The day of reckoning is almost here. A quick glance at the Absa Cape Epic website and the countdown ticker indicates there are now just 12 days to go before the start of racing in South Africa.
I haven’t been nervous about the impending task before now, probably because I’ve been occupied with making arrangements for the trip and trying to get out on the bike as much as possible. But today, realising there’s very little time left; the nerves have started to sneak into my mind.
I really shouldn’t be nervous. I’ve done a couple of stage races before, I’ve managed to arrange the bikes and kit myself and team mate Ben will be riding, the flights were booked ages ago and the entry secured. I’m constantly reassured that there’s really nothing to worry about every time I glance at the bike I’ve managed to borrow for the race (Trek Top Fuel 9.9 SSL), and particularly each and every time I loft it in the air; damn it’s just so light.
While it was race ready straight out of the bike (well, straight from Trek UK anyhow), I’ve still seen fit to make a few, if somewhat subtle changes, to ensure it fits me perfectly so I’ll be comfortable hour after hour. I’ve chosen to ignore any efforts to lower the weight, it’s plenty light enough as it is I feel so honing the fit and position has been priority.
Firstly I’ve changed the saddle. The Bontrager RXL was actually really comfortable on the first five and half hour ride, but I’ve decided to go with a tried and tested Prologo Scratch pinched from my road bike. It’s a nice shape and suits my sit bones well, so it was a no-brainer.
Up front, while the riser bars gave the bike a commanding stance for ripping the trails, I’ve decided to slam the front. Off with the very nice Race Face carbon lo-riser and on goes a 24in flat bar and a pair of stubby bar-ends. It’s been probably ten years since I last rode with bar-ends, but I’ve decided this is an event that demands them, for two reasons; the extra position they provide and the benefit when climbing. I’m still undecided as to regards the stem length, and precisely how high to set the bars, but as there’s a healthy stack of spacers I’ll most likely experiment if needed through the event.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly, tyre choice The terrain, as far as I can determine, appears to be a mix of rocks and dry dusty trails, and pondering the best tyre has resulted in easily the hardest decision of all the kit decisions I’ve made through this preparation journey. In the end, it came down to several personal recommendations from those who rode last year, and the one name of tyre that continually popped up in this most heated of debates: the Maxxis CrossMark UST.
I’ve plumped for a pair of the 2.1in treads, and reckon the fact they’re designed by World Champion Christoph Sauser should be enough. But the layout of the square blocks with a nearly unbroken central ridge makes them look just about perfect for the trails we’re going to encounter. And tubeless, well because anything that can help minimise the chance of puncturing has to be worth it.