Everyone riding an endurance event like the Cape epic has their own ideas and race plans. Everyone needs to plan how to finish the Cape Epic, race strategies for the front guys, 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 Finish 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 our 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 and strong. However both of us were suffering joint and muscle pain, having 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 can be daunting so it is important to breakdown the race into days and 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. Making sure that we had a good rest, setting off again for the next stop.
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 5 epics, I have had only 2 punctures and Albert has had one. 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.
How to Ride to Race
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 next day.
Every bit of time counts riding at pace so stops are kept to a minimum and the water point stops need to be quick.
How to Race the Cape Epic
Full out racing – This is not a strategy that we have huge experience in, though in the fourth epic we gave it a really good go. 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. Since 2004 riders have more than 15 years experience to draw on now and experience counts. 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 the riders.
So you better have a plan if you want to keep up with the pack.
If you have specific questions or want to share your experiences leave a comment below, for more advice see our Cape Epic training guide.