ABSA Cape Epic


ABSA Cape Epic 2010 Race Report-Merlin Group

How it happened:

A couple of days before the Epic I had jokingly mentioned to a good friend of mine Erik Kleinhans that wouldn’t it be cool if I could ride the epic this year if someone was last minute looking for a partner kind of thing. I thought I should have the legs to be able to do it as I had recently competed in the Giro del Capo road stage race. Well Erik showed me an email he had received about a French guy looking for a partner. I followed my lead but in the end it didn’t work out but was told by the Cape Epic office that there may be a good chance of getting a last minute ride, i.e. on Saturday afternoon and that I should probably prepare my bike and get a few things ready. So Saturday came around and I waited all afternoon for the call. Eventually at about 5pm I said to my girlfriend Mel that “Ah it’s not going to happen.” kind of thing. Ten minutes later I got an unexpected call from a friend of mine Bunnie Loubser who had been referred to me by Erik. Bunnie was not feeling himself and had had blood tests done and had found out that day that he had glandular fever. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands; I was going to be riding tomorrow. I was so excited but at the same time quite sad and disappointed for Bunnie as that was his race down the drain. The next morning I found myself at Diemersfontein wine estate ready (well I hoped) for 8 days of mountainbiking.

Day 1

Dist: 120km, Time: 5.45, Ascent: 2200m, Position: 40th

Well I got the call yesterday evening at 5pm to ride the epic. I was so excited but at the same time really sad for Bunnie. I met my partner Riaan and my whole support crew this morning. Ha ha. The atmosphere and vibe at the start was really cool and Mel, Len and Zoey (the puppy) were there to see me off. The day started off following the first 30km of the Wellington Gravel Travel race which had some awesome singletack. Up and over Bainskloof pass we then went and we were in a good bunch on the descent. We then turned off the tar and onto a rough road which brought us to the 1st water point and base of a 6km gravel road climb. Over the top the trail became very sandy on the plateau before we climbed bit more and then descended a hectic rocky descent. I struggled to keep up on my hardtail. Near the end of the stage came the 8km section of railway track. O shit! It was so tough! So hard on the body and near impossible to get a good rhythm going. I could feel a saddle sore forming because of it too. Finally we got to the end after what seemed like eternity. Welcome to the epic, it was a tough day. They surely couldn’t all be this hard?

Day 2

Dist 90km, Time 5.05, Ascent 1750m, Position 33rd

The singletrack stage. The day kicked off at a brisk pace through dust and sand which formed a dark cloud as we went through it which at times really limited visibility. Riaan unfortunately had a bit of a tumble not too far into the stage but he seemed to be ok. Singletrack would account for 60 of the 90 km on the day including both climbs. There was a good mix of everything from rocky technical trail to flowing forest trail. After about 60km my upper body was shot, I just wanted smooth gravel road or even tar to the end.  I felt good again towards the end of the day and got Riaan on my wheel and we powered. We caught quite a few teams in the last 10km and ended the day in a very solid 33rd place.

It gets dirty out there, my sock “tan” line from the dirt after a stage.

Day 3

Dist 120km, Time 5.48, Ascent 1800m, Position 40th

Today saw a route change due to land access issues the big climb “Mount Evilrest” was out so our total ascent for the day would be about 450 vertical metres less.

The pace started off rather briskly again with the dust once again being really crap as we went out on the same road/sandpit as yesterday. Through the initial gravel road and tar sections we found ourselves in a good group within the top 30 teams. Friends Erik and Oliver (GT/Mr Price) were with us as Oliver was having some serious stomach problems. As we hit the first climbs and singletrack Riaan was struggling so we slowed to try and ride him into the day. A 4km gravel road climb brought us up to the first water point where I grabbed us some food and then rode back up to Riaan. A couple of km’s later we past the turn which would have taken us up the beast of Mount Evilrest, it looked brutal! By the 2nd water point I think we must have been down in about 60th but soon after Riaan started feeling better and we started to take back some of the places we lost earlier in the day. Through the last feed we had quite a few flat roads to the finish where we really managed to drive the pace and take back a few more positions to finish 40th on the day and I think still 35th on GC.

Day 4

Dist 89km, Time 4.45, Ascent:  1640m, Position 47th

We left Ceres today which hopefully meant leaving the sand pit behind. I told Riaan that we should really push for a top 30 today as many teams would be struggling after a tough first 3 days.

Through the first few km’s on the tar we both felt good and had the legs right but as we turned off onto the first jeep track I could feel my rear wheel losing air. I stopped to bomb it and it seemed to hold but 10km later I had to stop and bomb it again. I shook the wheel and made double sure it sealed and went in pursuit of Riaan. A couple of km later I realised it wasn’t going to hold and I would have to put a tube in. When I got the tyre off the problem revealed itself, the Stans sealent had all clogulated (is that even a word?)into a big blob and hence there was not enough liquid in the wheel to seal the hole. I got the tube in and off I went.

The views and riding in the Breede rivier valley were awesome! We started to make back time and positions towards the end but the top 30 would elude us today. We hit some sweet flowing singletrack near the end which you could really throw the bike into the corners. We finished off solidly just under 5 hours.

Off the start ramp we roll to start our time trial.

Day 5

Dist 27km, Time 1.24, Ascent 860m, Position 40th

The short time trial today could almost be viewed as a rest day after a hard relentless first four days. The best thing was that we didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and we made friends with our beds for a bit longer. Mel also came through for the day to support ad it was so good to see her again.

The start of the time trial was fast and flowing and really fun. There was an urban mtb feel to it. Once out of town we hit the rocky and dusty climbs and descents which made up most of the course. Coming back towards the finish we hit some of the sweet flowing singletrack from the previous day. I was having a whole load of fun and launched off a few of the small jumps on offer. All in all we didn’t go too badly on our time trial but it wasn’t a rock star performance either.

Day 6

Dist 123km, Time 5.48, Ascent 2150m, Position 42nd

We started off the day leaving Worcester in a neutral convey for the first 7km. We managed to stay in the front group for the first 45mins of racing as it was mainly flat gravel and tar roads. The first major climb of the day was up to a radio mast which was pretty tough jeep track climbing. Near the top I managed to take my first tumble of the race going over a fence which had been laid down, my big chain ring caught on some of the wire and down I went.

Mostly sections flat, downhill and a few short drags took us the base of the feared Groenlandberg climb. The first 4-5km was on a good gravel road which was fairly steep and then took us to the last water point of the day. The next half of the climb was more gradual along jeep track but quite rocky and sandy in places. Over the top the view of Oak valley was amazing! We descended quite quickly and then hit some sweet flowing singletrack and cool bridges and berms all the way to the finish.

Part of the race village in Worcester.

Day 7

Dist 99km, Time 5.15, Ascent 2150m, Position 31st

Today was a hardcore stage!

It was so cold at the start I didn’t want to give my warm up jacket to Marli. The rolling climbs at the start were hard, fairly short but steep. Down to the first water point after 30km’s we then crossed under the N2 freeway where on the gravel roads a fair size bunch formed. The climb of the day Dassenberg came unexpectedly. It was a bitch! First we had to cross the Beech, a very sandy section with a nice portage up a steep bank. We then climbed on jeep track which was very sandy with loose rocks in places resulting in us having to run on numerous occasions. The summit of the climb saw us greeted with rain and strong wind=super cold! The singletrack down though was super fun and made it all worth it. Nearing the end of the day we managed to pass a few teams and then hold our position over the last 10km of singletrack to the finish. 31st… bitter sweet. Just outside the top 30 but our best position yet.  One more day to go!

Day 8

Dist 63km, Time, Ascent 1650m, Position 32nd

The last day of this year’s epic, as tradition would have it shorter than the other days but still challenging nonetheless with 1650m of ascent. I was happy to almost be finished but sad at the same time to be leaving such an awesome event, I mean what was I going to do tomorrow? Go back to lectures?

The start was really cool as all the catering staff had come to cheer us off. We started off quite well with Riaan riding like Sea biscuit! Passing through Grabouw we reached the foot of the climb of the day. The jeep tracks which formed the last ¾ of the climb were brutal! Quite steep and very loose and rocky, I still have a triple chain ring and this was the first time in the race I used it. It allowed me to spin a light gear and I almost made it all the way to the top without stopping. The downhill was equally rocky and extremely technical.

Nearing the end of the race we reached the compulsory portage over Gamtoe pass where the ox wagons had come many years before us. What was quite cool was that you could see the grooves in the rocks that the wagons had left. At the top of the pass a view of the cape greeted us and I knew we were home now. We looped around the Lourensford valley and then into the finish. Wow what a feeling, the last 500m or so you ride through a finishing chute which is lined with hundreds of cheering spectators. I must say it is quite an emotional thing going over that finishing line. Out of nowhere Riaan produces a bottle of champagne which we sprayed each other with and glugged down the rest. Wow what an experience.

The wrap up

A lot of people have a lot of negative things to say about the Cape Epic. I must say there are a few things they could improve on but really on the whole it is an amazing experience and something every cyclist and even non cyclist should look to do in their lives. You will visit some of the most beautiful places in this country and the world where at times it’s just you, your partner and your bikes and nothing else. It really is the epic, it’s not an easy race and you will be challenged on numerous occasions every day.  When you have finished it is something you can really be proud of competing in and accomplishing. We finished in 36th position and in a total time of 37hours and 10 minutes!

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