I returned from the Cape Epic to a month of massive workload and family commitments. I don’t think I was the only one. The Cape Epic is an eight-day race, but it’s a 10-day break from your routine (real life) if you have to travel from another province. I did work as much as I could in the evenings during the race; but it’s really not a highly productive 10 days.
So I never actually got to train for a full month after the Epic. As an editor/writer/skills instructor, the work I do is heavily reliant on my personal input. Fortunately it’s all mountain bike related so it’s not WORK work. Some even think it’s not a real job.
Anyway, I kind of left my Cape Epic diary hanging while I reeled the real world back in again, so here’s my summarised description of the race – in two parts.
REGISTRATION: Went smoothly. All very professional. Was impressed with the quality of the race swag (Evoc travel bag, Columbia t-shirt and a few other goodies). Love that the race has a bike number board AND cloth jersey number. These numbers have your first name, nation flag, Epic experience (how many you’ve completed), your actual race number and the colour of your race category.
So cool that you can chat to others during the race and already know their first name, country of origin and race category. The race category colour is key if you’re actually racing the Epic. When you catch others, you can decide if they’re worth sprinting against or not, based on their category ID.
Curiously, my race number said NEWBIE, which would indicate this was my first Cape Epic. But it wasn’t. I did the second edition back in 2005. It’s changed so much in 10 years though that I felt a lot like a NEWBIE…
PROLOGUE: Mostly a great prologue route. Short enough to race hard – I hit a new Max HR (190bm) and hit the highest power meter reading I’ve seen (1000W). The one descent was a bit dry and blown out, which made it important to stay focussed. Unfortunately, a few teams ahead of us weren’t aware of how to ride a steep descent properly, so held us up. I personally suffered most on this stage. But the suffering was brief… Issy (Zimmerman), my teammate, was on fire here and I really had to dig deep on the 12-odd kilometres of climbing to try and stay in touch with him.
Overall position: 102nd
Category position: 23rd
You can’t read too much into the prologue results as it’s so short compared to the other stages. We were quite positive with our performance and loved the vibe at the start at UCT.
STAGE 1: Our first few kilometres were a sign of things to come – loads of dust! I knew this race generated a lot of dust, but I never realised it was this much! Cupfuls of it man… We kept ourselves under a bit of pressure the whole time and were in a racing frame of mind. It began to rain, but it wasn’t cold, so we didn’t don our rain jackets. We passed Waterpoints 1 and 2 without any real drama. After Waterpoint 2 though I sustained a puncture in my front tyre, which I managed to plug fairly quickly with the Sahmurai Sword plug kit I’d been given to try. Then, on a climb, Issy didn’t have enough momentum to clear a rocky crossing and fell to the side, taking most of the impact on his lower back. He was sore, but okay to continue. Not too much later we reached the last Waterpoint and then we began what I feel was the toughest climb of the entire event. It didn’t have a name. It was just a series of steep ascents for about 6km, which, after five hours, was a proper challenge.
Overall position: 121st
Category position: 28th
Overall GC: 118th
Category GC: 28th
Feeling like we’d underperformed on Stage 1, we set off quite fast on this day, which was pretty much a combination of the routes used on Days 1 and 2 of Wines2Whales. Lots of singletrack. Not particularly flowy though. It was seriously windy. Cape Town strength wind! We almost got blown off our bikes a couple of times. Some riders actually did! We were enjoying a steady rhythm until about 30 minutes after Waterpoint 2. Then Issy started to slow. He was struggling to pedal with any power. Initially he thought he needed some energy gels, but then realised that his back was incredibly uncomfortable and getting sore. Pedalling with his right leg caused serious pain. We realised it was yesterday’s fall hurting him and I managed to nurse and encourage him to Waterpoint 3, which seemed to take an eternity to reach (the toptube route profile stickers weren’t always too accurate). Once there, we headed straight to the Medi-Clinic station where a doctor examined him. She suggested he might have damaged a rib and gave him some pain medication. After about half an hour we headed off again. Gradually the painkillers kicked in and, while our pace wasn’t fast, it did pick up a bit towards the end. But we’d lost a lot of time.
Overall position: 198th
Category position: 51st
Overall GC: 148th
Category GC: 37th
A long transitional stage from Oak Valley to Worcester… We decided to start slow and see how Issy felt. Good thing we started slow because it was one helluva stage! Heat, headwinds, sand and the realisation that we were being moved from one location to another rather than being challenged by a stimulating race route. Issy struggled to breathe hard and felt pain on the bumpy sections, but seemed okay and was even super strong at times. The last 40km were pretty tough. If Stage 1 was the Queen Stage, this was the Bitch Stage…
Overall position: 131st
Category position: 33rd
Overall GC: 139th
Category GC: 34th
A lot of loops around the town of Worcester – that’s what this stage involved. Some felt like repeats even! Mundane in places, but a properly challenging last 20km. Three successive climbs, dubbed the Skyscrapers, reduced everyone to grind-and-survive mode. It was hot, very dusty and dry. The area is also very rugged – even the plants feel like steelwool! We rode a little conservatively to the first Waterpoint and then began to make up some places, especially on the climbs. We felt pretty composed and were rather chipper after the stage when we saw our positions.
Overall position: 87th
Category position: 18th
Overall GC: 122
Category GC: 31
Kevin Evans told us before the race that this would be the toughest stage. He wasn’t far wrong. Most underestimated this transitional leg from Worcester to Wellington. The trail surface (sandy in places and rocky in places), wind, and the sting-in-the-tail climb near the finish really broke many riders’ spirits. We were actually going really well, but after the last Waterpoint, we began to fade a little. Normally, I would have loved this kind of long, fast, blown out singletrack descent on the Welvanpas trails to the finish, but my hands were really taking a bit of strain so I couldn’t wait for the finish. I asked Heino to fit some ESI Chunky grips to my bars. The standard ones just weren’t comfy anymore.
Overall position: 83rd
Category position: 19th
Overall GC: 114
Category GC: 31
This was a fun stage, which included a lot of the trails at Welvanpas. There was a high percentage of climbing in relation to the distance and this actually suited us. I realised that I was climbing quite well and was looking forward to the ascents. Loads of singletrack on this stage and Issy impressed me with how well he managed it. Just a couple of months before, singletrack was one of his weaknesses.
Overall position: 81st
Category position: 15th
Overall GC: 110
Category GC: 30
The final stage was boring except for two killer climbs. The first, Paardeberg, I loved. It challenged me on a physical level and a skills level. The second, near the finish, was not pleasant at all. We climbed Meerendal’s famous Dorstberg from the back, past a quarry. We hadn’t attended the race briefing the night before and didn’t know the stage was actually 92km, not 87km, which we discovered on this climb… It was another windy, hot day. Anyway, it turns out this was our best stage result of the race. Our first finish in the top 80 overall, but, more significantly. percentage wise, the smallest gap to the stage winners so far.
Overall position: 76th
Category position: 16th
Overall GC: 104th
Category GC: 27th
So we never got close to a top 5 finish in the Masters. Not even close to a top 10! The guys that finished fifth in 2014 were 18th this year. There was just a lot more depth in the Masters division than the last couple of years. While that wasn’t great for our personal ambitions, it’s actually a good thing for the race.
Despite Issy’s rib injury, we recovered well. We dropped to 148th overall and 37th in the Masters after Stage 2 and then clawed our way back steadily to 104th overall and 27th in the Masters.
We did discover that we got stronger as the race got longer and that starting stages fast wasn’t sensible. We also realised that we were well conditioned coming into this race, thanks to Mark Carroll (my coach) and Kim Rose Gershow (Issy’s coach).
Key to our lower stress levels was hiring Heino Engelbrecht to look after our bikes. He did a great job! We never had any bike drama, which can be highly frustrating and goal crushing at this event.
And the most important element of our Cape Epic was having the significant and relentless
support of our wives, Joanne Badenhorst and Lisa Zimmerman. Joanne was with us for the entire race, while Lisa joined us on Day 4. By letting their (middle-aged) husbands pursue our passion with such comprehensive support is truly special. Somehow they just understand that even though we don’t’ make a living from racing bicycles, it adds great value to our lives and makes us happy.
Standing on that final podium and being given our finisher medals was a fantastic moment and the conclusion of a memorable, life-improving journey. Here’s hoping our journey has given others insight and possibly even inspiration to pursue something similar. It’s true, finishing the Cape Epic isn’t easy, but man, it’s so rewarding.
Issy is no longer a Cape Epic NEWBIE; I’m now a two-time finisher. I think we’ll be back. We learned so much during this edition. Would be pointless not putting that knowledge and experience to the test…
Part 2 of this Cape Epic race summary will include a description of how my training, under the guidance of a coach and using power measurement, made my Cape Epic experience so much more enjoyable on many levels.
Read up on our post Cape Analysis and more in issue 34 of TREAD
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