let me be straight, this race is a beast. And I’m not talking about the friendly beasts of children’s fairytales. I mean an R-rated horror movie, rip-your-legs-off kind of beast. As a serious competitor, you are cycling at full tilt for 4 to 5 hours every day with no time to enjoy the scenery or take advantage of the well-stocked water points. If you are just riding to finish, it is no less intense. You may not be on the rivets for 5 hours, but you are on the bike for a good 7 hours almost every day. Once you finish a stage, there is more work to be done, with the fixing packing and moving on. I remember day 1 vividly, the prolog, 26km of speed through Meerendal wine estate. In comparison to what was to come, 26km seemed like a piece of cake… well it was not! My legs did not show up for day one and every kilometer felt like a struggle, in the searing heat of Durbanville. Fortunately, from this point on the legs caught up as they realised what I had known for some time, this race would require some serious grit and determination.
The Race Village
The race village is so huge that getting anywhere requires some proper walking. My standard routine was to have a quick shower, get my bike to the mechanics, squeeze in a massage (if there was time), have a short nap, wash my cycling kit, bolt down some supper and then finally bed. The fatigue you experience cannot be explained. I was exhausted to the point of being emotional, even shedding some manly tears. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to have a team around me looking after my bike and doing general admin so that I could focus on doing my best and nothing else. I have huge respect for the riders doing the Epic without support!
A Life-changing Experience
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “The Epic sounds terrible! Why would anyone subject themselves to this?” But let me tell you that all of these challenges are almost completely nullified by the absolutely mind-blowing riding organized by this world-class event. You ride through some of the most beautiful and wildest areas in South Africa. There were places we cycled through that felt completely untouched by man, except for the single tracks we were on. The incredible views of the distant sea and the rolling fields of Fynbos are any nature-lover’s dream. Many of these areas are private or protected areas, which means that those who compete in the Epic are some of the few privileged enough to experience this breathtaking scenery. This year the route explored the Hermanus, Greyton and Grabouw areas. The well-groomed trail network around Grabouw, including Oak Valley, Paul Cluver, Grabouw Country club and Thandi, is in a league of its own and needs to be explored by every mountain biker. My race this year involved 656km’s of riding with 13036 m of ascent over 30 hours and 15 minutes in 8 days! That is 94 hamburgers (or 32846 calories) worth of effort. Think of trying to eat more than 10 hamburgers a day just to replace used energy! Eating enough each day to be ready for the next day is a challenge in itself. Sidenote: hamburgers are just an example. I sadly didn’t actually eat hamburgers during the Epic.
Although I enjoyed the “eat, sleep, ride, repeat” lifestyle last week, I am enjoying the return to normalcy for now. It is an incredible event to take part in. We managed to hold onto 25th position in the general classification, and 4th in the African category, but it was the names we were up against which humbled us, as we gave thanks for the privilege of being able to compete in such a strong international field. If Epic is something you are considering, make sure you are in the best shape of your life – it is not to be underestimated. If you think you have what it takes, I’ll see you at Cape Epic 2018!
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
2018 RACE: The 2018 Cape Epic will be ridden between 18th and 25th of March. Riders have until 31 May 2017 to enter the lottery.
ENTRANTS: There are 1300 participants in 650 teams who ride the race each year. 100 Early Bird entries that go on sale at 15:00 (GMT +2) on 27 March 2017 and are available to local and international riders who will be charged in ZAR or USD based on the South African or International entrant.
ENTRY FEE: South African Riders – ZAR 74 900 per team.
International Riders – USD 5 690 per team.
PREPARATION: Most riders begin planning for the Absa Cape Epic a year in advance. It is impossible to over-prepare for this race, as it is one of the most grueling weeks you will ever face on a bike. Physical training, nutrition strategy, preparation of your bike and mental preparation are all crucial aspects in achieving success (or even just finishing) this epic race. Try and link up with a previous finisher or contact Timothy for some tips.
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Article & photos submitted by Go & Travel Magazine.