Epic4Joe Diary


Our friends Mark Lawn and Dave Featherstone, will race the Cape Epic Mountain Bike Race in South Africa on 21 – 28 March. Their team is called Epic4Joe and they’re raising money for The Myelin Project UK.

For those of you not familiar with this race, there is full coverage of the event on Cycling News. Here are some facts for the impatient:

– the Cape Epic is categorized as a “Hors Categorie” event by the UCI (cycling’s World governing body). It is the only mountain bike event in the World to have this status which is the same status as the Tour de France!

– the race is 743 kilometres long

– the race includes 16,650 metres of gruelling mountains and passes

– average temperatures for the race are usually well above 30C.

Basically, it’s very tough and brutally difficult so, if you haven’t done so yet, go and sponsor them – they deserve it!

Mark’s Race Diary

Day zero – Butterflies in the stomach

Well it’s the eve before the Prologue and so far. everything has gone fairly well. There was little bit of a panic when in my euphoria of managing to fit my bike in it’s travel box I securely locked it and left the key at home!! Well, we are in a crime hot spot so – when in Rome!! The locals would have been proud of me.

Feathers is on first name terms with the local bike shop, he’s been in there so many times!

There has been bush fires on Table Mountain over the past few days. Practice was canceled Thursday but we had our first taste of the Prologue stage today (Friday). Wow, it was hot! Good acclimatisation ride though.

So it all starts tomorrow, 19km time trial…should be straight forward, shouldn’t it!!

Day one – The Prologue | Capetown – Capetown | Distance: 19km

So how should we approach a 17km time trial…hmmm, well they say the pro’s will do it in 45mins and the rest up to 1.30…so anything under 1.30 should do for starters. An 8.10 start time offered us the better weather conditions so we headed off after a grand introduction by the MC. The first 6km was uphill, a few riders came past and we managed to pass a few. By the time we reached the highest point we were feeling the heat(30degC). After a cautious descent and a few single tracks we could hear the PA and the crowd at the finish. Stop the clock…hmmm…1.12 that’ll do! Wonder how the others have done…? As more and more riders returned we were slipping further and further down the leaderboard. After the last rider past the finish line we were placed 402nd overall, 99th in our category. To put this in perspective Cristoph Sauser (current WC) managed 40.58…!!! Not a bad effort lad!

So tomorrow the race starts for real. 112km stage with 2.7km of climbing. They are forecasting this will be the longest day in the saddle…hmmm…welcome to the Epic!

Day two – Gordon’s Bay – Villiersdorp | Distance: 112km | Climbing: 2769m

One word to describe today – brutal! Christoph Sauser, current World Champion has done every Epic, this he said was the toughest stage of all the Epics.

The climbs were relentless. At the top of the worst one it was 40C! We had a bit of a panic at halfway that we weren’t going to make the cut off. We pressed on a bit and the worst of the climbs were behind us so the average speed was higher. We made it in 9hrs 10mins, the toughest we have ever spent on a bike! They extended the cut off to 11 hours due to the severity.

My team mate [Dave] was awesome today – what an intro to mountain biking.

Some numbers for you – 6500Kcals expended, 8.5l fluids drank, 1 pee stop…where did all go! Bedtime now, more tomorrow.

Day three – Villiersdorp – Villiersdorp | Distance: 110km | Climbing: 1527m

Tick another Epic stage off the list.

A 5km spin out to the first gravel section was an opportunity to wake up the legs. Yesterday had taken a lot out of most of the riders. The morning section wasn’t too bad – relatively speaking. We were looking forward to the flatter trails until we got there and found deep sand – aarrgghh! Thankfully the morning action was under a bit of cloud cover, thank you. That was all to change in the afternoon when we had the two big climbs of the day and the thermostat was turned up again!!

It also seemed like a day of attrition. There were an awful lot of punctures. We had a couple of issues getting the tubeless tyres to reseal after hitting rocks and we helped out another team struggling to repair a puncture. There were also a number of accidents, two broken collarbones and a broken arm that we knew of.

We are slowly moving up the, and we get a seeded category start now instead of been stuck at the back 🙂

I wonder what tomorrow will bring…

Day four – Villiersdorp – Greyton | Distance: 73km | Climbing: 1976m

Another day – another stage.

A 7am start and we were on our first climb at 7.01…good morning legs!! The first water stop was at 13km, a little close we thought, but there was very good reason. A lot of the time was spent pushing the bike due to the severity of the climb. Thank God that’s over…or so we thought! Between water point 1 & 2 we spent 1hr 30 carrying/pulling/dragging our bikes up a mountain! The heat was stifling! However whatever goes up must come down 🙂 the descent was great!

We had a little excursion off course for 10 mins as the pack we were in sped past a poorly signed junction in an orchard! Another climb got us back on track! Ouch!

The rest of the stage was tough, technical and of course bl**dy hot. Tail Feathers was smiling like a Cheshire cat when he saw the 1km to go board…he wasn’t the only one 🙂

All in all another tough day at the office.

They say in stage racing the fatigue accumulates over the first three days then fitness benefit gradually kicks in. Well we can confirm the effects of the first three days, hope the rest of the theory is right! I’ll let you know soon enough!

Day five – Greyton – Greyton | Distance: 114km | Climbing: 2202m

Both of us felt a little flat this morning, but I don’t think we were the only ones. Those magic stage 4 legs didn’t make an appearance, let’s hope they are only a day late!

The stage was termed a ‘rest stage’ – yeah right! 114km with 2.2km of climbing. Lots of district roads (hard gravel) that are very rolling. A few packs formed to keep a high pace, felt a little too high at times. After an hour or so we were back on the tracks and generally heading up, well it felt like it! Seemed to be a day to just get your head down and grind through the stage, so we did just that.

Still haven’t had chance to check the GC but I think we have started to move back up the standings [They have: 92/126 masters category, 367/514 overall]. Bit busy with our routine to eat, clean the bikes, eat, get a shower, eat, get legs massaged, eat, check bikes for next day, dinner time, sort bottles and kit for next day, eat, then bed. This stage racing is so demanding.

Another 111km with 2.2km of climbing tomorrow. We are looking forward to having our race legs back in the morning. Here’s hoping!

New camp tomorrow and three stages to go.

PS. For those of you wondering – yes it is a little tender now 😉

Day six – Greyton – Oak Valley | Distance: 111km | Climbing: 2233m

A grueling end to what started out well. A recurring comment at each water station was ‘Oh, we’re here already!’ First time we’ve uttered those words during the race. Even the 4km climb after water station 1 seemed ok.

Team Epic4Joe had found some cycling legs!

Every time I checked on Tail Feathers he was sat on my wheel and I got a big thumbs up. Good riding partner.

Then came water station 3, after that the road generally headed in the upwards direction! The tracks were shrouded by bush so there was no breeze, it felt like someone had just opened the oven door! Climb after climb started to take it’s toll. It seemed to take forever to see that 1km to go board. Even the best 5km single track on the event was hard work. Feathers Duracell’s were starting to run flat, but like a real trooper he dug deep and hung in to the finish.

In summary it was another tough day, but we made it and only have two days to go. Everything is hurting now and, judging by the way Feathers is moving around the camp, he is too. He wouldn’t score well on Strictly Come Dancing!

Looking forward to seeing team Robertson on route tomorrow – Lekker boet! A technical 83km has been lined up for stage 6 …hmmmm.

Day seven – Oak Valley – Oak Valley | Distance: 86km | Climbing: 1546m

60km is all that’s left to go to the end of one hell of an event. I’ll be so pleased to see that finish line, but also a little sad that it’s all over. This is the Cape Epic, so believe me those last 60km will not be easy! Keep your fingers crossed for us.

So what happened today?

Seemed to be more of the same with a few technical sections in the first part of the stage. The weather was a little kinder to us due to the cloud cover, but a head wind later on in the day was very unwelcome. Considering Feathers ventured on to his first mountain biking course only 5 months ago he did a sterling job today. The technical sections had a few riders off and walking but Tail Feathers managed aplomb. Although he did admit to a bit of a sense of humor failure through the sandy sections. They are so energy sapping!

Just as we rolled across the finish line there were two handsome gentlemen giving us the loudest cheer – Robertson junior and senior. Good effort fellas, welcome to the Epic, it was great to see you both. The Kernel [colonel?] even bought lunch, what a result!

Both steeds have behaved admirably. Amazing considering the abuse they have been subjected to. Brake pads and a new tyre is all we’ve needed between us. They are looking a bit battle scared though. Hope I haven’t jinxed us now!

Tomorrow we get a slightly later start – cool, a lie in! And we’re promised a grand finish. Looking forward to it 🙂

Keep your fingers crossed for us both tomorrow, and I hope my next, and last, report will bring good news.

Until then.

Day eight – Oak Valley – Lourensford | Distance: 60km | Climbing: 1760m

First of all apologies for a delayed report, but the day rolled into a bit of a celebration 🙂 Kind of spoiled the story now, but yes we managed to finish our first Cape Epic – YAHOOOO!

The day started with 60km in front of us and 1750m of climbing. It kind of felt like putting the legs in autopilot and just getting on with it. The first water point saw the bulk of the climbing behind us and 32km to the finish. There were even offers of champagne at the water point, but we refrained and awaited for the finish line before we started any celebrations. The last section had a compulsory portage over a National Historic section over Gamtou pass. The wheel tracks of the Voortrekkers wagons are still visible in the rocks.

The 5km to go board had us both cheering – we could run to the finish line from here! 🙂 One lap of Lourensford wine estate finish area amongst hundreds of spectators, including team Robertson, we crossed the finish line. What a relief!! Medals, finishers shirts, photos, champagne and cold beers quickly passed by and we could start to reflect on what we have managed to achieve. What an 8 days it has been!

My take-aways:

– The organisation of the event never stopped impressing me. To manage an event on such a scale with all the logistics involved was amazing.
– To be able to line up in a race and compare yourself against the best in the world feels special. There are not many sports where you can do that.
– The camaraderie between the competitors. No matter how tough the going gets there’s always a smile and a ‘Howzit’, even a helping hand when needed.
– We have been very privileged to have ridden through private estates and seen parts of the country a tourist wouldn’t be able to see. South Africa is a stunning country!

What I won’t miss:

– The 5am wake up siren in the camp.
– The continual slamming of Portaloo doors.
– And that saddle!!

So Sunday morning after the Epic, what do you do? Get up at 7am and spin out on the bikes of course. Honestly we did! Too many people have told us to wind down slowly or the body goes into shutdown and repair, thought we better heed their advice.

So that’s all for now, we have to head off to Kruger on safari until next weekend. Life’s tough eh!

Thanks all for your kind words of encouragement, support, and if course your donations.

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