This is it then, the day we’ve all been looking forward to. Any hopes that it would be an easy stage were soon thrown out of the window with a mammoth gravel and broken concrete climb coming just a few kilometres after the start gun had fired. Ouch!
Still, at a paltry 64km it would pose little problem for most compared to the much longer and tougher stages already completed, simply being a case of going through the motions. A total of 1700m climbing was on the agenda for the day.
Apparently the route was largely the same as last year, but featured an all-new 10km climb through the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. Here, a loose rocky and barely rideable climb snaked through one of the most stunning mountain ranges the Cape Epic had yet taken us through. The event continuing to serve up breathtaking backdrops and terrain right to the very end.
And then we reached the finish. After all the highs and lows, bad patches and mechanical glitches and other incidents, making it to the finishing line was met with a hug sense of elation and relief. Rolling into the finish arena I was shocked at what awaited us; a reported 20,000 spectators – friends, family, partners and people out to cheer on all the teams that had made it this far. An impressive sight and something I’ve never experienced at any other similar mountain bike event.
Straight after the finish each team was ushered onto a podium to receive their finishers medals, and these were draped around our necks by none other than Nino Schurter, Florian Vogel, Mannie Heymans and Thomas Frishneckt. Not a bad way to finish the event!
Then, having picked up our free hamper of food and wine, it was time to collapse on the grass, relax in the sun, enjoy the music concert and reflect on a fantastic, magical, breathtaking, incredible, enjoyable and hugely challenging eight days of mountain bike racing around South Africa. What an event. What a thrill.
It had its moments, it must be said, both good and bad, but in the whole it was an incredible experience and one that I feel privileged to have been given the chance to ride after several years of wanting to. Will I be back next year? Yes, without hesitation. It’s without doubt the best mountain bike event I have ever ridden or been a part of.
The scale of the event and the stunning landscapes the organisers have taken us through, along with the friendships made along the way and the great atmosphere amongst all those involved, make for a must-do event for any serious mountain biker.