Day 7: After our first night in a proper bed since the start of the race, I awoke a little more refreshed and ready for our penultimate stage of 99km including 2,160m of climbing. Yesterday was supposed to have been the hardest day but, for us, today was tougher.
The high winds and cold weather conditions made it really hard going and Gazza was fading as his stomach revolted against the constant high-carbohydrate food. Morale took a real knock as all we could do was ride slowly and watch as teams passed us all day.
The major climb of the day seemed to go on forever with various rocky and sandy sections that were impossible to ride and we had to walk a fair bit of the way. I also snapped my rear derailleur cable around 15km from the final aid station of the day, but thankfully the fantastic mechanics sorted the bike out as efficiently as a F1 pit crew and we were soon on our way.
The stage finish was mentally tough as we came within sight of home but the route seemed to take an endless number of switch-backs before eventually hitting the finish area. We dropped a lot of places today, finishing in 6hrs 14mins and we’d have to try and hold things together as much as possible during the final day to remain within the top 100 in GC.
Day 8: The final day dawned and a second night in a comfortable B&B did wonders for the energy levels, even Gazza was feeling a little better and we were all pretty upbeat as we made the short drive to the start. The shortest stage of the event took us from Oak valley to Lourensford Wine Estate just over 65km away but included 1,640m of climbing.
The atmosphere was a little more relaxed at the start as everybody could finally see the end and the cooler conditions played right into the hands of Gazza, who looked pumped to battle it out just one last time.
It was a very congested start as was the norm over the past few days but we managed to get behind the leading women’s team right from the start. They were going at a good steady pace, taking no chances, so we decided to pace off them as long as we possibly could. That we did for about three-quarters of the stage before losing them on the second major climb of the day but we had passed and dropped a lot of teams up until that point, so we felt confident of retaining our top 100 placing in the GC.
To be perfectly honest, the finish itself was a bit of an anti-climax. I’m not sure what we were expecting and perhaps we were just too tired to celebrate but we crossed the line feeling more relieved the race was over rather than happy with what we had achieved. But it did settle in after a while as we began to reflect back on the race and realise we had just completed the toughest mountain bike races in the world. We had completed the Cape Epic.
We ended the event 70th spot in the men’s classification and 92nd in GC. This had been, by far, the hardest physical thing I’d ever done. It was a real challenge and not because of the riding but rather the event as a whole; with sleep deprivation in the noisy, dusty campsites together with having to queue for showers, food, toilets, etc. This all added up to having little time for real rest and recovery but it was a fantastic experience and a superbly organised event with an absolutely spectacular route.
Do it again? It’s still a little early for that question but I’d certainly recommend it!
Photo credit: sportograf.com http://sportograf.com
(The Cape Epic is an annual eight-stage mountain bike team race through South Africa’s Western Cape. Each participating team consists of two riders. A new route is designed each year and the race is entirely off-road, with the number of participants limited to 1,200 riders (600 teams) each year.)