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Cape Epic 2007 revisited

Don’t you just love queuing

Expect severe climbing around here

It’s hot – so hyrdating properly is key

Lóan Burger and his riding partner for the race

All photos © Candy Boonzaier

The Cape Epic, billed as the Magical and Untamed African MTB Race, is an eight-day stage race starting on the Garden Route in Knysna and finishing 700km of Western Cape (“open plains, majestic mountains, deep ravines, prehistoric rock formations, arid semi-deserts, indigenous forests, flourishing vineyards, rough sea and an incredible variety of wildlife and plant species,” it says here) later on the Lourensford Wine Estate in Cape Town.

Deciding better than riding it ourselves, we enlisted local Lóan Burger, who’s ridden this event several times (read about last years) to ride the 2007 instalment. Here’s how he got on:

For 2007 my partner and I were racing for Team Living Free. Living Free is an organisation which represents children against drug and alcohol abuse. The organisation promotes a living free livestyle through sport involvement. Having various athletes they have successfully broken the world spinning record last year, had teams finish the Iron Man this year and now two teams including ourselves successfully finishing the 4th Edition of the Cape Epic.

With the training done, although not as extensively as my previous two years, the only thought in my mind as I stood on the start line Saturday morning in Knysna, was two down and one to go. One Epic left then I would join the great Amabubesi club. For those who do not know what the Amabubesi is all about, it’s a prestigious club for those individuals having completed three Cape Epics.

Day 1. 101 km 2800 m of climbing

The race kicked off with a bang and as tradition would have it we started out with a lovely climb out of Knysna up the well-known Simola climb. After just 15 km into the race my partner and I got separated. He waited for me at the top of Simola and I missed him as I went pass. What a big confusion, I was chasing to catch him and he was standing waiting for me. Fortunately one of the motorbike riders (not the one who burnt his clutch going up the long climb) was my partner’s father and he got the message to me that Reynard was behind me. We met up again and worked our way towards Prince Albert pass.

Going up the pass we met up with two very pleasant guys, both riding classic Kona bikes, one being the titanium Hei-Hei – a real favourite bike in my books – and the other an AA. We had a nice chat up the hill and so managed to climb the monster – we passed the last water point and only had the “Ou Wa Pad” left to climb. Then it happened. A puncture! Reynard was not riding tubeless, and it was at this stage that he understood why I insisted that he invests in some before the race. He had his first of what would be three punctures during this year’s Epic.

After a very quick change we were on our way again, but before even getting to the climb I cramped up like I’ve never cramped before. Almost falling of my bike with pain I got off and must have looked like a dog trying to lift its legs, because I did not know in which direction to stretch – everything hurt. (Must have been that 2L of beer I had the previous night in Knysna – NOTE: No drinking the night before, at least not 2L of beer).

After a very painful last few kilometres we finished in a time of 06:35:00, which we were quite happy with.

Day 2: 137 km 2400 m of climbing

Day two was to be the longest stage of this years Cape Epic. And as luck would have it, right on the start line Reynard had his second puncture. So when all the other riders went off we were sitting next to the start line fixing yet another tube. We eventually got going, but had some work to do.

This particular stage had one of the “most entertaining climbs” I have done in a long time. Now you must understand that until now, to my mind Groenland was the “meneer”, a climb to respect. But we hadn’t met the Kamanassie, a monstrous climb taking riders to a height of 1300m. We were pleased with ourselves as we’d caught up with most of the riders we had originally started with, until around the next corner, another puncture.

Puncture fixed, we worked our way up another several more equally tough climbs, with a small climb rising 169m in just 1km. But we had happily conquered the great Kamanassie and finished in what was a very long 07:57:00.

Day 3: 130 km 2500 m of climbing

With tired legs, and lacking sharpness in the mind and wits departments after the hellishly tough previous day, we lined up for stage 3. By now 81 riders had already received their blue numbers which means that they had some misfortune and would not be official Cape Epic finishers, but would be able to continue to the finish.

This time I made sure Reynard was properly prepared, having given him my spare set of tubeless wheels to use. We’re not planning on having another puncture today. Once again Dr Evil (Leon Evans, course designer) had something special up his sleeve. The start was quite fast along a jeep track section, but soon we were brought back to reality with a 6km climbing gaining over 400m – the average gradient was 14%. Myself and my partner, and friends Robbue Powel and his buddy managed to ride half way up, but eventually gave up and submitted to the dominance if this beast.

Another few bumps followed and then just as we thought is was over for the day we were left with the Huis Rivier Pass. With the sun baking down on us we somehow pulled ourselves over the pass and took the last 35 km nice and easy – not that we had much of a choice. The finish in Ladysmit was a welcome sight after 07:53:00. I wish to extend my thanks to the Morkell family for putting us up for the night and giving us one of the nicest breakfasts I have had in a long time.

Day 4: 110 km 1400 m of climbing

Day four took the field from Ladysmit to Barrydale. Most riders had their minds set on a comfortable restf day. Surely 1,400 m of climbing and only 110km this day was going to be a breeze compared to the previous days. But boy, were we wrong.

On paper the staged looked to be very fast and fairly flat, but once the ride got going and we were introduced to the typical Klein Karoo sandy rocky jeep track, we realised this might be harder than we had anticipated. The route did offer some brilliant technical downhill sections and even though it was still a tough ride we had quite a bit of fun. The last 10 km however simply lasted for ever. When my partner’s dad, Andre, came past us saying “Just one more hill”, we were pleased, until we topped that hill and saw another…

We eventually crossed the finishing line in a time of 06:16:00. By the end of this stage my thigh was so raw that the only thing I wanted was a Pharmacy. With thigh sorted out due to a massage, we hit the sleeping bags for the night.

Day 5: 107 km 1600 m of climbing

Barrydale to Montagu. This was a particular nice stage for me. Maybe it was the idea that my family lives in Montagu and that I would be enjoying a soft bed and a home cooked meal at the end of the day. Or maybe it was simply the brilliant ride through the best scenery which the Klein Karoo has to offer.

A good friend of mine, Cobus Uys, a resident farmer in Montagu, was one of the main course designers for the day. The route started fast through some farm lan, crossed the R62 onto a quad bike trail, and rode alongside the “Op de Tradouw” pass.

At about 78km into the ride we reached yet another Epic surprise, the Wolfieskop Pass which cllimbs 430 m in just 7km – nasty in all senses of the word. The hike was worth it though as the downhill that followed made all the pain disappear. After a thundering decent and a few small bumps we finally pulled into the little town of Montagu. Our time for the day: 05:37:00. This was to be our 3rd fastest stage in this years event.

Day 6: 111 km 1 565 m of climbing

The mission: Make it to Villiersdorp in under 05:30:00. Today we felt really good and decided to give it stick. Leaving Montagu we went along a fast tar section through the Kogmanskloof between Ashton and Montagu. After cycling through some farm lands we went through the Robertson area and then onto a 25 km tar section.

Here we had the opportunity to ride with some other riders in organised groups. Special thanks to the boys from Frits Pienaar Cycles for helping us pull the bunch. That was just about until Reynard told me he is loosing pressure in the front wheel. A quick stop to fix what would thankfully be the last puncture of the event for our team.

We eventually came to a water point after which we had a bit of a walk up a 6km hike-a-bike section. This went much better than we’d expected, though we had some horrendous moments in sandy sections, but all good fun. We eventually completed our mission successfully – finishing in a respectable time of 05:27:00.

Day 7: 110 km 1800 m of climbing

On the 7th day we headed out to the previously unvisited town of Kleinmond, instead of last years destination of Groenland. We climbed about halfway up the usual Groenland climb before we hooked off to the left and rode a very rocky section.

The next few sections were well worth all the pain and suffering, blessed as we were with some brilliant views. We then had a fantastic technical downhill to descend which I must say was quite challenging for me as I’m a climber rather than a downhillers – but I made it to the bottom in one piece.

After this, from what we saw on the profile, we were left with only a few rolling hills, but for those who were taking this racing seriously you’ll know what I mean when I say it was a tad more than just a few rolling hills. For the last 25 km we simply could not get going, the loose rocky and sandy jeeptrack along the Palmiet River offered us no absolution. We struggled through the rough section to finally make it to Kleinmond.

For me this was the worst finish of this year’s Epic. I simply hated riding on sea sand, with the final few meters along the beach, before finishing over a little bridge in Kleinmond. The Kleinmond locals however, showed us why their little town is so popular – their hearty reception of newcomers to their town certainly puts them on the map. Compared to our 08:30:00 of 2006 this year’s day seven only took us 06:57:00. Only one to go.

Day 8: 89 km 1 700 m of climbing

The final stage. The day started out with a brief tar section, before we went back on the same section along the Palmiet River, which we did the previous day. However this time the riders’ spirits were lifted as we knew all too well, today we will fininsh in Lourensford.

The rest of the day consisted of some brilliant Cape Wineland countrysides. Although there wasn’t a technical section to match that of previous years (1995 Stellenbosch World Cup DH Course for example) there were still some pretty fast and furious sections to enjoy.

We finally pulled into Lourensford in a time of 05:06:00. The new finish was spectacular. Coming across the field and having all the spectators’ cheer us on was awesome. Another thing that impressed was Kevin Vermaak was handing out the finisher’s medals. In addition to the brilliant finish for the riders, the venue offered some great attractions for the entire family, including the chill zone, attractions for the kids and much more. We were to say the least, most impressed.

I have done quite a few events in my 20 years of cycling, from new ones to the more established events. Kevin Vermaak has completely reinvented the standards for a world class mountain bike stage race with the 4th edition of the Absa Adidas Cape Epic.

Last year the registration was processed speedily but this year they managed to improve on last years. The routes were brilliantly explained every evening by using Google Earth to enable the riders to get a good idea as too what lies ahead the following day. The food was a huge improvement on last year’s.

As for me. I’ll be back next year, for a fourth time. Enjoying everything that the Western Cape has to offer. But untill then, I’ll continue to hone my endurance skills doing the other great mountain bike races around the country.

Well done Cape Epic Team. You guys are fantastic.


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