Johnathan’s Cape Epic Race Report

Johnathan’s Cape Epic Race Report


Well, any race requires hard work and training.  For Cape Epic being an 8 day mountain bike race in March I knew that this was going to require some long days of training but what I didn’t count on was virtually zero ability to get outside for long rides in January and February.  So I did what anyone would do – I bought a Zwift membership.  In case you have thought about how much fun Zwift would be for 5 hours, I will save you the suspense……it sucks! Hours 1-3 are fun and manageable and then you get to the part where your brain tells you this is really stupid and you start questioning why in the world you decided to put yourself through the torture.  The worst part is when you finish this for the first time, you realize it is going to be your life for 2 months….that’s when it really sets in.  If you ever find yourself doing this, here are a couple of tips: 1) make a couple of phone calls during some of the down periods.  Chat with friends who can take your mind off of things for 10 or 15 minutes during the ride.  2) Podcasts are your friend.  If you’re interested in the topic, it can help 90 minutes go by pretty quickly. 3) Use music sparingly.  If you get it going too early, it becomes unmotivating later.  4) Personally, movies don’t work.  There’s too much emotion in movies and the ups and downs impact my ability to stay steady through the workout….to me it is proof of how connected our minds and bodies really are.

So Cape Epic is an 8 day (Prologue + 7 Stage) mountain bike race across the Western Cape of South Africa.  The race route changes annually but this year it was roughly 650km long with 16,650m of climbing.  To put that in perspective, I don’t think I could find that much climbing in Ontario if I rode every single climb there is here!  The other interesting part of this race was the idea that you race as a team and have to stay within two minutes of your partner at all times.  My partner Eric Siebert was far more experienced at mountain biking (4 Leadville finishes with an 8:25 PB) but on paper and in summer racing we are usually very similarly matched.  I hoped we would be a good team, but who knows until you’re in it!

My training had gone pretty well and I went into the race feeling pretty well – or at least I felt pretty good.  All of the indoor and winter style training made it hard to really know where I was at, but Nigel said I was ready and he’s never steered me wrong before, so ready we were and off we went.


The Prologue

Day 1 of the race was upon us and we had estimated 18-20km/hour would be our speed.  They use this to seed you for the prologue.  This had us starting pretty close to the end of the pack (meaning we were supposed to be fast).  The plan was to use this as an opportunity to get the body warmed up, not hammer.  It was 20km long with 600m of climbing on the slopes of Table Mountain National Park.  Here we were all of a sudden sitting in the starting hut and the countdown was on…..3, 2, 1….GO.  The next thing I knew I was riding on a paved section of road and we made our first pass.  OK, going exactly as I expected.  Start on some grass, move on to some paved road.  Then it happened…..we made a right hand turn and the path turned up.  By path, I mean the trail COVERED in rocks.  In my mind I figured this must just be a rocky section.  We kept riding, and the rocks kept being there.  Then it happened, we reached the first descent.  Guess what, more rocks…..and a 90 degree turn at the bottom.  From the guy in Ontario who had owned a mountain bike for less than 6 months, this was totally foreign and freaked me out.  First corner I ended up off the side of the road in a bush! You know what, I will get the hang of it I said.  So we kept on going, kept on riding our race.  We got to a really steep section and I said to myself – you’ve got to be kidding.  Up we went and it took all I had to get up the hill to ‘Dead Man’s Tree’.  Now we were at the highest peak of the day and it was time to get down.  First step in this was going to be something called the “Landrover Technical Terrain” which today was a section called Plum Pudding.  I had watched the video on this section over and over and it didn’t look too bad.  WRONG.  We came over the wooden bridge that signaled the start and the section of bridge down was steeper than almost anything I had ever ridden – this was going to be nuts.  I basically hung on for dear life and closed my eyes while grasping the brakes and praying that I fell and broke something so I wouldn’t have to do this any longer….I was now scared and my biggest fears about this race were coming to fruition – I just didn’t have the technical skills to get through it.  Magically, my collar bone stayed intact and I rode up to Eric and said, ‘Holy Shit’ that was crazy.  We got through the rest of the prologue with me on my brakes and Eric descending patiently.  We crossed the line, 10 minutes later than we projected but we crossed it with the rubber side down.  I realized at this point that Eric was going to be a much stronger rider in this race than me and what had started as equals had quickly become Batman and Robin – in it together but one clearly superior to the other.



As we make it to Hermanus, we now get our first taste of what the camping experience will be like for the next 7 nights.  You arrive to a sea of red tents….pretty wild.  You and 1000 of your closest friends sleeping under the stars every night.  The porto-pottys and showers are surprisingly clean and are constantly being maintained by someone with a mop.  Not for one minute did things feel dirty – but you still realize how important hand sanitizer is going to be to your life for the next week.  The food it turns out, is managed by the same chef that looks after team Quickstep.  Not only cool, but also great that he understand the needs of multi-day endurance racing – pasta at every meal, warm soups to soothe the stomach, it was a welcome surprise!  Then comes our first morning and we awake to the sound of bagpipes in the distance promptly at 5am.  5am feels like the middle of the night….oh wait, it’s 11pm at home and I’ve only been here for 3 days so ya, it’s the middle of the night.  All in all, the camp experience was amazing and I think you miss a part of the race if you don’t experience it this way!