If you’re going to race the ABSA Cape Epic, you need to do some hard racing/stage racing in the build-up to prepare your body, mind – and family – for what lies in store come mid-March.
So in the past six months, I’ve done the following races as part of my ABSA Cape Epic build-up:
- September 2014: Isuzu Trucks PE Plett – 4 days, with Issy Zimmerman
- October 2014: FedGroup Berg & Bush – 3 days, solo
- November 2014: FNB Wines2Whales – 3 days, with Gary Barnard
- January 2015: Fairview Attakwas – 1 day (120km), with Issy Zimmerman
- February 2015: DUTOIT Tankwa Trek – 3 days, with Issy Zimmerman
The PE Plett was my first race with Issy. It was a four-day test to see just how compatible we are. Fortunately, we discovered a very high level of compatibility and we managed to win three stages and finish second overall in our category (40-49 years).
There’s wasn’t too much depth in the field there, but we decided that we needed a competitive goal for the ABSA Cape Epic to motivate us further. We’re naturally competitive – and male. It made complete sense to set an ambitious racing goal six months in advance.
Top 5 Masters (40-49 years) we decided. A podium would be unrealistic when you consider the quality of riders we’re up against in the largest category at the Cape Epic. Even a top 5 is a stretch target for two family men with high volume business commitments like us. But there must be a challenge we decided. Something that would put us under pressure to train like Trojans and make the most of this opportunity.
The Attakwas, a one-day race that’s earned a reputation for being as tough as any of the hardest Cape Epic stages, is a solo-entry event, but we raced together to get a feel for our form (and connection) after the summer training weeks we’d been putting in separately over December and January.
We were aiming for a time of around 6 hours, but ended up doing 06:18. We realised that with eight weeks to the Cape Epic, we still had some serious work to do, both on our endurance and our strength (24 guys in our age group finished faster than us which didn’t exactly bode well for our top-5 Cape Epic ambitions). The hills were steep, but not particularly long, which suited me. I struggled a bit with the duration of the race though… Issy and I both cramped towards the end – nature’s way of telling you that you’re not conditioned enough for the duration or the intensity – or both. Yikes!
Then another four weeks later, at the Tankwa Trek, I was doing my first hard pedalling on the
Momsen VIPA Team Issue. It was partly a test to see if this was indeed the bike I wanted to race at Cape Epic. I had been riding a VIPA XT (the model down), which I had found really worked well for me. The Team Issue is one notch up in terms of weight. It also has simultaneous remote suspension adjustment and Shimano’s new XTR 1×11 drivetrain.
Issy was already decided on his Cape Epic machine – a Cannondale Scalpel. “It’s the ideal bike for me. The rider needs to improve though,” he joked/didn’t joke after Attakwas… (Note: only after Attakwas did Issy discover that he’d been riding a 36 front blade, fine for Jaroslav Kulhavy, but not most of us mortals. He’s now riding a 32 on his SRAM 1×11).
So the VIPA Team Issue passed the Tankwa Trek race test with a distinction. The rider wasn’t as impressive – maybe a B minus. The fast pace had me up against the ropes at times and the massive Merino Monster climb (1000m in 20km) on Day 2 put me in a dark place. And a dark place on a bicycle in the fresh air in a stunning part of the country just one month from the Cape Epic is a worrying place to be.
That climb made up my mind to get a 30-tooth chainring for the Shimano XTR 1×11 drivetrain on the bike. I couldn’t see myself scaling the 15000m of climbing at the Cape Epic with that gear. On the Merino Monster I was just over-geared from the bottom and it wore me down the further I climbed. I wasn’t able to climb with Issy (actually, I seldom can climb with him on long climbs), so he rode ahead, knowing my strength was the long descent, which he would tackle with caution ahead of me.
And it was my time down the descent that confirmed the VIPA Team Issue would be my Cape Epic machine. The bike goes down faster than a loose… well, let’s just say it’s got the geometry and cockpit that made me feel fully in control on a course that saw many feel out of control. Despite only having 80mm of rear travel, I was able to own that 10km descent, which is rough and technical and steep and fun!
Two long back-to-back rides the weekend after Tankwa Trek made me realise that our early pace at Tankwa Trek was actually too fast. By riding a more measured pace for the first half of our rides, we can finish the last half strong. By riding too hard a pace for the first half, sees us struggling through the second half not unlike a bloodthirsty mosquito in a strong wind.
Yes, it seems logical, but our competitive juices in the build-up to Cape Epic seem to have flooded the part of our brains where common sense is based. So on our last long/hard training ride this past weekend, we confirmed that we’ll not get caught up in the excitement of the early race pace during the Cape Epic stages. We’ve learned, again (we’re male remember), that in a mountain bike stage race, a measured effort is more effective than a manic one.
Next time: I will discuss our gear choices for the ABSA Cape Epic.