ABSA Cape Epic: A Look Back
by David Bryant
What is the Cape Epic?
‘The Untamed African MTB Race’ is a multi-stage, full-serviced, team endurance mountain bike event that attracts some of the best riders in the world. Dubbed a mountain bike race for roadies, the course, designed by ‘Dr Evil’, features exceptionally long stages over challenging terrain and took place in South Africa’s Western Cape on 25 March to 1 April 2012. Conditions can be harsh for both the riders and the equipment - helmets, shoes, friendships, collarbones, ribs, wheels and even your desire to sit on a bike ever again. Everything will take a battering.
Ridden in pairs a prologue (long enough to be a time trial) is followed by six stages of very tough riding and a final easier stage to get you to the finish line with just enough energy left to party.
A Fresh Looking Pair Set Off
Prologue – Ready, Set, Go… to the toilet
Before we even got to the start line my partner, Willie Watt, and I (HotChillee Green Team) faced our first challenge – food poisoning. Like many others suffering the same fate we downgraded our first day’s team plan to ‘survive’ rather than ‘race’. We made it through the short, hard, 30 kilometers. But Will was in a bad way and in the race hospital.
Stage 1 - And then there was one
We started the stage but only under the watchful eye of the race doctors and after 2 hours of mostly pushing, sitting and vomiting we rolled into the first drink station. For Will, sadly, the race was already over and he headed back to camp with the doctors and I pushed on - I could still try to earn myself a finishers’ T-Shirt.
But a few harsh truths about the Cape Epic were coming my way. With the temperature touching 45ºC and savage rocky terrain under my wheels, I tore my front tyre wall. Fixing it was costly, leaving me all but last on the trail, and reinforcing the point that I was now a lone rider. Six hours later I arrived at the finishers’ tent totally cooked and a broken man. It was close to the hardest days riding I had ever done and it was only day one. Everyone else seemed equally shattered.
Long Brutal Climbs
Stage 2 – Excuse me, pardon me, can I have some more please!
Although cooler at 38 degrees, it was long, dusty, windy, hard and just a little bit lonely without my partner. As a solo rider I now started at the very back of the field and while there was a lot of traffic to get through, there were advantages - I could ride my own pace and had plenty of people to chat to as I made my way through the field.
Stage 3 – Are we there yet?
At 145km stage three was one of the longest in Epic history. And there was the added procedure of packing up camp, as well as getting to the start line for 7am. I’d never ridden so far on a MTB in one day so it was a big test. With the temperature still in the mid 30s I refueled on marmite sandwiches, a few cups of full fat Coke and came in covered in red dust. Another epic day done.
A Rare Chance To Cool Off
Stage 4 – Strong enough to blow a dog off a chain
Battling a 50kmph head wind / cross wind and searing heat stage four was tough. With 25km to go my heart rate was well in the red but I was only doing 8kmph. At that rate I still had more than three hours in the saddle. One of the shortest stages was proving to be one of the toughest so far.
Stage 5 – Brrrr
In total contrast stage five dawned windy and the temperature was now in single figures. Seven hours of torrential rain brought more mechanical challenges - another pair of brake pads cooked (that was two for so far) and new cables. But it was another stage over.
Stage 6 – Ouch
Shorter at only 85km we were greeted by some nice single track, rideable climbs and plenty of great descents. It was proving to be an awesome day, until I hit the deck (big time) on one of the descents. Incredibly I was not broken but my bike sure bike was. Some trackside structural modifications got my front wheel rolling but I couldn’t get air in, so I push and carried my broken bike to the next aid station. I estimated that it was 5 km, 17km and two hours later I arrived. They were expecting me. A doctor greeted my face with a kitchen scouring-pad, to remove the bits of mountain I was still carrying in my head. And the very friendly mechanic greeted me with a credit card machine asking if I need a new wheel! But a couple of marmite sandwiches, a glass of coke and a few flawless recitals of my name later and I was on my way to the finish, with only 25km to go. I crossed the line with clenched fists, gritted teeth, a bloodied face and a bruised and aching body. The doctors, and the cameras, were waiting for me. Job done. Just.
Is There Something Wrong With My Wheel?
Stage 7 – Grand Finale
The final day, was a 60km procession designed to leave riders with just enough punch to party at the finish line. The sun was out, the trails were dry, great views, good single track sections and a tear or two was shed coming down the finish chute.
It's Everything You Dream About
So what do I think the Epic is?
The Cape Epic is an absolute adventure. Stripped down to a basic machine it’s about total immersion in the moment. Nothing else matters. It is an immense physical and mental challenge and is its own contradiction; it’s long and fast, dusty and muddy, searing and frigid, confronting, annoying, tedious and funny, painful and emotional. It's queuing for toilets and showers, it's drinking champagne, it’s panic and calm, it’s tense and relaxing, it’s marmite and Coke, it Haribo and potatoes, it’s plastic forks and paper plates, it’s millions of pounds of bikes and bins full of broken parts. It's seeing the stars at night and it's seeing stars on the bike. It seems so long and so far but it’s over too fast. It’s tears of joy and tears of pain but always with a smile. It was a truly amazing experience and it’s the hardest thing I have ever done.
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