As I was making my way to OR Tambo International Airport for the Cape Town Cycle Tour event,?the news came through that I would? be competing at this year’s Absa Cape Epic. Obviously at the time it was surreal to think that in less than 2 weeks’ time I’d be standing on the start line of an 8 day stage race, ready to take on the 739 kilometres and 16 000m of climbing which lay ahead. In stark contrast, the excitement that suddenly started to grow in me was undeniable!
This opportunity came about when two of the girls on the Sasol Ladies Racing Team had to pull out of the Epic for different reasons. Sasol asked me to step in as a reserve rider and with the blessing from Garmin, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
For the 12th edition of the event I was paired with my Epic partner from last year, Leana de Jager. Leana and I have completed several stage races together and have a very good understanding of one another both on and off the bike. Consequently all our focus and energy could be spent on the challenges the route, the terrain and the weather conditions threw at us.
From the 21km prologue that traversed Table Mountain to the final finishing line that awaited us at Meerendal Wine Estate, we barely changed our racing rhythm and strategy. The aim was to ride consistently and cautiously throughout the Epic and this approach saw us moving up from 10th place on day one to finally placing 7th overall in the ladies category by the end, and the 3rd all South African ladies duo.
The Epic is very demanding on your body, mind and equipment and getting through the Epic without any hassle is a rarity. Like the team we were, Leana and I shared in the little hiccups as Leana punctured on day 2 and had a small tumble on day 3, whereas I contributed with a broken chain on day 4. Taking into account that we spent 42 hours and 50 minutes on our bikes over eight consecutive days of racing, you’ll agree that it truly was just minor setbacks.
The Absa Cape Epic’s mobile race village is quite an impressive setup as it is able to cater for all the needs of the riders, supporters and staff members over a period of 8 days. The organisers provide daily meals, a bike wash service, laundry service, tented accommodation and ablution. On top of this you can get your bike serviced at various bike shop stands, get any bike part that you might need, get food and much more from vendors albeit at your own cost. Despite being able to get whatever you required at the campsite I couldn’t help but miss the warm hospitality you find at some of the other events in South Africa. I guess its kind off the same as visiting a capital city compared to a small town in the countryside. You might not always find what you need in a small town but the hospitality surely makes up for a lot and vice versa. Obviously it’s great to be able to experience both city and town but some people are just more attracted to the one and some to the other.
The Absa Cape Epic is surely one of the toughest stage races in the world as it takes you way out of your comfort zone in so many ways. For me this year’s edition was more a mental challenge than a physical one as the daily routes were very long and tedious. Spending most of the day on the bike didn't leave much time to run errands such as washing clothes, bottles, shoes, helmets, preparing nutrition for the following day etc. and eventually you have to give up some of that much needed sleeping hours to be able to get everything ready for the next day.
Having said that, we still had it 'easy' compared to most riders and especially the heroes at the back end of the field. Sasol provided us with lovely accommodation during the Epic, our bikes got looked after by Morne Greyling and the rest of the Cycle Lab Lynnwood crew and our broken bodies got put back together daily by two Physiotherapist that travelled with us the entire way. Sasol is doing a lot for ladies cycling and should be commended for their efforts to establish equality between men's and ladies cycling.
As there is so much that happens, it’s impossible to write about my entire Absa Cape Epic experience in one newsletter, but If I can sum it up I would definitely say I would do it all again tomorrow….
A big thanks to the Sasol Racing team, my teammate Leana de Jager and my Garmin Team for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this year’s Absa Cape Epic.