We arrived in Knysna on the Thursday, two days before the race start on Saturday. After our first Epic in 2005 and some time off a solid six months of preparation had come to an end. To quote one of our training partners: the truth serum was about to be applied, and we would find out if we had done enough to complete the magical and untamed African race. Albert drove our backup vehicle – a Subaru Outback – down from Pretoria; while Alan caught the Cape Epic bus from Cape Town to Knysna.
On Friday morning, we went for a bit of a warm-up and loosen-up ride to the top of Simola hill – the route that the start of the race would follow. Luckily registration later in the morning was a very quick and painless affair as we’d pre-registered online. All we had to do was collect and sign for our race packs and we were ready to go. Also having pre-booked our massages online, we were allocated the time slots we requested and didn’t have to worry about that.
The rest of the day was spent obsessively checking weather forecast after weather forecast. There was a cold front looming, which looked set to arrive smack on time for the start of the race. Our bikes got a last minute once-over and all the spares and tools were checked to make sure that nothing had been forgotten. By afternoon, our bags were packed and we were ready to race. Belinda fetched Tim – the other half of our race support – at the airport. We enjoyed a bit of a pasta party with 3 other Epic teams at our cool Knysna Quays accommodation. Then, after one last look at the weather to confirm that it would indeed be raining at the start, we got our last night of sleep on a normal comfortable bed.
Accumulated Stage Results for Team Barloworld Subaru
|STAGE||DATE||STAGE POSITION||STAGE TIME||RACE POSITION|
Albert Polar HR report
Day 1: Look Ma! No brakes!
Knysna to Saasveld: 121km, 2865m ascent.
The rain had started at about 3 a.m. and our worst nightmare had been realised: a wet start to one of the hardest possible days of the Epic. It subsided as some 530 teams lined up under the Cape Epic banner; but minutes before the start the heavens opened and stayed that way for most of the day. Nobody really seemed phased by the weather conditions, but most expected the worst – not knowing that it would probably turn out even worse than that! We were just anxious to get going as the build-up and anticipation had become so overwhelming that we just wanted to get out there and ride.
Mike Mike kicked off the race at 7:15 to the theme tune of “Have a Nice Day” by Bon Jovi, while the start helicopter whirled overhead head getting aerial views for the live TV broadcasts to Morning Live and some European TV stations.
Day 1 Cape Epic 2006Not long after leaving the paved Simola road, the grinding paste had been evenly applied and it was downhill for bikes and equipment after that. We reached the first water point at 35km after about 2.5hrs; with our bikes in a state, temperatures dropping and a long way still to go. Brakes on both bikes were virtually down to the metal. It was a miserable sight in the cold and we decided to press on to the second water point and reassess brakes and gears there. With many steep downhills to come it was not a comforting thought to be navigating them with failing brakes.
At the base of the biggest climb of the day, we crossed a river that resembled a bike wash so we stopped and did a complete brake and drive-train clean before starting on the climb. At least now the gears worked a bit better and the grinding subsided for a while. Eventually we reached water point 2 at 83km after 6 hours and saw a ray of light: literally and figuratively.
Our backup crew was there to lift our spirits and provide encouragement. We replaced some of the brake pads and cleaned drive-trains again. With the sun coming out and slightly better conditions, we picked up our speed and made good time to the last water point at 109km. This first day is all about climbing as the downhills are so short and fast that it feels like a continuous uphill with little to no time to rest.
We rode into Saasveld in bright sun leaving behind what must be one of the most difficult days on the Epic ever and certainly one of the toughest days on the bike for us. Our Subaru support crew were on hand with lunch and helping hands, which is exactly what we needed. After sorting out our bikes, they were back in tiptop shape and we breathed a sigh of relief that we hadn’t had any major breakdowns. However, not everyone was as lucky; and we spent time after dinner helping out other teams with maintenance on broken spokes, brake pads, rotors and callipers.
The bikes would show the effects of day 1 over the days that followed, as we continued to fix and maintain parts affected by the treacherous conditions.
Day 2: Lekker by die See
Saasveld to Mossel Bay: 117.7km, 2030m ascent.
Day 2 Cape Epic 2006The 5 a.m. wake up was cold, wet and dark: something we would become used to as race start at sunrise each day meant getting ready in the dark. But after a good breakfast we were ready to take on day 2. Clearly some people had had more problems than we did on the previous day and we found ourselves seeded in E-group. This was great because we wanted a bit of a head start before hitting the narrow jeep tracks. It turned out to be a great riding day with technical jeep tracks to start, some steep uphills and downhills, then winding rolling track along the Outeniqua mountains with sea views in the distance. The rolling hills were a bit exposed and we found that tucking away in a pack helped to keep the momentum up and provided protection from the westerly headwinds. At about halfway, we passed through Botlierskop game-reserve which provided fun technical climbs and descents. There were some loose rocky descents and sandy rocky climbs. Everything was rideable with some momentum and the correct lines. The riding progressed to rolling farm hills before crossing farmlands and ending up on the railway jeep track. The jeep track followed a downward trend with panoramic views over Mossel Bay, and it was a magnificent way to lead into the stage location. The finish was right on the beach, with a tricky stair descent to be tackled before crossing the finish.
Race village was literally metres from the beach and we secured a tent right next to the sea – definitely one of the best stage locations yet. We had some tasty burgers from our support crew who were there as usual with lunch and tools to get the bikes ready for the next day. There was a bit more time on this day to go over the bikes and get some other admin done. After a shower it was time for the daily massage, which was proving to be a winner of an idea. More weather moved in that night and a light drizzle settled in.
Day 3: Show Me the Sun
Mossel Bay to Riversdale: 123km, 1595m ascent.
Day 3 Cape Epic 2006The start was right on the beach again and although a little cold, the weather looked promising when we got to Riversdale. Heading out through town on tar and onto the railyway jeep track – back up the down route from the previous day was surprisingly easy and enjoyable. The route crossed some farmlands on single and double track to keep things interesting. But eventually we were back on the secondary roads and rolling hills into Riversdale. It was not all plain-sailing though, because the rolling hills often transformed the 70km/h descent to a grinding 7km/h slog up the short steep sections. We rode the last section with fellow riders the WeaselDoos, and crossed the finish line to the thrill of a wave from the Raleigh Team of Kevin and Mannie on the podium receiving their 3rd place price for the day. Since this was one of the “easier” flat stages we treated the stage as a rest day, having felt tired the previous day; and in anticipation of a tough stage 4 which lay ahead.
Alan’s Mavic freewheel had started to make some serious vibrational noises on the downhills and upon opening it up; it was easy to see why: the grit and grime from day 1 was causing havoc inside there. After a clean and a lube it was back to normal and trouble-free for the rest of the race. Albert decided to replace his chain as it was showing some wear and prevention rather than cure was his preferred choice.
Riversdale was warm and sunny, making it a memorable stage location and with a shorter day behind us, we took advantage of more time to relax.
Day 4: How Tough Will it Be?
Riversdale to Swellendam: 120km, 1905m ascent.
Day 4 Cape Epic 2006On paper this was going to be one of the tougher days and with lots of climbing and some technical track to negotiate, it could be a long day out. At the race briefing the previous night, we learned that a loop in Grootvadersbosch had been cut out, which meant less technical – but still not easy – riding. The start was chilly and misty but very festive with all the school kids cheering us on our way. This was a tough day with a mix of all types of road conditions. The start was fast out of town and stuck to the hard dirt roads until the climbs started. There were two major climbs at the 20 and 50km marks. At 25km, we hit the highest point of the day on heartbreak hill followed by a super-fast dirt downhill. In a blur of speed and adrenaline we clocked 80km/h at the fastest section of the day. The second climb into Grootvadersbosch was tougher and more technical than the first, and we passed many teams in the technical sections, enjoying the challenge of riding everything. It was definitely one of our better days out. With the major climbing behind us, the run into Swellendam was flatter with only two small hills to conquer.
We saw our support crew at water point 3 in Suurbraak and had an impromptu interview with Dan the man, the supporter-zone MC. The last section through the Bontebok national park was flat but had some rather rocky roads, and with the heat of the day it sapped us of our last bit of energy. The finish into Swellendam was on the main road and was festive as usual. We left our support crew to get lunch from the local vendors – a tasty piece of chicken and some fresh roosterbrood – while we went to retrieve our bags and find a tent for the evening.
The mid-point of the race is always a defining moment. For some, the success of getting that far provides encouragement to go on and finish; while for others, it is a reality check. The cracks had started to show in teams as the effects of 4 days of tough riding started to take their toll and the reality of 8 days of riding set in. For us, it meant that Alan came down with a cold that put a damper on things; and Albert’s knee was also showing signs of wear. The next day supposed to be the easiest and we decided to take full advantage by riding easy and staying well within HR zones, especially for Alan.
Day 5: Survival and Recovery
Swellendam to Greyton: 114km, 1420m ascent.
Day 5 Cape Epic 2006Alan definitely had a cold so this was certainly going to be a day of survival and damage control. This only major climb of the day was at 40km and was short and steep. Otherwise, plenty of rolling farm roads and some fun single track were the order of the day. We took it really easy from the start and stuck in a bunch at a comfortable speed until we got to the climb. On the other side of the climb, it was onto rolling farm roads where we rode at our own pace and made up some ground. Midway, at the second water point, our support crew was bursting with encouragement and boosted us for the last stretch which was a gradual uphill along the scenic mountains of Greyton. The finish was nicely layed out on the main road opposite the local pub with the chill zone opposite. Alan survived the day and felt tired, but it seemed like riding with a cold would be ok if we didn’t push too much.
Because the tents were pitched in an uneven a field, it made the night uncomfortable for some and what’s more, being right in the mountains made the night probably the coldest of the race.
Day 6: I Must Go Down to the Sea Again
Greyton to Hermanus: 120km, 1820m ascent.
Day 6 Cape Epic 2006The ride into Hermanus promised to be a good one, with some challenging conditions as well as scenic routes. It was cold, misty and dusty for the first 30km followed by 4 tough, steep climbs – 3 of them in the last 30km, with the last one also being the most technical. We started fast in a strong bunch and made good time going into the first climb at 30km which proved to be a successful tactic that set us up for a good day’s riding. The next section was winding and windy which made it difficult to get into a rhythm and stick with a group. We backed off a slightly and rode at our own pace, choosing to save ourselves for the last climbs of the day. A lot of the day was spent riding with the Aussie ladies who were looking for a 3rd place podium finish. At 75km, we hit the first of the climbs; the section was tough going with the heat becoming a factor. The climbs were sapping energy and easy hills started seeming like mountains. The last water point at 100km was a good refuelling stop were we stocked up and headed for the last climb which was sandy, rocky and tough but mostly rideable. It lead up to the top of the mountain overlooking Hermanus and Walker bay. Along the ridge we rode with the Probike Raleigh team, taking in the awesome views as we descended the steep tar section. The last bit was single track along main road into Hermanus where we finished strong in one of the busiest finishes of the race on the beachfront packed with people.
This was one of our favourite days, with great riding – we enjoyed the technical sections and climbing; awesome views and a great finish location. The race village was on the high school grounds where we rested in the shade of the grand stand and sorted out our bikes. Alan’s cold wasn’t getting any better or worse – so it was a case of just ride and bear with it.
Day 7: Saving the Worst for Last
Hermanus to Boschendal: 146km, 2570m ascent.
Day 7 Cape Epic 2006This was always going to be the toughest day and it sure was. We looked forward to the technical riding and climbs of the day but knew that it was going to be a long day out. Rumours of a shorter day did not materialise and although the finish was made easier by going straight into Boschendal, it was still 145km and almost 3000m of climbing that lay ahead. The start was fast on the tar of the first climb of the day. Riding in C group, we were happy to get a quicker start and benefit from a faster group. At the top the climb turned onto dirt and rose again before descending to the first water point. From 30km, we climbed for next 40km to reach highest point of Groenland at 76km. The water point stretch between WP1 and WP2 was long – from 37km to 85km. This made it critical to fill up at WP1 to make it to 85km – those who missed it suffered!
Groenland was tough and hot at the bottom, but while the temperature cooled on the climb, the riding got tougher. The 1000m ascent was really draining and was eating away at the last of our energy reserves. We rode almost the entire climb, walking only in the very loose steep sections. The 10km descent was brilliant and required every ounce of concentration to stay in control. On the descent, we passed a few teams including the leading ladies. The second water point was busy and like an oasis as we were all out of water. The next section through threewaters was a bit of a grind with the first section into the wind and the last bit just going on forever. With Franschoek pass looming, we conserved as much as we could to make it over the pass comfortably. At the last water point halfway up the pass, it was our supporters and loving wives who refuelled us.
The last 25km were easier after that stop and we made up some ground riding with the Litespeed team to catch a larger group ahead. We finished strong going into Boschendal, but were both exhausted after an extremely long tough day out – over 7 hours on the bikes.
The food was great here and the venue excellent with lots of shade and grass. We were happy to have made the dreaded day 7 feeling good and ready to finish the last stage.
Day 8: Give it Horns
Boschendal to Spier: 67km, 1435m ascent.
Day 8 Cape Epic 2006On Day 8 we both felt strong and decided to give it our all. We started fast to get ahead on order to avoid queues and bottlenecks at the singletrack. It paid off, but meant that we had to ride hard. With almost 40km of single and jeep track to look forward to, excitement was high. Racing from the start, we managed to get into the front and kept our positions. The riding was brilliant and we felt great. The climbing was tough -especially the brick wall up to the castle -but we rode everything and had clean runs at the single track. It turns out we had one of our best days ever: with ideal technical riding conditions, strong enough legs to make the uphills and enough nerve to sweep the single track, we rode into Spier in under 4 hours. Hilton’s bagpipes pulled us in as we completed our second successful Epic and crossed the finish line safe and sound.
Compared to the previous year this epic was much cooler. This was due to the dates being at the end of April and the route being closer to the sea. We drank a lot less and only really had 2 hot days to speak of. The mornings were generally cold to start, especially if the route was flat initially. With the cold air and some speed, warm clothing was definitely a good way to start the day for the first few hours. Some days it remained cool all day and wind vests and arm warmers stayed on for most of the day sometimes. The 2007 event however will be earlier and follow a more inland route so temperatures can be expected to be considerably higher.
Each day had 3 water points and we usually stopped every time, only skipping a water point on the last day. We rode with water in our camelbacks and made a bottle of energy drink at each stop, so we would have 3-4 energy drinks per day. Food wise we ate PVM energy bars, jungle oats bars, peanut bars, biltong, dried fruit, muffins, fruit cake and hot cross buns, all of which we carried for ourselves. At the odd water point we had some oranges or bananas. Then of course there was the unforgettable salami sandwich at the last water point on day 7 half way up Franschoek pass, that was a life saver. Post ride we ate something almost immediately after finishing as well as having a rehydrate each day. For the rest of the day we would snack on various things and stay hydrated with water. Then at dinner it was eat as much as you can for the next day.
True Confessions of a Cape Epic Junkie – the story of our support crew
Camp next to sea at Mossel Bay
View over Hermanus
Grootvadersbosch track and descent
Seeing the sun halfway through on Day 1
Our support crew at Franschoek pass
Dinners with friends
Meeting riders in the middle of nowhere
Eating after the ride each day
Seeing our bikes come clean
Making day 7
3h51 on day 8
What we learned second time round:
– If you ride the same you will finish the same
– A support crew really makes your life easier – fetching and carrying stuff, providing food, doing washing
– Massages every day are worth it and a time to relax if nothing else
– The competition and the pace is increasing every year
– Bad weather can be overcome mentally but not mechanically – bikes really take strain – spares and preparation are critical.
For more info on preparation, training and all our epics check our Cape Epic Guide.