In April this year I was privileged enough to be apart of an event, so sought after, an event where the local entries were sold out in just 4 hours, an event in which 29 different countries participated in, and an event where the best marathon racers in the world would share the same gruelling route for the next 8 days. The training was done, the bikes prepared, the minds focused. It was time for the greatest mountain bike race on earth. It was time for the Cape Epic.
The Cape Epic takes place every April. It starts in the beautiful Garden Route town of Knysna and finishes eight days later in the grand Spier Wine Estate, just outside Cape Town. The route changes every year and stretches over a gruelling distance of approximately 850km of the most beautiful parts of the Western Cape Region and over some of the most spectacular mountain passes that the Cape has to offer.
Riders must enter in teams of two, and the riders in the team must remain together at all times. Selecting the correct partner can either make or break your Cape Epic. Your choice in partner is very important, because you will have to spend plenty of time together in the saddle.
The Cape Epic is the world’s largest full service mountain bike race. Its main sponsors are Adidas and Imperial Logistics. The organisation in this race is flawless and can be compared to a military style operation. Daily over 1,000 tents need to be erected, showers and toilet facilities need to be set up, dining tents need to erected and enough food prepared to feed over 1,300 people. On top of all this, full service bike shops are working around the clock to keep the valuable machines in good working order, ready for the next day’s stage.
I have been cycling for more than 15 years so naturally one tends to think, a race is a race. Boy was I wrong! When I arrived in Knysna the Friday before the start, my partner Quinn Colananni and I went to register. Immediately I could see that this was going to be something special. Registration was done so professionally, all the timing chips were handed out, and we received our Cape Epic Bags compliments of Adidas.
The morning of the start my nerves were shot. I don’t believe anyone can really say, “I am feeling 100% ready and confident”. I for one had no idea what to expect. But so we started the Cape Epic. The first day was not too bad, because it is after all only the first day. It consisted of 127km, with about 3,000m of climbing. We finished in a modest time of 06:49:00. Only when we arrived at Saasveld that evening, did we actually realise just how well the race was organised. Seeing all the tents, at stalls, it really was something special.
Heading into the mountains(Pic: Lòan Burger)
(Pic: Lòan Burger)
Sometimes it’s easier to just walk. (Pic: Lòan Burger)
Day two was without a doubt the hardest ride I have ever done. Being tired from day one, we now had to go out and ride 144km and climb another 3,000m. On this day we most certainly became very familiar with the water points. The last 15km just would not end, with hill after hill. It was a very long day and we spend about 8 hours riding in total.
By days three and four our bodies gad accepted what was happening to them, and we started to pick-up the pace. These were our two best days. They were your average marathon stages with distances of around 100km and 110km.
Day five, this to me was the most beautiful day. We went through the Sanbona Big Five Nature Reserve, but unfortunately we didn’t see so much as a bird, but that was to be expected considering how far back we were. However the scenery was magical. The race finished in Montagu, which was also voted the best stopover town of this year’s Epic. I was fortunate to have family in Montagu, so I had a nice soft bed, hot shower and good home cooked meal to end the day off.
Day six started in Montagu, where a friend of mine was involved in a nasty accident and could not officially complete the race. It reminded me how important safety and good medical services are in a race like this. The Cape Epic medical team was magnificent. My friend received such good medical attention, that he went on to ride days seven and eight, unofficially completing the Epic with the exclusion of day six.
Through the Epic days we made a lot of great friends from all over. Riders suffered together, but we also fought together. I remember one very special moment on day seven when a group of us were walking up to the highest point of the Epic, around 1,600m above sea level, some riders were complaining about the long climb, but when we got to the top, someone said “Hey guys just keep quiet for a sec and look back…” It was like being in the Lord of the Rings.
Day eight was only a 45km stage which finished at the spectacular Spier Wine Estate. The stage included the 1995 World Cup DH course, which was greatly enjoyed by all.
After completing the Epic and finishing in Spier, I was determined to come back. So that is exactly what I am doing. For 2006 I’ll have the honour of once again participating in this prestigious event which has now been awarded UCI status, the only MTB race in South Africa to appear on the UCI calendar. Thus I would like to pose an invitation to all of you, make the effort, if not in 2006 then in the future, but come and join the elite few who have earned the honour of calling themselves “Cape Epic Finishers” and come and race the greatest mountain bike race in the world.For further information on the Cape Epic visit the website at www.cape-epic.com. Check out pictures from the event at Lòan’s BM gallery.