April 1, 2010

The Official Cape Epic Report: Days 1-3

Sportograf bestof gallery. Stage 1-5 2010 Absa Cape Epic_1269873958193

“Have you been to see the ass doctor.”

It wasn’t the first time I had heard these words this week, but they rang true to one of the key truths about this race. Look after your bum young man. It’s a vital commodity here at Cape Epic.

There are currently only 3 races in the world awarded with Haut Categorie status. Only one is a race where amateurs can compare. Its reserved for the really tough races. The other two are races you may have heard of. The Tour de France and the Tour of Italy, commonly referred to as the Giro d’Italia.

The poor Vuelta (Tour of Spain) can’t even compare in toughness to the Cape Epic, and that’s only for the pro racers of the world.

To explain the toughness is one thing. To go into detail as to the level you have to be prepared to go to every day in at times, your darkest places, is another level entirely. The euphoria of finishing a stage strong could easily be compared to a nirvana like state that lasts almost entirely until 15 minutes before the start of the next day. This is a place of extreme highs and lows, almost zero middle ground, but with a reward at the end that cannot be comprehended.

I guess you need to go in so far over your head at times that you cannot jump to touch the ceiling. These are the really rewarding situations.

Such was the Cape Epic for us, and for many others out there. Months of preparation (some would say your entire life) lead to the start where we were lined up in 400th odd place out of 1200 riders. Not having a pro seeding meant we had to start a way back. This despite being in the best shape of our lives, Brett and myself were ready as can be for whatever the week brought.

To go the race in a measured effort is certainly not the way people are looking at Cape Epic from what we can tell. The general plan for most people seems to be as follows:

“When the gun goes, I go as hard for as far as I can, then hope for the best.”

This rang true every single day, where I would be dropped at the start only to slowly and methodically claw our way back (I am a particularly slow starter) throughout the day. It would be something we would get quite good at during the race. It however, guarantees no TV time.

I hope to accurately describe the emotional race that this was in the following posts. I hope you can enjoy it…

Day 1

The pace was furious at the start, none more so than my brute Brett who was determined we could ride from about 200th team to 30th in the first 30minutes. He was not far off. Stronger than an ox, I had full faith that he was holding back a little, even if I was maxing out 12min into the 722km race. The road was full of short ups until we got to the first big climb where we rushed up and I was maxed out pretty much 20% up the hill and had to ask Brett to hold back. If the Epic was going to be this hard the whole way I was in trouble.

Up and down the Bainskloof Pass and onto a flat road that was about 20cm deep in sand we rode in a tight group to the second water point, where, of all things, I had to fasten my cleats. The climb began just after and we let the group go in the hope that we would see them on the climb again.

Onto the first real climb of the day I was sitting behind Brett and the tell tale goose bumps on the back of his legs were there and I realized we needed to slow down. Not often I have seen the beast at its max, but we were only halfway into the day and I needed to slow down to get him whole through the day.

By 70km I was feeding him, and by 80km I was pulling/pushing him. Never a great thing to see such a close mate hit the wall. I knew he would be back with a fury the next day, so I just set tempo and held strong as we were still catching teams.

We hit the infamous train tracks and by now, my hands were toast as my front shock has decided to lock at roughly 60km in. The train tracks ruined them and by the end I had blisters and was in severe back pain from over compensation. We basically rode in the middle of a train track for 8km through the rocks and bumps. This at 100km into the race.

2 more km to go and we caught two more teams and came in 34th men’s team on the day, just amazed at how well the day had gone, despite some energy lows and the mechanical I had. Just another day at Epic, but we were filled with enthusiasm for the days to come.

Day 2

We began the day with huge enthusiasm for us. We were hoping to apply a more gentle start now that we were in the A group. We were ahead of where we wanted to be when we made a navigational error and followed instead of watching for signs. We both made the error so no fault there.

Something to note. Epic is ridden as a 2 man team. We are each the other persons:

1. Mechanic
2. Chef
3. Anchor
4. Motivator
5. Wake-up call
6. Voice of reason
7. Tow-rope
8. Energy drink
9. Friend

I could go on and on, but really, Brett was an incredible partner. Thanks bra. This was our greatest adventure.

back to the tale…

500m later, at 6km into the race, we had what would be classed “a race ending mechanical”. Without going into too much detail, we had to push, pull, run and adjust the bike for the next 24km until we got into the first water point, where the mechanics did their best and gave us 3 gears to use on the bike.

A note. This was the most technical day in the Epic ever. More single track than in the previous 3 Epic races combined. To be stuck behind really slow people, 90min behind schedule, with only 3 gears on Brett’s bike, was hugely trying and frustrating. The way we dealt with it was to try and make some jokes and just set tempo that his equipment could handle.

It was massively disappointing for both of us and our heads were hung low as we made our way home. As the afternoon went on we tried to find the positives and find some motivation for the next day. We went to bed early with a plan to surprise everyone the next day as we were back starting in 150th again.

By now I also had full blown tendinitis elements in 4 of my fingers. I could not operate shoelaces, knives or earbuds, but was able to ride 100km a day over mountains. Amazing how the body can cope.

I would wake in the middle of the night with cramped rock hard fingers and have to bend them on the tent floor to get them to release.

Day 3:

Supposedly the big day, the big climb was removed. Instead there were some long, flat, sandy sections inserted and a climb so rocky I was swearing at Mother Nature in 42 languages. We were going really strong at 40km when out of the blue I had a really low moment. I went from being in a great mood riding tempo to being ravenous and on the verge of an epic bonk in about 32 seconds.

I was totally confused, feeling flat, lost, hungry and my mind was telling me to just keep going, that it would come right. I piled in 3 energy bars, 2 gels and almost an entire bottle of energy drink in the space of about 20minutes as an emergency precaution.

Amazingly, it held until the second water point, where I piled in 2 cups of coke and 2 more energy bars. It was desperate stuff but it came right and we caught 2 groups of guys and we all worked really well together on the flat road.

There we were. 3 teams. 3 languages, 3 nationalities. Nobody understood each other, yet we worked in perfect unison. I was riding next to a Venezuelan chap who I didn’t share a word with, yet we rode 1min in front at the exact same pace probably 10 times in a row, then moved away in unison to let the next two strangers come through. It was poetry in motion.

We dropped the lads on the last climb and motored in home, feeling strong again. In the end, 38th was what we had on the day, all the way up from 150th. It was one of our best days. Brett was really strong on the last 30km and made me work really hard. We were now fully into the routine and ready to ride the Worcester the next day.

This was a ding dong day but we dealt with a possible energy bonk far better than day 1. Communication is everything at Epic and the moment I felt it was coming I just told Brett to feed me as my hands were not working so well.

I will share the other 5 days tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed it so far…

4 Comments on “The Official Cape Epic Report: Days 1-3

April 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm

you tell a good story

April 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Bloody good writeup… looking forward to the follow ups!

David Perel
April 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Awesome Raoul, looking forward to reading the next 5 days. I can’t wait in fact. Nice writing too 😉 good story telling.

April 2, 2010 at 7:04 am

Man, this gives me goosebumps! What an amazing race, its so good to remember the pain of each day and good to see you pro okes suffered as bad as we did! Nice work.


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