Mark Nel accepted an invitation out of the blue four days before the race from Patrick von Schoor to do the Absa Cape Epic as his teammate. Knowing just how formidable the Cape Epic is to finish when prepared, we think he’s mad! So, we asked him to write a daily diary so we can follow his suffering, er, um progress.

We finished in one piece! There were a few times this week where I doubted we would. I think when you’re really suffering on Stage 1 and you think about what lies ahead, it can really mess with your head. The fact that we were able to compartmentalise the event like we did really made it a whole lot better.

We are thrilled to have got through it unscathed. We didn’t have one puncture, not one mechanical and no crashes. As we got into the race, we wanted to get a bit more involved in racing. But sitting between 70th and 80th in the Men’s section isn’t exactly a position you want to be racing from. There’s not much point. But when you’re competitive by nature, there are moments you go into that race mindset.

Finished in one piece – and at peace. Mark celebrates his no-training finish and Pat savours finishing his 10th Absa Cape Epic.

It was actually magical race. Of all the Epics I have done, this is the hardest one – largely because of my lack of preparation. I had thoughts at times, while in that awful pain cave, that I wouldn’t be doing another one of these. But now that I have finished the race I’m already thinking about the next one.

It’s such an incredible event. I’m so proud of the fact that it’s a South African race. We can really all be proud. When you realise that it’s a bucket-list event for mountain bikers around the world, we really should be very proud. The team at the Cape Epic have done a fantastic job.

We were very fortunate in that we had a Premium Package entry, so we stayed in hotels and had someone driving us when we needed it. We had massage therapists. With us were two other teams – two Dutch guys and two Brazilian guys. And that is the beauty of sport. You are able to forge friendships with guys you would never have met. There we were, sitting around the dinner table each night with two Dutch doctors and two Brazilian bankers sharing war stories and discussing our respective cultures. Those guys will be our friends for life! There were hundreds of others that also made those connections and forged those friendships during the past eight days. And long may they last.

On that note, this was Patrick’s 10th Cape Epic. I met Pat in July this year. We hit it off immediately. We know a lot of the same people. He’s probably the nicest guy I have ever met. He has an unbelievable way with people and an incredible spirit. When he asked me to ride the Epic with him four days before the event, there was never a moment’s hesitation from my perspective. Just to have the opportunity to spend time riding bikes through beautiful countryside with Pat and get to know him better wasn’t an opportunity I was going to pass up.

Mark enjoys the attention of his biggest fans after completing his third Absa Cape Epic. Fitter, slimmer and wiser than nine days ago…

As a former Springbok water polo player, Pat is an athlete, but he’s also an incredible bike rider. He’s 52 but stronger than most 22-year-olds I have come across. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been invited to experience this event with him. He is certainly now a friend for life.

I hope I will do another Epic again. What I can assure you is that I’ll never disrespect it like I just have. I’ll show up fit and mentally prepared. Well done to everyone that rode the event. Finishing the Cape Epic is no mean feat. And well done to all those who played their roles behind the scenes who make the event what it is.

Mark Nel and Patrick von Schoor (Team DSTV Media) finished the 2021 Absa Cape Epic in 39:00:06 – 138th overall and 81st in the Men’s division.