Two triathletes take on the Cape Epic

Ironman age-grouper Simon Finch on his (and friend Gazza's) attempt to race the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa

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Mountain biking is one tough sport. Especially for someone like me who’s often found wanting when it comes to the technical side of riding, so I was preparing myself for a tough race when I headed out to compete in this year’s Absa Cape Epic race in South Africa.
 
I’d done my homework and put in a lot of training, I’d even purchased a fancy new bike and I felt my past Ironman experiences would help me through the event. I mean, how hard can it be, right? Well, it was the toughest eight days of riding I’ve ever done.
 
Below is days one and two of my eight day blow-by-blow account of just how hard.
 
(For the uninitiated, 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.)
 
Day 1: For the opening stage myself and my ride partner Gazza started at the reasonable time of 9am (the rest of the stages would get underway at 7am) but the drawback was that we’d spend more time riding in the peak midday heat.
 
The route designer goes by the nickname of Dr Evil and I’m now convinced it isn’t just a nickname. He really is Dr Evil with a sadistic ability to work out the toughest routes, both physically and mentally, for the Epic.

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Today was a 117km stage from the Diemersfontein wine estate to the dusty, dry town of Ceres with just over 2190m elevation gained for the day. Evil? Perhaps not, but throw in 8km of old railway line just before the finish and you turn the beautiful Cape countryside into hell on earth. We eventually finished the stage in 6hr 25mins.
 
A lot of team divorces where filed today as the two-member teams suffered with the opening challenge. It was a rude awakening to the event and that night there was a lot of starry-eyed riders walking around. Nobody was left in any doubt that this was going to be one tough week.
 
Day 2: Just 90km today with a mere 1625m elevation gained. What’s up Dr Evil? Not going soft on us, are you?
 
We got seeded today in Group B after our result yesterday, which was a pleasant surprise. So we got to start first with Group A (the pro’s) at 7am when there was just enough light to get the race underway. The problem with starting in this group is that we were now mingling with the strong boys and they were strong right from the word go.

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The start was manic and you had little time to think or even see where you were going with all the dust being kicked up but we soon found our rhythm and settled down into a decent position.
 
The stage included a lot more single track and was a bit more technical but nothing too dramatic as long as you kept the concentration up. My hours spent following my expert-rider brother-in-law back in Australia paid off during the stage. Gazza, however, was finding the technical stuff more challenging but I made good use of the few moments wait at the bottom of the descents to stretch the back or get some food.
 
I was feeling surprisingly good today and better than yesterday, which I’ll put down to two things: I think my body was more prepared for what was going to happen and I think we paced things better after the first day jitters, finishing in 5hrs 30mins.
 
Part two follows tomorrow. Photo credit: sportograf.com (http://sportograf.com)