So you want to race the Cape Epic... My experience at the African Stage Race

Cape Epic, the most televised mountain bike stage.

Described by many as “The Tour de France of mountain biking”, the ABSA Cape Epic is the ultimate test of one’s mountain bike prowess.  I was asked to share what racing the Cape Epic really feels like, and the truth is that it’s been difficult finding the words to describe the experience.  I’ll save the challenge of obtaining entry and the hours upon hours of training and preparation for the event, and the travel... oh the 30 plus hours of travel just to get to Cape Town, for a later date.  On to the racing...

The Epic does a great job of getting the nerves out by shooting the teams out of a cannon, with a full-throttle team time trial known as The Prologue.  750 teams, leave the gate every 30 seconds, into the heart of the University of Cape Town Campus.  Then it’s all uphill, about 45 minutes' worth, along the gravel roads and trails surrounding the fabled Table Mountain.  You’ll know when you’re about 3/4’s of the way to the top when you hear the ringing of the Liberty Bell sized cowbell, being swung by a mild-tempered South African man, surrounded by 200 of his closest friends, under the shade of “Deadman’s Tree”.   With your heart rate at the edge of the rivet, you will soon arrive at “Plum Pudding”, the Landrover Technical Terrain for the Stage,  and begin your 10 minutes or so descent back to the University of Cape Town... day 1 of 8 complete.

They say that the Cape Epic does not actually begin until Stage 1, and I could not agree more.  The glitz and glamour of racing in the heart of Cape Town are over with, and it’s time to head out to the countryside and get to work.  First-class hotel accommodations are replaced with tents, porta-potties, and mobile shower enclosures.  55 mins of racing turn into 4 to 5 hours in the saddle a day, however, you do return to a heroes welcome daily.  The staff and volunteers make everyone feel like a world-class athlete.  And then there’s the food... the food is first class, there is no shortage of either quantity or quality.   

If you’re at The Epic to race, the next 7 days are a blur... a dark, painful blur, at your physical and emotional limit.  The beautiful landscapes of the Western Cape are not included on this tour.  Your head will only come up for the occasional feed, then it’s right back down to work.  Watching the dirt, rocks, and gravel roll by, as your lungs and heart work at maximum capacity...

So how do you pace yourself for 8 days of racing?  The answer is “you don’t”!  There’s a terrible misconception that surrounds racing in an 8-day event like The Cape Epic; that pacing yourself is everything.  I mean, how else are you going to make it to the finish at Val de Vie?!  If you’re there to compete, you better wake up every morning ready to push the cranks as hard as you can, because that’s exactly what the competition is doing.  You must be willing to pour every bit of your being, into every pedal stroke, mile after mile, day in and day out.  Every day at The Epic is the “hardest day I’ve had on a bike”, except that as the week progresses, your pace gets slower...

Is it all worth it? The miles, the blood, the sweat, the pain, you and your teammate pushing each other through, are they all worth it? Absolutely!  There aren’t words to describe crossing the finish line at Val de Vie Estate alongside your teammate, after sharing an experience that is uniquely yours.  The glitz and the glamour returns; the photographers capturing your image from all angles, the VIP’s sipping cocktails, friends, family, they are all there to see you conquer an event that is outside of the limits of their comprehension... for a moment, you feel like you are the center of the cycling universe because you are... that is The Cape Epic.

  

By Randy Egues, 3x Cape Epic Finisher

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