My teammate for the 2015 ABSA Cape Epic is fellow Joburg cyclist, Issy Zimmerman. Issy is a couple of years older than me, but has an ‘engine’ of note! He’s become a bit bored of road racing where he’s achieved some impressive results as a veteran over the past decade or so and has found new inspiration in mountain biking.
We will race the Cape Epic in the Masters division (40-49 years), which is traditionally the biggest category in the event.
Because we’re both very competitive and unlikely to race the Cape Epic very often (I’ve done one, back in 2005, this will be Issy’s first), we decided to set ourselves a racing goal. We feel a top 5 in the Masters category is achievable. Tough, but possible, if we prepare properly, race sensibly and have a little bit of luck. There are 155 Masters teams in the 2015 edition – a quarter of the total race field, which means a lot of depth. And, knowing the Masters’ mindset, most of those teams will be exceptionally competitive…
After racing our first stage race together in September, the four-day Isuzu Trucks PE Plett, we discovered our two-part dilemma:
Part 1: Issy can ride himself into the red and stay there for ages. I can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that I’ve spent most of the last decade riding within my comfort zone and simply haven’t fine-tuned my ‘engine’ to be able to rev that high for extended periods. Riding into the red is basically willingly accepting an invitation ride in discomfort where your muscles burn, your lungs feel like they might pop and you flirt with the possibility of either vomiting or passing out.
Okay, that’s a highly dramatic description, but that’s what it seems like to me, which is, I suppose, why I’ve avoided it for so long. If you want to be competitive in any bicycle race, you have to ride into the red zone – that’s where a lot of race-changing stuff happens.
Part 2: Despite fearlessly racing superbikes for a few years (that’s where he got his nickname, Jerusalem Jet), Issy has a healthy respect for the fact that a mountain bike crash can leave you with an injury that will takes weeks to recover. So he’s more cautious on descents and a little slower than me through twisty singletrack. It’s no secret that you need to have a fairly high level of skill to be competitive in the ABSA Cape Epic, especially over the past few years, where the race has been incorporating more and more singletrack.
So, in order to reach the prologue on 15 March in the kind of condition that will allow us to be competitive, we need to strengthen our respective weaknesses. Fortunately, both mine and Issy’s weaknesses are improvable.
Luckily for Issy, I’m a Master Instructor at TREAD Skills, which means I can help him find the confidence he needs to ride closer to my pace when the trails point down or become very narrow and winding; we’re doing regular skills-specific rides to allow him to brush up in this area.
My weakness is a little more complicated. So I’ve signed up with Cadence Cycling Performance Centre to help me. I’ve heard so many riders (faster than me!) mention how their training with Cadence Cycling has made a significant difference. In summary, Cadence Cycling Performance Centre offers an indoor studio with state-of-the-art CycleOps bikes (adjustable to mimic your regular riding position) that give you power, heart rate and cadence feedback via a tablet attached to the front of each bike.
In order to develop a plan for me, Cadence Cycling Performance Centre, needed to do a test to see what my starting point is. I had to do what is known as a FTP test, which stands for Functional Threshold Power Test. This is an all-out 20-minute effort that shows what you’re capable of achieving based on your current physiological condition. Not only can regular assessments of FTP help provide you with an indication of whether you are improving your performance-related abilities, but it also provides a very good functional ‘landmark’ from which to base cycling-specific training zones.
Mark Carroll, founder of Cadence Cycling Performance Centre, has sent me some training guidelines based on my FTP test, which will include some sessions at the Cadence Cycling studio structured to improve my cycling efficiency from a power/heart-rate based perspective.
I have to admit that I’ve never been one to ride by numbers because I’ve always just loved riding by feel. But serious racing really does seem to require measurement of numbers and a structured plan if you are to achieve your potential.
The Christmas week is one of indulgence for most. Me included. I’m generally very careful with my food choices, but make a complete exception on 25 and 26 December. My mother-in-law’s trifle is the best trifle I’ve ever tasted – one bowl is never sufficient.
On the bike, I’ve been riding a bit harder. On a 100km MTB ride with the Lab2Lab group I felt a bit flat at times, so have now started taking a carb drink along on the bike. I’ve started with a half-strength mix of USN’s Pro Enduro which contains no artificial flavourants, colourants or preservatives, but does contain fast-acting Vitargo carbs and BCAAs, which are proteins essential for recovery.
I’m on the search for the ideal tyre combination for the Cape Epic. I had a bad experience this past week with Continental X-Kings (front and rear both flatted over some rocks), but think this may be because they’re tyres that came standard (OEM Spec) on a new test bike and don’t have the kind of sidewall reinforcement that comes on the regular (aftermarket) Conti tyres, which are among the favourites when you ask Cape Epic stalwarts about tyre choices. In fact, riders using Conti tyres were exceptionally successful at the 2014 Cape Epic, which was particularly challenging on tyres. Will be giving the Contis another bash over the next few weeks.
I’ve had very good experiences so far with Maxxis (Ikon front, Crossmark rear), so this is a combo I’ll seriously consider, but I’m still going to be testing many other brands, including Vredestein, WTB, Schwalbe, Bontrager and Specialized.
I did one ride so far on VEE Rubber tyres (Galaxy front, Rail rear), over the same route where I had the issues with the Contis and they felt great over the rocks as well as very grippy in turns. But quite a bit more riding of these is required before I can make a call. I find my best testing grounds for tyres are Avianto, Thaba Trails and Kings Kloof, all of which have terrain that seriously tests the limits of tyres and is not that different from the terrain we’ll be covering at the ABSA Cape Epic.
According to Strava, I’ve done three solid weeks of training. The one thing I’m noticing is the lack of total vertical ascent. I’ve done an average of 258km with 3179m of climbing per week. That’s 12 metres of going up per kilometer. The 2015 ABSA Cape Epic has 21 metres of going up per kilometer! I need to find more climbs – not that easy in my home province of Gauteng, but possible. Anything is possible if you really try…
Next time, I’ll reveal my training plan and discuss more gear that I’m testing…
Sean Badenhorst – Editor TREAD Magazine