The Cape Epic is epic. I don’t have to tell you that. The name gives it away but just how epic it is showed the 8 days between March 19-March 26, 2017. The year that saw the first time in the history of the race that a stage needed to be shortened due to the extreme conditions. A race that would teach me just how much stronger than I though my head and body are.
„It’s March 19th around 8am and our #TeamVANtastic Mercedes-Benz V-Class is parked at the beautiful Meerendal Wine Estate near Cape Town. I have the weirdest feeling in the body. On the one hand I am super nervous on the other hand very calm as I know this is going to be bigger than anything I have ever done on a bike before. I am basically a total rookie to mountain bike racing. I have squeezed in 2 4stage races in the 6 weeks before Cape Epic to have a rough idea of what is awaiting me but how do you simulate 8 days in the saddle in some of the most rugged terrain you have ever ridden? You can’t! You don’t!
At 9:36:15 the gun goes of for my Stefan and me. I can’t describe the feeling of excitement as I roll down the start ramp but people standing at the start might have been able to hear it.
What follows is 8 days of some of the most amazing riding I have ever done, some of the lowest physical and mental lows I have ever had in a race and some of the best and most satisfying moments on a bike so far. Most of all though what follows is 8 days of getting to know myself in ways I haven’t much before. Between steep climbs, heat up to 46 Celsius on the course and some gnarly descents I see sides of myself that make me laugh about myself. Usually a person who just enjoys the hell out of the cycling leg in an Ironman ignoring the fact that a marathon is to follow I am suddenly sitting on my bike in the middle of some South African vineyards catching myself with the though ‚wow my legs are great, maybe go a little slower. This thing is going to be really long and really tough‘ and I burst out in laughter not completely sure who that voice in my head is. Can’t be me, can it? I am not sure if it is age or the actual respect for the #untamed, the so called toughest mountain bike race in the world.
The days usually start with a 5am wake up call for Stefan and me though most mornings I am awake before the alarm. Somehow I a not sleeping well in my one man tent. Heavy sweats for the first half of the night and freezing for the second half but as soon as the sun rises over the tents all this is forgotten and we ’slow walk‘ over to the food tent or as I see it ‚the human cattle farm‘. I wouldn’t exactly call breakfast a delight and for a very brief moment on day 6 I get to a point where peanut butter and I unfriend each other though I instantly tell the peanut butter that it is ‚my fault, not the peanut butters fault‘ but 8 days of 5x peanut butter-jelly toast is a lot of of peanut butter toast, especially if it is the smooth one without bits. WHO EATS SMOOTH PEANUT BUTTER???
After breakfast and brushing teeth it is time to prepare the drinks and food for the day, pick up the bikes from the bike park, tape the stages profile on the top tube and head into the start shoot. Depending on your overall standing athletes are started in different start waves. We usually start a bit behind in our group and take it easy at the beginning and by day 5 I am starting to think I am stuck in Groundhog Day. We start easy, ride our rhythm and with 10km to go we pass the same 10 teams day after day. Something that won’t change until the final day. While we sit on the bike and think ‚why do they go out so hard if they all die at the end‘ they probably sit at dinner thinking ‚why do the Germans go out so easy of they always have so much energy left at the end‘. A matter of perspective I guess.
When the gun goes of what follows can simply be described as ‚push and pull‘ for the coming 4-6 hours. 4 stages over 100km awaited us this year though stage 2 got shortened due to the extreme conditions. The first time this ever happened in the history of the race and if you want to you can start the argument now. My point of view is simple. It was an organizers call and therefore it was the right call. 80 out of 658 started teams out on stage 1, temps in the mid 40s and athletes from 70 teams in the hospital or with the medicals. Enough said!
‚Push and pull‘ it is for the coming 4-6 hours and Stefan and I made a pact before the race. We will ride hard but we will always take the time to look left and right and enjoy the amazing scenery of South Africa and the Western Cape. No point in coming home after 8 days and not having seen a thing other the the ‚tunnel‘ ahead of us. We are riding up some of the most stunning mountains, flow down endless beautiful single trails with the flat lands lying ahead of us, we ride through stunning vineyards and get almost blown off the bike by the stunning sunrise views over the Ocean in Hermanus, home of stage 1 and 2. Some of the South Africans complain there isn’t enough single trails this year, as a European we are blown away by fantastic riding day after day. Memories that will stick for a lifetime and are so good they are even too good for a postcard
I could continue about all the things we learned about ourselves, how important the gear and equipment and the team partner and so on are but I’ll just do that in another blog before this becomes another endless ‚Groundhog Day‘ for everybody reading it.
Summary is simple: Cape Epic is a once in a lifetime style experience that has the power to bring joy, suffering and change the thinking of a person. A brilliant race that should be on everybody’s bucket list and if you wanna know more about the race and the experience just drop me a line.
Happy trails and for more pictures and stories check out and follow my Instagram account.