For those who aren't aware, the Absa Cape Epic is one of only 3 Hors Category rides in the world. This means the race is categorised as beyond the highest level of category in terms of difficulty The other two are the Giro de Italia and the Tour De France.
So this is no trot in the park. The competition is world class and super competitive. You need to be riding exceptionally well to get a top 10 result in your category.
The race format is teams of 2 riders each ride together over 8 stages. You can't be more than 2 minutes apart from your team mate and both of you ride the whole race. If you or your partner crash and don't finish, the the team is out of the race. The team dynamic is for me the attraction of the race. Not only do you have your own form and condition to worry about, but you also have to be aware of how your partner is going as well
The prologue was at Meerendal winery about 40k out of Cape Town. For the prologue, teams ride a 23k time trial format and your result gives you a start group for the next stage. Our aim was to be in the first start group, so the top 150 teams. Rusty and Damo were off at 8:43am and we were off at 11:04am.
Breakfast was at 6am and we left the hotel heading for Meerandal. After arriving and setting up all the bikes, Damo and Rusty headed out to warm up. Buzz, David and I found the coffee man and we waited for the boys start time. David was designated photographer and he was busy taking plenty of snaps.
The boys rocked up to the start zone. It is pretty exciting with the announcer, music blaring and a large crowd looking on as you climb the steps onto the starting platform. Like the Tour time trial, the starter counts down 5,4,3,2,1 and you roll down the ramp and are away. The boys took off and their Cape Epic was underway.
I was feeling pretty nervous , which is typical for me before a big race. I was worried as riding the prologue course in practice yesterday, I felt terrible. However once I was kitted up and underway the nerves soon left me.
The Hampton Boys had a good race, doing a time of 1hour, 17mins and 18 seconds. That was a very solid time and one I wasn't sure we could match. They were back before we even started our warm up so it was good to see them come back to the car all excited. They knew they had posted a good time.
Buzz and I had a race plan which involved not going to go out too hard. The course was really hilly and straight out of the start gate was a 4k climb. Go too hard to early and you would blow.
As we had done the Epic before and had a reasonable result, we were one of the last Amateur teams to go off the start. All the teams around us were very competitive and there were some fit looking riders around us.
We walked up the stairs to the platform. Nearly 11 months of training and focussing on this event was now behind us. It was time to race. I felt good standing on the start ramp, confident as we had done the work, and were well prepared. The starter talked about The Fixed Wheel team from Australia. With 10 seconds to go, we shook hands, wished each other well and waited for the beep.
Off we went done the ramp. You want to go. Your body is full of adrenaline and you have to consciously hold yourself back. I took the front position as we rode through the crowd, and then for a little fun for the crowd , they put us through one of the winery buildings at the Meerendal estate and down the front stairs.
Now both Buzz and I can handle a mountain bike pretty well, however I was not keen to come a cropper down the flight of stairs and end up live on tv in 7 countries or make the sports bloopers cut on the 6pm news. We made it however without incident and then we were away. After a k or so, Buzz came around and took the lead. We had a good pace on and we were aiming at finishing strongly. Up the first climb of 4km and there were people everywhere cheering teams on as we wove our way up the hill. A couple of teams caught us and passed us, however 4k later on the downhill, buzz and I caught them and passed them as they had gone out too hard. We felt good and concentrated on keeping good form. Buzz and I were communicating the whole way, swapping turns on the front while the other sits in behind and gets a little breather. I let Buzz go first on the descents as he is better technically. However the danger going behind is the dust. You can't see a thing. Some of these descents are a little narly. Dust, loose sand, rocks, holes. All await the unwary rider. Some of the descents are so rough, David walked down them when he came with us on the practice yesterday. Here we were however tearing down them at 40k an hour.
I knew with 5k to go that it was going to be touch and go beating the Hampton Boys. We were finishing strongly and I said to Buzz we were going to be close to them on time. We hammered through the single trail switchbacks passing slower teams and tearing down the hill towards the finish.
We came over the line at 1hr 17mins and 32 secs, 14 seconds behind the Hampton Boys and in 10th in Masters. A good result and I had plenty left in the tank at the end.
We had a massage from our physio/masseuse, Cayrn (who also does the Springboks and knows Oscar Pistorius well)
We are now in transit to Robertson, 200k away from Meerandal where we will put the bikes in with our Mechanic, have some dinner and get set up for tomorrow which is a 104k stage. The race book says it is 5 out of 5 difficulty. Today was a 2 and a half!! Early to bed as we have to be up at 5am as will be required all week.
Looks like there are many races going on here this week. Not the least, the race between Team Fixed Wheel and Team Hampton!!
Thanks to all of our sponsors that helped us get to the start. The Specialized bikes are superb on this terrain. David said he didn't see one 26in or 650 in the whole field. Bolle Sunnys help keep the dust from our eyes, Barflys keep our Garmins safe and we hope to give the and all our sponsors some good exposure this week
Ps: Rusty wanted to contribute how he felt on the ride. He said he sat behind Damo's backside for 24k wiping the dribble off his Garmin!!