Everyone riding an endurance event like the Cape epic has
their own ideas and race plans. Everyone riding should have a
plan, the front guys call it race tactics, the back markers
call it survival and the mid pack are somewhere in between. In
our past experience with the epic we have observed 3 main
riding techniques and strategies that we think work for
different people and situations.
How to ride the Cape Epic
Ride conservatively to finish, keep heart rate below 70%
of max - This means that you ride at your own pace
effectively and do not worry about riders around you. Your
only goal is to at all times keep your heart rate below 70%
and avoid the lactate zone at all costs. This is the lowest
risk strategy as you are always riding within your means and
your body should be coping with the stress. It is a
comfortable way to ride and finish.
This is how we rode our first epic. Not knowing what to
expect and with our main goal to finish, it was the ideal
strategy for the race. We felt comfortable at all times and
finished all of the days comfortably. Having never done a
multiday event we had no idea how our bodies would react and
how we would deal with it. We started the first day towards
the back of the field so as not to feel the pressure of racing
and to allow us to find out own rhythm. We had decided that we
would follow this ride plan for the first 4 days and then
re-evaluate to see how we were feeling. After four days we
were feeling good from a strength point of view, However both
of us were suffering with various joint and muscle pain,
probably due to the fact that we had never done anything like
this before and our bodies were getting used to it.
Consequently this was the best strategy for us. Because had we
pushed harder we may well have forced those niggles and pains
into race stopping injuries.
The distances in a race like the Cape Epic can be very
daunting so it is important to breakdown the race into
sections and then the days into sections. In the past the
first few days have usually been the toughest. So breaking the
whole race up into sections makes it a bit more manageable.
Everyday is a new day with new challenges and new obstacles. A
good or bad performance the day before does not guarantee the
same for the following day. So riding day to day is wise. We
would even break down each day into the major obstacles for
the day and the water points for the day. This again makes
everything seem just that bit more achievable.
We used the water points, usually 3 per day to catch our
breaths re-fuel and stretch. We tried not to waste time, so as
not to lose momentum and motivation, but we did not rush, and
made sure that we had a good rest, setting off again for the
Injuries, bike breakdowns and falls are the biggest causes
of not finishing an endurance event like the epic. Bike
breakdowns and falls can be virtually eliminated by adopting a
conservative riding style. Everyday when we had tough
technical sections we would remind each other that the goal
was to get through the sections safely by avoiding falls and
bike breakages. In all 3 epics, I have had only 2 punctures
and Albert has had none. Neither of us have fallen and we have
not had any major bike breakdowns. Interestingly both times
when I got punctures we were pushing in the last few kms of
the day to finish. Lack of concentration and being in a rush
cost us punctures.
Using these strategies we found that we were being
conservative with our energy stores and were feeling stronger
and more confident towards the end. We would always finish
days comfortably and felt strong at the end. This carried
through to the end of the race and we found ourselves catching
up other teams and making up time on our overall positions.
With other riders showing fatigue due to harder efforts in the
start of the race, we were feeling good.
For first time epic riders and average riders this has to
be the strategy to follow. It has the least risk associated
and will significantly increase your chances of finishing.
Ride to race, keeping heart rate below 80% - This is
the strategy that we followed for our third epic. With a
specific goal to finish inside of the Top 100 teams overall
and the Top 50 mens teams. From the start we knew that this
would be a far more risky riding strategy, because we would be
out of our comfort zone, and again not really know what to
expect from our bodies.
The first goal was to get a good start on day one to get
into the seeded start groups and start with a reasonable
position on day 2. It was Merve, another 3 time epic finisher
who we had ridden with in the past that commented, “Day one is
for the podium”. Meaning that it was important to get a good
start on day one and not to loose time over fellow riders with
similar abilities. This went against what we had known and
practiced in the previous races. Wearing yourself out on the
first day was not recommended because it would make for a long
and painful epic, or possibly a short and regrettable epic.
But with our strategy to stay below 80% of max HR we were
confident that we would minimise time spent above Lactate
threshold and not do too much damage early on.
The second goal was to stick with our start group and start
fast at the speed of the bunch that we were in and to maintain
speed until everyone settled in. This again was important to
stay in the running and not end up losing time to other
similar teams. In the past we had found that the fast starts
were normal towards the front of the field. Especially on the
first tar or dirt road sections it was important to hang in
there for as long as possible.
The third strategy was to finish the day as quickly as
possible and recover. We came to realise that we would rather
push it a bit and finish an hour to half an hour earlier
rather than take it easier and ride for longer. We realised
that the sooner we finished the sooner we could start the
recovery process. This then became our main objective, to
finish quickly and then recover. The key to getting this right
is to understand and know when you are reaching your limit out
on the bike. You need to be able to time it right so that you
finish the day tired but not to push it too far and finish
completely exhausted. If you push it too far you will not be
able to recover adequately and you will be in trouble for the
Every bit of time counts riding at pace so stops are kept
to a minimum and the water point stops need to be quick.
Full out racing - This is not a strategy that we
have first hand knowledge of so it is really just our
observations and comments from looking at the lead riders. At
the front of the field it is full out racing everyday as teams
are either defending a jersey, attacking the jersey or trying
to make up time.
These guys have to go as fast and as hard as is necessary
and possible. The key to riding like this is obviously some
talent, but also to have done some serious preparation, have
experience and know what you are doing. Recovery is probably
the biggest secret here and it is by following a good recovery
regime that these riders are able to ride like this.
They finish in the shortest possible time so they have
significantly more recovery time than most others. They have
organised themselves so that they do not need to do anything
other than recover for the next days racing. All the admin,
bike washing and setup, kit, food etc is sorted out by a
backup team. They have at least one if not two massages as
well as a nice afternoon nap and spend the rest of the day
resting their legs and preparing for the next day.
The front racers are not superhuman though so you will find
these riders all showing increasing fatigue as the days go
buy. They count on the fact that they have some good days to
make up time and that everyone else riding with them will be
feeling similar levels of fatigue. So towards the end of the
race you may find some of these riders drifting through the
field. But their efforts early on in the race will have meant
that they have built up good time gaps and maintain their
positions this way.
The Cape Epic gets faster every year We have noticed a
significant increase in the average speed of the riders since
the first Cape Epic in 2004. With 2008 being the fifth year
many of the riders have had 5 years of stage race experience.
There are several other stage races around as well, so riders
have honed their skills for multi day riding. In 2007 we rode
a stage identical to a stage ridden in 2005, our time was 40
minutes quicker than in 2005, but we obtain the same overall
position for the day. That just goes to show how the overall
pace of the race has increased as well as the ability of all
So you better have a plan if you want to keep up with the
If you have specific questions or comments then
contact us, or discuss and
share your experiences and advice for others to see at the
Epic Guide Discussion.