Putting their legs to the test for the fight against cancer
The annual Cape Epic, termed “the Untamed African Mountain Bike Race”, draws hundreds of the best riders from all corners of the globe to race over 8 days. The terrain is extremely harsh and includes dusty gravel roads, strenuous rocky climbs, thrilling technical descends and chilling river crossings; The “Tour de France of mountain biking”.
A prerequisite for any successful team is a strong will to succeed and an unbreakable spirit to withstand anything the race throws at you, which could be anything from extreme heat (up to 46 degrees C), rain, strong winds, mechanical issues, injuries, GI distress and fatigue and exhaustion.
One of the core values of CSM is to be brave and two CSM employees from the South African office, Johann Klindt and Stephan Weyers, showed exactly that by taking on the Cape Epic to ride for CANSA, the Cancer Association of SA.
It is the only eight-day mountain bike stage race classed as hors category by the Union Cyclist Internationale (UCI), and it is the official UCI status that makes it a significant highlight on the professional cycling calendar.
The 2019 Cape Epic consisted of 624 kilometres in distance and the 16 650 meter in climbing course traversed some of the most magnificent mountain passes in South Africa. 650 teams were battling it out for the 2019 honours. Our team sent the following race report after successfully completing this challenge on Sunday 24 March:
We put in many hours of training and arrived at the start of the Prologue fit and confident. The Prologue was a short and punchy time trial on the slopes of Table Mountain in thick mist to determine the team starting time for stage one the next day. The race got off the worst possible start for us as disaster struck around the first corner, when we picked up our first mechanical issue. After quick improvisation by Johann we were on our way again, having lost two precious minutes and a few spokes. The finish time was 01h11 which was good enough for 198th
place in the Men’s competition.
Stage 1: “Heaven and back to Earth”
This was a gruelling introduction to the race with a 111km route with 2700m of ascent. After a strong start, Johann was involved in an head-on collision with a fellow rider while on a big climb. The other rider realised he dropped one of his bottles and decided to make a U-turn and went hard down the hill into the oncoming riders colliding with Johann. After being flung to the other side of the road, Johann got up and continued riding in pain with no feeling left in his arm and shoulder.
Our game plan was to start conservatively and build our effort through the day and finish strong, but after this nightmare incident our team proceeded with extra caution and finished the stage in 07h24, losing 7 places to 205th
place BUT still in the race despite the collision.
Stage 2: “Enter Sandman”
After two of the worst possible starts in consecutive stages we were due some better fortune. The transition from Hermanus to Oak Valley was a day of arduous kilometres through thick sand and rocky terrain. We paced ourselves perfectly and felt stronger as the stage progressed. We were happy with our performance after riding incredibly well on the scintillating single tracks and made massive strides through the field throughout the stage, finishing in a time of 05h44 in 167th
place, improving 38 places.
Stage 3: “The Emerald Princess”
Groenland Mountain, the famed emerald mountain played host to this stage over 107km with 2800m of ascent. The weather was atrocious as icy rain and strong winds were encountered halfway up the ascent which caused havoc with many riders succumbing to the loose and slippery rocks, leading to riders fracturing limbs and fingers. Just before a water point a lapse in concentration saw Stephan come hard off the bike tearing a hole in his bib exposing his bum cheek which led to interesting comments from fellow riders.
We picked up some momentum and managed to force through the field and once again reeled in a few teams. After a strong finish we crossed the finish line in 151th place in a time of 07h10.
Stage 4: “Just like clockwork” – Team Time Trial
Motivated by our strong showing in the hard stage the previous day, we were up for the challenge of another time trial on some of the best single tracks on the planet. Even though the plan was to take it easy initially and recover ahead of the Queens stage, the adrenaline was flowing and we ripped through the field. A huge crash happened right on Johann’s front wheel with the rider plummeting down a gorge. After riding in shock for a few minutes, we finished strong and another 32 places were gained after finishing in 119th
place in a time of 02h21
Stage 5: “Newton’s Queen”
Even though statistically similar to stage 3, this was the toughest stage of the event by considerable distance with brutally steep hills over rugged terrain. It took a while to get the legs going due to the compound fatigue now showing its teeth. By now we both were starting to suffer from blisters on our hands and the terrain just made it worse as every kilometre passed.
The tactic was to just survive and break the stage down in pieces, focussing on getting from water point to water point, while concentrating hard not to fall and crash out of the race. Around the halfway mark our spirits were on the low side from fatigue and all sorts of aches and pains that started developing.
We forced ourselves to appreciate the fact that we are fit and healthy and that we are riding in support of those people in ill health who feel like this on a daily basis. We reminded ourselves that in a week’s time we’d feel better but for many cancer patients a new series of chemo begins. Soon we felt better and we pushed on. We finished in 142th place in a time of 06h54
Stage 6: “Death, taxes, singletracks and vineyards”
It was clear from the outset that stages 1,3 & 5 were going to be the most brutal, but stage 6 was not to be disregarded and we decided to pay our respects and not underestimate this stage.
Some of the best single track trails on the planet were on offer but it only came as a reward after some super punchy climbs. The mercury was rising and we had difficulty coping with the added hydration demands with water points being spread far apart. We had to ride without water for over an hour in 46C heat which tested our sense of humour. After 6h18mins of riding in extreme conditions we crossed the line in 141th place. Finally, the finish line was now well and truly in sight for us.
Stage 7: “The Grand Finale”
Most riders viewed the final stage as a mere “victory lap” and how wrong they were. There simply is no easy day in the Cape Epic. Johann, who also competed in the 2018 Epic, warned that there was still plenty of riding to be done before we could celebrate at Val de Vie, the finish venue in Franschhoek.
We were taken into the Jonkershoek Mountains for hard climbing and rewarding but technical single track descends. Our goal was to keep the rubber side down and not risk any falls, so we rode very conservatively all the way. Our biggest fear was crashing out of the race after everything we had achieved to date.
It was only around the 50km mark with 20km to go that we started to feel that the finish line was a reality. Everything we’d been through over the 8 incredible days now began to sink in.
Before we knew it, we were on the final straight crossing the line with hands in the air and pumping fists. Our tears of joy were washed away by the champagne showers. It is difficult to describe the emotions we felt when we realized what we had achieved. This race tested EVERYTHING: our preparation, our endurance, our perseverance, our team spirit, our bikes and components, our nutrition, our mechanics, our relationships, our ability to endure hardship and our collaboration.
The 2019 Absa Cape epic will be remembered for a lot of reasons. Not only for traversing over the rough, dusty, wet, loose, rocky terrain, but also that every kilometre was hard-earned under the conditions.
It was an honour to represent CSM and to demonstrate our group values to a global audience. Our team spirit, camaraderie and teamwork pulled us through as well as knowing that we weren’t riding for ourselves, but in support of all affected by cancer and for a dream of a cancer free world.