The ABSA Cape Epic is regarded as one of, if not the hardest multi day mountain bike races in the world and is the only HC rated UCI race for MTB. World and National Champions in XC, Enduro, and Marathon MTB as well as ex TDF and continental road riders compete in teams of 2 for 8 days in South Africa’s Western Cape. In 2014 the Cape Epic covered 730km and over 14850m climbing on single track, district road, road, fire trail and unrideable goat path that forced even the Pro riders to walk.
Team Wembley Cycles – Nigel Adcock and Dr Mark Oliver (Johannesburg, RSA) reunited to race in Masters; we had previously teamed up in 2011 after a brief courtship of cyclist internet dating.
We started our ride at Mirrendal Wine Estate (Durbanville) through a stair drop between eager spectators. Single track and jeep trail led into “Stairway to Heaven” a punchy switch back climb to the high point of the day, Doc and I settled back into a steady rhythm. Due to heavy work commitments we hadn’t managed to ride together before the race, a comfortable tempo past hundreds of spectators had us gain over 200m climbing in 2km, a thigh burning start. Nearing the top of the climb they announced:” Team Wembley Cycles from Western Australia, Dr Mark Oliver and Nigel Adcock all the way from Papua New Guinea, where they are cannibals and eat people!”.
I suspect Doc had set me up, he claimed ignorance, the Cape Town crowd were in stitches!
We were warned that the quarry had sharp rocks and passed the first punctures of the race. Doc had organized a 10:20am start chute so we could sleep in, predictably the racing snakes started to filter through, trying to improve their seeding for Stage 1, by and large the PRO riders were polite and passed easy, it was MAILM’s just down a level that were just dangerous. Doc is a big guy, and let them know, a dangerous pass means a short trip into the fynbos (body guards are good!)
It was a reasonable start; we were riding our way into a long week. Rain was forecast in Robertson for the next 2 days,it was a very un-Epic like start to 2014.
As Epic veterans we were prepared for rain,our tents were given an extra tarpaulin layer and WA mates from Speedlite Cycles had a rainproof tent city built. The course profile showed us exactly how the day eventually panned out, unrideable 20% rocky hills that we walked, so we could ride mountains later in the week.
Doc is fast on descents and I could safely ride just off his wheel,we ate up the downhills! I ended up with front brake fade and assumed it was overheated fluid (not good on a super steep drop when your partner is on a speed mission), arms aching, ass cheeks scraping rear wheel we had at tidy finish today.
Doc’s fast downhilling had us up almost 100places GC and 33 Masters, ending up in start group C for the remainder of the race. Doc didn’t notice his frame had been warranty replaced,(A whole new Trek hard tail); only when he queried the mechanic where the stickers went on his bike did they give him the good news. #See note about Doc’s cranks!
The race director called this a transition day, supposedly undulating small hills on single track,linked with district(dirt)road.Instead it was a brutal wake up,wet and rainy.
Having survived 2012 “worst day in epic history” Doc and I were prepared. Pace lines were useless in the rooster tail of mud,echelon riding seemed to work moving us along. 10km into the stage I totally lost the front brake; (brakes are over rated anyway) I ran the rear brake till it started to skid and then hoped for the best.
We decided it was a survival day,stay warm,stay safe and maintain our position. It was so muddy on the trail our sunglasses were useless, but needing a barrier just the same because I wear contact lenses.
At one point, there was clay so thick our wheels wouldn’t spin in the rear triangle,we watched a”hero” hard pedal, then explode his chain into 3 pieces, that teams race was over with the next repair station over 20km away.
Doc was having trouble with power in his legs,having to expend watts just to turn the wheels over sapping his energy.We held together and tagged onto a Belgian roadie bunch that dragged us for 10km to the finish. A much needed shower after today!
Stage 3 – 110km 1800 m. Robertson – Greyton The weather had improved overnight; it was still a very un-Cape Epic temperature. I was complaining to anyone that would listen that I’d trained for heat with 40 degree endurance rides, I wanted the Europeans to suffer not thrive! Magura did a warranty replacement of my MT8 brakes,so now I could actually punch downhill safely. We reversed a 7km power line climb we had rode up in a previous year, technical and rutted we tapped our way up. Doc let me off the leash on the descent and as good mate Pete Gill had done previously,I bombed pasta white knuckled Alain Prost in loose baby head rocks,so much fun!
The headwind picked up to 40km/h so we joined in with a mixed euro bunch not once being asked to do work over multiple km. Docs legs started to fade so we dropped off, I went to the front. (I have trouble with surging when on the front, so Doc patiently guided my pacing). ‘Up ‘down ‘easy ‘speed up’ what ever worked to keep us going down the road.
It was frustrating for me, and annoying for him getting dropped, but we worked it out. I finally had to call it quits,(a team alone in a head wind sucks-my legs were burning up and Doc couldn’t help), after a food stop I asked him flat out if we could hide in a bunch.Euro roadies came to the rescue again, we amalgamated into a group of 30, with a tailwind HEAVEN!
We hit single track and I lead Docs good mates Joel Stransky &Stefan Terblanche(ex Springboks) through sweet twisting creek bed trail. Those lads were on a mission; we dropped off and finished our hardest day so far.
Stage4-88km1850m. Greyton – Greyton The start chute talk was of a big day 5, the race was starting to hurt teams with so much energy expended earlier in the week. Steep, punchy climbing was on the cards. Up through farming paddock we climbed steadily onto a rock flagstone jeep track and were rewarded with a spectacular view back across to Greyton.
Serengeti descent was 5km of pure single track bliss,at the bottom I asked Doc if we could get the helicopter and do it again. Switch back climbing and more switchback single track descent, just joy to ride. I had to start pushing Doc on the hills, my small arm on his back, spinning little ring. The other teams stated we looked ridiculous, him 6’4 and 95kg with a 70kg Pygmy working our way on the steeps. To protect him on the flat I stayed on the front in headwind when I could. He firmly told me to use the HR monitor to not push too far and blow up with 3 stages to go.It was a great day with lots of single track to keep us happy.
It was called “The Queen”, hot 28 degrees and so much climbing after a long week. I just loved today, a solid day of climbing! We headed across the valley and kept going up and up. We kept our pace even and worked our way to water point 1, through orchards and around to ‘Rusty Gate’,high point of Cape Epic2 014.It loomed menacingly in front of us, Doc told me to wait for him when I wanted, technically we broke the rules, I would ride ahead and take photos or stop in the shade. I couldn’t push him, the trail was just too steep, it was a solo climb to ride at his own pace. I watched riders imploding in the heat with their nutrition and hydration wrong, people crying with cramp slumped over handlebars. There was still 50km to go!
We breezed through water point 2 and 3 and started up Groenlandberg, Doc got a flat tire that we plugged to save time. It kept leaking, finally taking a finger size amount of plugs.We finished the day with a walk up 20% hill. I was in good spirits,Tanya and Wilhem ( my wife and 6 yr old son) had arrived from OZ,we were finished with tent city,B&B king beds and goose down pillow for the next 2 days.
Stage 6 – 85km 1800m Elgin – Elgin There is a 10 min gap between each start wave so sometime, though too rarely,you get a perfect moment, in a race of 1300 competitors to ride a majority of the day alone.On the first major descent of 7km we hit 50km/h, just full gas through rocks, it stayed quiet into Thandi MTB park so we railed ‘hero dirt’ berms thinking it couldn’t get better.So many races we had been in a conga line of slow riders, nervous breaking for every obstacle, today, one special day in Elgin we had open single track just flow and burn.
Doc and I rode into Paul Cluver Amphitheater a wooden stunt park,spectators lined up including Pete Gill (2012 CE partner and best mate), techno music blared as we negotiated elevated obstacles, no pressure though!!!
We had sacrificed time and placing today, open trail was too good to waste. It was worth every trail we got to ourselves.
A perfect day on the bike.
It was hard to leave a warm king bed and head out into the rain, I only felt a little sorry for Michael, Kelvin and their partners in tent city. I did miss the traditional 5 am race wake up; a haunting lament of bagpipes playing “Auld Lang Syne “, in the morning fog it’s truly a beautiful sight.
We grabbed our bikes from secure bike storage and joined our week long friends in start chute C,it was a deliberate choice not to line up front of grid,there would be no chasing bunches with Doc’s bike issue. The day’s highpoint came early with the Newberg climb, not far from the start my seat post had slipped,I told Doc to ride on and I would catch him at the top.It took longer than I thought, with cold wet hands.I set off to find him, giving weary teams with smashed legs a cruel shock of big ring power racing past them,it felt awesome to ride hard!
Doc and I took in the sights and smells of pine forest trail and open sandy jeep track leading to the compulsory portage.We were just under half way done and could see across the valley to Somerset West, dropping down into twisting single track we raced into water point 2 where a smiling Pete urged us on with“there’s beer at the finish “. The route took us right up underneath the mountains again and then turned down across the plain to Lourensford, Dr Evil threw in a couple kilometer’s of deep sandy track and rocky riverbed, to keep us honest.
My first proper crash of the race came 2km from the finish line, bouncing off a cut tree stump I flung into the bush, Doc rounded the corner to see me scrambling back on the bike cackling and yelling “ I’m ok,I’m ok “. We could hear the helicopters by now, rounding the final turn I grabbed the Papua New Guinea Flag stuffed in my jersey and proud salty tears flowed as we rode down the finish chute. I spotted my little boy Wil perched up on Pete’s shoulders, to have the family and best friends at the finish was overwhelming, I was just beaming from ear to ear!
A fist bump with Doc and we were done,Cape Epic over.
I’m the first Papua New Guinean to complete at Cape Epic,1st PNG and 4th Australian to complete 3. I’ve joined Doc as an Amabubesi part of the“ Pack of Lions “and after 5 Cape Epic’s he is done with this crazy race.To the outsider it may look like I’ve retired from racing Cape Epic as well, the race does take its toll. It’s a heavy family commitment to dedicate your life to months of training: Using annual leave for block riding, early mornings, big days and taking a foam roller to family get together s becomes normal.
For 8 days all that matters is fuelling your body and willing your mind to ride the same pristine trail as World Champs, celebrities and people from all over the world. We cover the same distance; climb the same mountains in the same weather to become Cape Epic finishers. In my opinion it carries the same weight, the front pack Pro or the tail end Clydesdale. It has always been about the journey.
In truth I love the suffering, I call those long hot training rides in the hills“ Tempering”,I burn my body and mind day after day, to harden it to what the race will bring. So I don’t suffer as much in Africa. So,for now, I’ll keep entering the lottery and if successful I’ll ride each year until my body or commitment doesn’t hold.
Cape Epic for me encompasses that infinite human capacity to endure,to keep going when every part of your being tells you to stop.But finding away; if you can hold your nerve, to endure! To make promises, ‘next water point’, ‘next rise’, ‘one more day’. In those times,by your side is an equal partner,spurring you on,because your common goal is to finish together.
What I’ve learned from riding 3 Cape Epic’s –
1/ Riding for, not against your partner, takes mutual respect. We watched Speedlite cycles (Michael Kerklaan and Kelvin Little both acclaimed national and state XC/marathon/24hour riders)on different stages truly sacrifice themselves for each other. Michaels crank fell apart stage 2so Kelvin pushed and dragged him 20km to a mechanic stop. Later in the week Michael shepherded gastro stricken Kelvin to a triumphant Cape Epic finish(he’d been on a drip overnight and eaten minimal food over 2 day)
2/There’s no medal for finishing alone.It’s a hollow race to ride day after day as an Outcast.
3/ Get a daily massage and ice bath if available, recovery is key to backing up day after day
4/ Eat like your race depends on it, because it truly does. You can’t eat enough for the energy expended, its about limiting the losses.
5/ I’m not that fast or a short course rider. I love a big day climbing into the hills or mountains.That’s why Cape Epic appeals; I’ve had access to remote private land and national park, ridden insane back to back days in distance and climbing with scenery that takes my breath away.
6/The best times are shared moments with people just like me,pushing their limits,seeing that drive and determination. Physically and emotionally spent but finding something in themselves that drives them on, a revolution, meter, climb or day at a time.
7/ I have always come to the race with flexible expectations. I’ve learned quite early on that cautious riders finish a Cape Epic; you make your own luck by being thoroughly fit, preparing and recovering well with no preconceived plans on weather conditions. Sure, the Western Cape is generally hot, but to never train in wind or rain ill advised.
8/ We always plan race strategy to conserve energy for the whole 8 days, with some in the bank for problems like Doc’s crank (if we had spent 4 days at full gas,I wouldn’t have had the strength to push him up the hills). I was never on the front, unless it was Doc and I alone, our pace went up and down gradually, no smashing the legs. Making sure we used the draft in a pack and never, ever riding side by side. On climbs,settling into an even tempo.
9/ Each day is only one crash or mechanical or medical problem away from a DNF.
10/ Get a mechanic, a good one! That that stocks all the spares needed for your bike. Have 50% more brake pads than you think are needed.
I need to thank the following people and I’m sure I’ve missed a few trying to get this report finished:
Tanya,Theo and Wilhem, my family- Endurance training is a truly selfish endeavor and shift work doesn’t help,the chores I don’t do and the family time I’ve missed. It’s telling when you’re youngest sons ‘ imaginary ‘ friend doesn’t have a father. Thank you for letting me follow a dream, and joining me on the finish line.
Epic partners – Mark and Pete, it’s been an honour and a privilege to share trail together. The highs and lows of stage racing and still keeping our friendship intact. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to ride with two exceptional MTB riders.
Wembley Cycles- JC and all of the crew for their technical expertise,mechanical advice and shop rides.
Steve Trott (Hot to Trott sport performance) – The functional training Master.” Work;till I tell you we’re done!” still rings in my ears.Sessions that I thought I wouldn’t survive!
Damien Oldmeadow (Star Physiotherapy) – Sorting my back and bike fit,no saddle sores,bad back, nerve pain or numb arm.
Steve Steele (UPBEET) – Loving that purple endurance fuel
Mark Codner- Mentor and friend,a true MTB legend,always ready with training and racing advice.
All the lads -Gilly Chris,Gregor,Grant,Jake and IOAR.
SPR – As a club and each individual, it’s a group of people from UCI racers to juniors on training wheels, but collectively a place top ush limits,build volume,learn about cycling and forge friendships on and off the bike. As a frequently absent member, I love SPR and what the club represents. Thank you El PRes the committee and all the riders.
# THE OTHER CAPE EPIC STORY TO TELL
Stage1 Doc had his frame replaced on Warranty.He had complained is legs were weak, not climbing well and generally just under performing. It took our good mate Lance Stephenson from The Epic bike shop to find the problem. It was never Doc’s fitness, he was as strong as ever, there was a mechanical issue his Normal bike mechanic didn’t pick up! Lance is a gun mechanic,previously wrenching for UCI pro “Team Bulls”,after so many complaints about Doc’s power and stamina after a day in the saddle Lance took a look at Docs bike. The Trek went for a long test ride and Lance found a problem with his cranks, they were seizing up, but only after a long ride!
It turned out the BB was installed with a spacer missing, with torque applied to the BB on fitment; load was induced on the bearing causing interference.There was only slight friction,so a normal spin during bike service didn’t pick the problem up. But, after a long period of riding, due to the interference the BB bearing and crank would heat up and it would bind on the crankshaft. Lance found on the test ride that eventually you couldn’t turn the crank by hand without great force.
Doc didn’t have a leg problem; he was loosing watts from a badly fitted BB.It was day 5 by the time Lance found the problem,he scoured the mechanic village for a suitable replacement but there was none to be had, so we finished our race with Doc’s bad BB/crank!
Any mistakes omissions or grammatical errors are my own. Its a big race so apologies for a long report, if you’re still with me the link to Hires team photos is : https://www.flickr.com/photos/yeti_101/sets/72157644379535241/
A good friend told me “You need to finish The Epic with your life,your body and your relationships intact; there is life after Cape Epic “. Thank you Doc,I’m forever in your debt.
I’ll see you all on the bike, keep the rubber side down. Nige