Thursday, April 14, 2011


2011 saw the ABSA Cape Epic kicking off with a Prologue in Tokai forest on the slopes of Table Mountain. The 27km Prologue was a Cross Country dash with 700 meters of jeep track climbing and descents on sweeping technical powderdy single track. Coega participated in team kit supplied by Indawo, a Cape Town based company. The kit really stood out and seemed to be well known amongst the crowds who had packed the course.

The crowd support at the Prologue, and throughout the event, was an outstanding feature. For the first time ever, the event had live television coverage on the first and final day. It seemed that Cape Town had come out for a picnic and there was a Tour De France type of support at all the major action points (normally the most technical sections). Crowds willed the riders up tricky ascents and dared them to take on the treachearous descents. Our aim was a incident free ride with a time to place us in the first start group for Stage 1 at Tulbagh and we got precisely that in a time of 1 hr 25.

Stage 1 was the first serious business with a 89km stage around Tulbagh. We started strongly and had a fairly uneventful ride ending up in 77th overall. The route was marked by some treacherous technical descents, where I took a heavy fall into a Protea bush, emerging largely unscathed, except for bruising on the inner calf. Later, I was to learn that Kevin Evans had fallen in a similar spot, but, had broken his shoulder, bringing his Cape Epic challenge to an end. Mike and I were both on DT Swiss forks and after finishing the first stage we both agreed that the forks were just not up to the Epic. Mikes was locking up and mine went sloppy after two hours. The Supporters village is something to be experienced, with tech crews working through the night to prepare bikes for the following day.

The guys at SRAM sorted us out with Rock Shox XX SIDs and by Stage 2 we had broad grins from their performance. But, 40km into the ride, those grins turned to grimace. Mike's freehub in the rear cluster packed up and for the next 6km it was a case of run, push and pull. We realised that unless we could get it repaired, our chances of finishing as a team were bleak. I first tried zip ties to lock the cluster to the rear spokes, but, these ripped out in seconds. We then used a spare derailler cable to lace the cluster onto the spokes and that solution got us home.

We limped in at a fraction under 8 hours, loosing more than two hours on the day, but, we had survived the day albeit with our chances for a good overall finish in tatters. Fatigue was also a major issue as you not only loose time, but, also the energy of being in the saddle longer and less recovery time. The highlight of Stage 2 was undoubtedly the export grade apples of the Witzenberg valley. They are undoubtedly the sweetest and most unblemished ever, and must have been the apples which tempted Eve!

Stage 3 was probably the hardest of the entire Epic, massive climbs, technical rocky descents, and sandy flats, switching between vineyard and mountain slopes. For me, this was one of the nicest days as it suited my riding style and Scott Spark perfectly. Whereas I normally struggle through thick sand, on the day, body, bike and tires were perfectly balanced, ripping through everything which Dr Evil could throw at us.

Stage 4 was the time trial at Worcester. This is undoubtedly, South Africa's secret Mtb Mecca, with endless miles of singletrack. We again stayed with Phil and Di, who had mobilized the Worcester community to support the Cape Epic. Many businesses and houses were decorated to welcome the Epic, and Phil's - probably the oldest home in Worcester - was the Pride of the Cape.

On the day, Phil has whipped up what seemed like the entire community of Worcester and covered the road leading to the climb of the day in chalk messages of encouragement. There was even one for Coega! A week later, the roads were still covered in chalk, with the Coega one still visible - Rachel was very impressed!

Stage 5 was the Queens stage - 143km - over the Groenlandberg to Oak Valley. On the 2010 Epic I had started to fade on this stage, my core having been pulverized by the Specialized M5 Aluminium hard tail. 2011 was a different story - I was thriving - the full suspension Scott Spark absorbing everything the terrain was throwing at it -leaving me to glow in its handling responses. On the single track running into Oak Valley, the bike was on rails and we rode away from everyone trying to stay with us.

Stage 6 has a monstrous 2700 meters of climbing, basically twice over the Groenlandberg. The single track of Lebanon was sublime, but, very familiar from 2010, and left me with the impression that Oak Valley will not be seeing the Epic in 2012. That night, we had a thorough sitting in the Oak Valley wine tasting tent, numbed with their stunning blends and glowing in the prospect of finishing the final day. Stage 7 followed the traditional route and finish to Lourensford. As usual, the portage over the Ox Wagon route, offered stunning vistas of the Mother City and coming into the Lourensford finish, I felt like turning back and doing the whole think in reverse! But, nothing can explain the feeling of finishing strong and seeing ones loved ones again.

The record shows our results as follows (our posistion in the Masters category is in brackets)

Prologue: 124 (27)
Stage 1: 77 (15)
Stage 2: 309 (93)
Stage 3: 98 (19)
Stage 4: 88 (17)
Stage 5: 92 (19)
Stage 6: 105 (21)
Stage 7: 111 (24)
Overall: 119 (25)

Our overall finish was worse than last year (104 overall and 17th in Masters), but, in many respects it was a far better race for me. The Scott Spark made the entire race an experience of Grins and not Grimaces. In 2010, the top 30 teams were basically Professionals. This year, it was the top 50 who were Pro's. Every year, the bar is being moved higher and higher as more Pro teams see the marketing benefits of this race. Like last year, I had a fantastic partner and I would love to do this race again. I had thought I was over the Epic flu, but, Im afraid its one of those viruses you never shake off!

It's tempting to rue the two hours lost on stage 2, which derailed a double digit finish. But, we could as easily been robbed of finishing through the mechanical failure of Stage 2, my unscathed fall of Stage 1, or Mikes near high speed endo on the rocky descents of Stage 3. Ultimately, unless you're contesting a podium, this event is about finishing, and finished in style and comfort!

1 comment:

  1. Very Nice Report Graham

    I unfortunately also have issues with the Epic and although before I started I said I would only do it once
    I am afraid I will be back
    Craig Lindeque