Cape Epic is not also a once in a lifetime experience (or maybe twice or three times depending if Epic’s spell pulled you in and you can’t fight the inner demons telling you to go back and do it all over again 🙂 ) I said it before in the summary (read it here) of the race, there is a lot of things to be learned from your first time at Cape Epic and a lot to be learned about yourself.
Faris Al Sultan, the 2007 Ironman World Champion said after his participation in the race that his top tip is the buy the best bike you can get your hands on, most certainly a very valid tip but there is so much more to take away from the race.
Equipment, there is not doubt, is a major part at Cape Epic and when looking around in the bike park in the morning there were more SRAM Eagle, more Rockshox RS1 and more carbon then I would have ever expected. The Eagle for example had just hit the market and it felt like the entire first stock was instantly bought out by Epic participants. The right choice of shoes, a fitting saddle, a bike geometry that fits your needs, the right electronic tools and so on are important but most important is to test it all before the race. I for example had a saddle that should have worked perfectly for me – theoretically – but it turned out to be a painful nightmare. I spent hours and hours testing the right set up for my bike. Where do I want my suspension lockout and where the levers, do I prefer to combine them in one clamp or separate them, do I want to ride my bike with dropper post or without. These are all things that needed to be tested, dialed in, calculated (weight versus comfort on dropper seat for example).
Here is a perfect example. My Simplon Cirex120 comes standard with 120mm travel front and rear and while Stefan loved that set up for his Cirex I started testing around and found out that I prefer it even a little more responsive. I reduced the air chambers down to 100mm internally, not externally as I didn’t want to change the geometry of the bike by dropping the fork. Finding the right set up here for me took hours and hours on the bike. Not because I didn’t like the factory set up which was brilliantly created already but because for an adventure such as Cape Epic I wanted the set up to be 110% to my specifications and not just 100%.
Some of the key elements I learned and took away from the race and from the months leading up to the race were:
1. Find the best possible equipment you can get your hands on. Cape Epic takes everything out of a bike.
2. Take proper time to test different set ups, equipment and gear. You need to be 100% comfortable with it and there is no reason to be satisfied with less than that.
3. Be smart in your choices. Weight savings do not always beat comfort or durability. Rims for example we opted for a slightly heavier but also slightly wider DT Swiss rim, as the wider rim carries better on loose sand or with the expect heat and the amount of dust we ate every day one of the best possible choices we made was carry a Camelbak on top of the frame bottles despite the added wait.
4. Don’t spend the money on a Cape Epic entry and buy all that equipment and then don’t spent the time learning how to handle your bike. We spent a couple of sessions with Biking in the Bosch (genius skill school in Stellenbosch if you are ever in South Africa) to learn exactly how to handle the bike and terrain. Another really smart move it turned out as no test riding could have prepared us for what Cape Epic threw at us but knowing how to properly handle the bike helped loads.
5. If you have the chance and time try and get a test race in on South African soil as it is very different riding to anywhere else. We opted for the 4 stage PE Plett 2 weeks before Epic and it gave us a brilliant feel for what it is like to ride in South Africa.
6. Choose your race partner wisely. Stefan and I spent 3 weeks before the race and the entire race laughing and basically spending every second together and didn’t have a single bad word for each other during the entire stay. We saw other teams not finish Epic simply cause they started hating their team partners under pressure and exhaustion.
7. Be smart and make a deal with yourself that you will listen to your body and your team partner and that you will race to your ability but also that you won’t give up easily as you are not riding for yourself but for your partner as well.
These are some of the things on the practical side to be aware off but also great was the things I learned about myself, about team racing and what body and mind can take.
1. The body and mind can take so much more than I would have ever expected. Due to some issues before the race I ran into an absolute energetic low and feeling of sickness during stage 1 already down to a point that resembled exactly how I felt when I pulled out of Ironman Switzerland in 2016. This time however it was a team event and there was no way in hell I would let Stefan down, so I kept spinning those legs, staring at his rear wheel and pushing on until I actually started feeling remotely better 15km later. The body got better and better throughout the entire race.
2. I had a few situations that taught me more than ever before that the feeling of physical depletion can often really be my head and mind. We had a situation where I was leading down a 7km long single trail and just before the end of the single trail I though ‚boy, I am really, really tired. Good the trail is gonna end in a second and Stefan can take the lead‘ and about 5 seconds later I hear from behind ’number 1 (I had number 84-1, Stefan 84-1, hence the number 1 and number 2 as nicknames) I am really tired‘ and that sentence alone was enough to make the booster kick in and take charge and suddenly legs and energy were back because right that moment it was my turn to lead.
3. As much as I tried to keep it at a minimum during races I have done in the past there was always a bit of a thought of ‚what if‘. What if I didn’t have that cold during training, what if I didn’t have that flat tire in the race, what if I hadn’t lost my nutrition on th bike?‘ Well guess what: Nobody has a perfect preparation and only few have a perfect race. Yeah we had some small technical issues but others had severe crashes or major technical issues and at the end of the day I learned it doesn’t matter what happens, what ever happened was part of racing that day and yet we had a spectacular experience every single day.
You see, there is a lot to look out for when preparing and racing an event like Cape Epic or similar and a lot to be learned. I will write a more technical and bullet point oriented blog in the coming days about what to look out for and what equipment worked and didn’t work for us.
Until then, comment and share away and as always check out the latest pics from my travels and events on Instagram