A few of our MTB Rouleurs have asked for a race report of the recent Cape Epic, rated by some as the hardest mountain bike race in the world.
Given that it took place over 8 days I won’t be giving a blow-by-blow account of the whole event.
The Cape Epic is the only UCI HC (Hors Categorie) mountain bike race in the world and shares this honour with Tour de France and Giro d’ Italia. A guaranteed 6-10 hours each day in the saddle, searing heat and relentless climbing, added to inevitable mechanical failure from rough terrain, leaves many competitors lucky to even finish.
The Cape Epic is also the largest full-service mountain bike stage race in the world. Imagine a moving tent city for 1200 riders; add the support staff, catering and media. Throw in a dining tent for 1000, sponsor tents and chill out zones, medical, massage, race administration, laundry, phone/internet/computer hub. Now add a transport group for race bags, a 30-cubicle shower trailer and fleet of trucks carting 130,000 litres of single source potable water, a bike wash and bike park to take care of the dirty jobs.
And last of all a few manufacturer stalls, Shimano, SRAM, Rockshox, Specialized, Trek. Mechanic/ bike shop tents for riders who couldn’t be fussed maintaining their bikes for the race.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDT8GyNfYLg 2011 route
Cape Epic Basic Rules:
Ride in Teams of Two. To become “official finishers” both riders must finish together, throughout the race you must stay within 2 minutes of each other, (random timing mats on the trail ensured compliance)
New Route Every Year. No GPS tracking, with a life ban if caught. Farmers sick of trespassers make it a condition of access.
No outside assistance. Spectators/support crew cannot give you food/ water, push you or your bike, give spares or fix bikes.
For this year’s race South African and international riders faced a tough 707km with 14 550m of climbing from Tokai Forest in Cape Town to Lourensford near Stellenbosch.
The MTB equivalent of Internet dating brought my partner Mark Oliver (from Johannesburg) and I together. The usual questions: What do you ride, how much do you train, what’s your lactate threshold/VO2 Max/max heart rate then a few emails exchanged back and forth to see if we were “compatible”.
So enough of the background info. It’s a big race, lots of big name MTB riders, its tough, and steep, here is the ride report:
Prologue Team Time Trial 27km 750m.
A later start for us was good to sleep in. We had practiced the course earlier in the week; nice single track and no crashes, Mark and I got accustomed to each other’s riding.
Highlight: The spectators, this race is BIG in South Africa, televised live on super sport, having a couple thousand people cheering us on got the heart well and truly pumping.
Lowlight: Leaving my lovely bed and breakfast, the next 7 days would be tent city.
Day 1 89km 2050m.
A ridiculous stage in 36 degree heat, everyone walked the steep hills including the pros, I felt overwhelmed, if the rest of the epic was like this we were in trouble.
Highlight: Finally getting into the race, I was riding amongst some the best in MTB (just further back)
Lowlight: A rear derailleur blow out losing us lots of time on our first day, we managed to get a repair going to save our race!
Day 2 104km 2300m.
Super hot day again, we went out quick to get time back, staying with our lead bunch hurt the legs, we hoped it wouldn’t bite later. Climbing and more climbing in the saddle with a 45 min “hike a bike “walk. Spectacular scenery at a mountain top and fast downhill home.
Highlight: Getting a 15km draft off a pro team, (they had a mechanical, racing past we latched on, said that if we could hold wheel we didn’t have to do any work, bonus!)
Lowlight: Hike a bike sucks! Trashing my S- Works shoes, burning and dehydrated under the sun.
Day 3 125km 1900m.
A cloudy, 27 degrees and the quick starts continued, a few teams passing us on earlier days now crawling. Very scenic terrain, climbing into foothills then down again. Don’t remember much else, it just hurt all day.
Highlight: Complimented by World Downhill Champ Tracy Moseley for my descending skill through rock gardens.
Lowlight: Long and draining, deep sand, kilometers of rock terrain, definitely lost my mojo. My partner at the end said it was the toughest stage he’d done in 3 epics.
The organizer had to increase the stage cut off time from 10 to 11 hours, there were that many competitors still out on the course late in the day. We watched 2 riders at 11 hours 4 minutes come in and have their race plates cut off and replaced with “blue boards” now unofficial finisher when they continued. Heart breaking to watch all that effort wasted.
Day 4 Team Time Trial 32km 800m.
Hardly a rest day, we got to sleep in little. Mark, my partner, also a GP, had bronchitis exacerbated by the trail dust. The short course was very steep in sections so walking was the call (he had trouble breathing on the climbs) only 3 teams passed us, not much time lost.
Highlight: Bombing down the last half of the course, very sweet single track.
Lowlight: Overnight rain, the tent leaked, fatigue was bad enough without even less sleep.
Day 5 143km 2350m.
A classic Cape Epic big day out. A mass start and fast roads had us racing 10 wide for kilometre after kilometre, we formed bunches and took turns along farm road and track quickly notching up 90km. The early tracks led to the foothills of Groenlandberg mountain, for the next 20km we climbed at 15% through fragile fynbos (low shrub) national parkland. Uphill lead to nice flowing downhill into Oak Valley and home. Surprisingly not as tough as we expected.
Highlight: The absolutely spectacular view from the top of Groenlandberg.
Lowlight: Mark suffering through the climbs, my partner was hurting, the team was hurting.
Day 6 128km 2700m.
3 Mountains in a day on tired legs, over Groenlandberg to start! Feeling strong I went to the front in a headwind, catching bunches of riders and moving on, Mark conserved his energy for the inevitable climbing. I had my mojo back and the last half of the day was the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike. Single Track Heaven!
Highlight: The awesome Oak Valley single track.
Lowlight: Having to attend the “Bum Tent”. When your arse breaks from saddle sores (Boys and Girls) there is a special section of the Medical clinic. The line was long; the process was efficient the finish slap on my arse from the nurse was mortifying.
Other riders weren’t so lucky on the Oak Valley track. Wil Hayter from Marathon.MTB and friend, both with broken collar bones after this crash.
Day 7 59 km 1700m.
A Red Bull aerobatic plane buzzed our very up beat start line where new friends chatted in groups, impatient to get going, for Mark, his daughter would be at the finish and for me, good mate /SPR rider Pete Gill and his lovely girl Michaela. At 8:10 am our start group rolled out and I had a clear message from my partner ‘don’t get cheeky, we’re not finished yet’. I went to the front to help Mark when I could and stayed steady climbing, soon enough we heard a helicopter buzz signalling the end was near. Finish line fever pushed the pace up and we formed a small peloton of weary legs racing to the line.
The finish chute was amazing, thousands of spectators, friends and family lined the barricade, and we were done!
Highlight: Having friends at the finish line made my day, a beer has never tasted better.
Lowlight: The melancholy of a partnership and race ended.
Later in the day I had a tear in my eye truly humbled as I watching blind cyclist Hein Wager and his partner Gerrie Oliver cross the line. They rode, pushed and carried a custom tandem bike together for 8 days, both receiving a standing ovation as the collected their finishing medals.
1 206 riders Professional and Amateur rolled off the start ramp, at race end 992 riders crossed as “Official Finishers “. The finish number was the best in 8 years of the Cape Epic, some years the attrition rate had been over 20%. Mark, my partner, now a 3 time finisher bluntly stated 2011 had tougher trails than previous years, but a combination of cooler conditions for the later stages and fitter competitors had more riders getting through the daily cut off.
Medi-Clinic treated a total of 1 460 riders, which included fractures (including 10 broken collar bones), saddle sores (me included), wound care (me again), strapping, dehydration and even kidney failure.
You get tunnel vision when racing, Mark and I were talking constantly, “what’s your heart rate”, “how do you feel”, “easy”, “speed up”, “have you eaten”, “have a drink”. Conserving energy and pacing were essential; so many teams passing us earlier in the week were basically going backwards out of the race by Day 3.
Anerobic effort and surging or blowing up on climbs by not walking when needed was a team killer.
Nutrition/Hydration was the other factor, your appetite is long gone, but you eat/hydrate because you have to, then you eat/hydrate over and over because you won’t finish each stage if you don’t.
I’ve been home a month now; my arse is healed (thanks for everyone’s concern). Energy is up but I have “issues” at max heart rate.
I’ve had time to reflect on the race and months of training leading up to it. Early mornings leading into all day endurance rides, waiting for 35 degrees to “heat train” in summer, laughing through Saturday main 1 ride and getting dropped on Thursday mornings .As a cyclist I count myself lucky to see places many don’t get to see, meet people from all over the world, each with their own stories and a common love of time in the saddle and challenging their limits.
The Cape Epic is a world wide lottery; if you want a ticket – http://www.cape-epic.com/
I’ve already got my entry for 2012
See you out there, pedalling on.
Nigel Adcock – Cape Epic Finisher 2011
To see more photos – http://www.flickr.com/photos/yeti_101/sets/72157626708999436/show/