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RIDING THE ABSA CAPE EPIC - TOP TIPS FROM A SEASONED RIDER


I am Corrie Muller, local mountain biker and trail builder. I rode almost all of the routes that features in each year`s ABSA Cape Epic. I trained for 10 Epic events and completed 8 of them. I ascended 31 podiums on amateur level in the years. This is an important fact for you to know as in this series, I will share my advice – and failures – those hard lessons I have learned through my mistakes, but also the unrivaled joy I experienced with every measured success. 

Along the endless kilometers of sweat, guts and tears, I made valuable friends in team mates and competitors alike. I mingled with the back markers – those individuals heavier than me who needed to face fears of a different kind of racing that I had not experienced.


So here it is, some advice from an old racing snake…


BEFORE YOU ENTER, ASK YOURSELF THIS:


  1. Is this what you really want to do…?

I have often witnessed an impulsive moment that gets ruined by the reality of chronic suffering, those broken hearts that turn early nostalgia into self-pity because of the endless commitment they signed up for. Do not get me wrong – doing those long summer (or winter) hours in the saddle to prepare for the ABSA Cape Epic is often the best part of the whole experience. The flip side is when you start to second-guess your choice, you will likely descend into a downward spiral. Often, your choice of excuse to quit is the stuff equal to drama plots found in classic bedside novels. It is when someone should ask, let's say, “Pete how is John getting on with his training?” – only to hear that John has acquired some outlandish or exotic hormone deficiency, or a rare virus that made him quit the upcoming Epic. 


Instead, good solid results with subsequent good memories feed off a positive mindset. This is my central theme - most things in life should be of a fulfilling nature if joy can be part of it. Being positive is the opium for your training season ahead. In this series, I will give you my advice on how to counter negativity in the many phases of preparing, and eventually taking part in the ABSA Cape Epic.


  1. Did you discuss it with the family…?

Please, please – do not underestimate the art of negotiation. After the event, you need to be with the loved ones that you seemed to forsake for pursuing your own glory. Do not let your fun be stolen by broken commitments. Rather allow rules and sacrifices to be the order of the day to ensure your positive mindset, as I have indicated above. 


For instance – I have agreed with my wife Sulinda, so that my training should not interfere with the kids` Saturday sports program, and on Sunday, I was in time for church. I kept to it and the reward was a lenient spouse on the days that the training group want to do a weekend camp or an ultra-long ride.

 

CHOOSING A TEAMMATE



When I choose a teammate – this is my priorities – in descending order


  1. Teammates share the same general strategy objectives and goals. – I assume you already know something of the partner`s riding abilities.  Should you be approached with this offer, you should know about his or her abilities as a rider before you agree on principle. If you realize this, and make peace with it, skip this for now and make the “same strategy objective and goals” your first box to tick. Talk about it and agree on your commitments regarding your mutual strategy.  I often hear the following: “from Day 3 my team mate does not want to race anymore” This often stems from a different strategy objective, rather than that of a sheer difference in physical ability. This team mate is more often the more-gifted rider, laying off when you are training hard. His objective is just to have a week`s fun while you want to try and do your best at all costs. Look out for these signs and talk regularly about it. Then choose whether you want buy-in on his lifestyle for that week, or you look for a different team mate.


  1. Teammates on equal physical footing – As I have indicated above, you should have seen him riding before you decide on a partnership. If you are a seasoned rider, you should be able to pick up differences very quickly. If you are rookies in this game, the choice should be simple by not putting high expectations of your combined result. Rather let you ease into this one. Your next attempt together will reap better results if the two of you finish happy with the first bite of the Epic-apple.


  1. Teammates in close friendship - I have realized it by choosing a partner who is NOT like you, or who does NOT echo your strong and/or weak points – is the teammate that will be more likely to better suit you. “Dovetailing” is such a blessing, only to be realized when you are in fact in the ABSA Cape Epic trenches. 


On the contrary, to choose a good friend as your pairing, is more likely to fail. I know of numerous strong friendships, ruined by the decision to take part together in the ABSA Cape Epic.


That said though, to choose a close friend is not a complete no-no. My critical viewpoint here is to always cherish a long-held relationship, and should you partner with a friend, you would have to throw extra attention to your developing training regime and where your team mate`s feelings feature in it.


The financial burden

Consider this. The ABSA Cape Epic is much more of a financial drain than only the entry fee. The price of bike upgrades (or even a new one), coaches, training camps and other pre-event races will be added expenses you need to take in account.


If the probability is fairly high that your beloved two-wheeled steed will end up collecting dust in the garage after the event, then consider strongly NOT to enter. Entering the ABSA Cape Epic will likely become a temporary ego trip which just fuels your lust for the next challenge that has no purpose to you.




My central thoughts


My advice might, or might NOT work for you. But here are some pointers that’s vital in my opinion. These are my one-liners that I picked up from experience over the years.


  1. Start your training season slowly (as with your pre-event focus, as with each stage in the event)

  2. Find your purpose and joy in training.

  3. Cherish the team spirit. The team comes first, then your partner, then the ego

  4. Have fun – that’s why you do it. 



I’M IN! NOW WHAT?


There are 3 cycles you will experience in your quest to become a successful ABSA Cape Epic contender (each to their own ability). It will be of a different feel, a different duration and a different intensity – your approach to it will vary – yet it will require the same objectives for you need to master: - Pace and sustainability


FIRST CYCLE - THE TRAINING MONTHS 



How to start:

You usually realize your commitment between 9 and 12 months before your Epic starts. The biggest fault you can make is to fire away in all earnestness. Just like the end product to take part in a race, you will suffer the consequences if you start too fast. 


You are not a pro-rider that depends on the income to race days on end. You have other stress points in your life as well. By focusing on your goal for too long will freak out the people around you, and ultimately yourself. Rather start riding leisurely and progress to a level of fitness where you can easily do a 4 hour ride. Only then do you start to focus on the ABSA Cape Epic and the team`s agreed common goal to work for. In this time, start to get your diet under control. It is important to lose weight steadily. Too fast, and you undo core muscle strength. By steadily losing weight, your body transform into a stronger and leaner machine


Also start to incorporate off-the-bike training sessions. This way, you have time to get stronger and fitter without spending too much time on the bike. Cherish the relationship between the bike and yourself. Good examples here is to cross train, i.e. running, CrossFit or gym sessions. The point I am trying to make here is to train with a de-focused mind. Your time to shine on a bicycle will be brighter, later. 


When to start: 

The answer will certainly be different, should you live in the Northern Hemisphere? My advice to you would be to start focusing on the job by the end of November. Yes! It is not too late. That is, if you build steadily an informal base where you can easily ride a full morning at a leisurely pace. As indicated above, you would have lost those unnecessary kilograms and you are also empowered to run a bit or to feel more comfortable in the gym etc. etc.


How to progress: 

By now you would have pick up my fundamental approach to improve slowly. Pick up your intensity and your hours in the saddle by increasing the work load as your body becomes happy with the regime. You should view your effort in the form of a sinus curve with the peak period to be in December, January and February. Within this 13 week period at the top of the curve, you should be mindful of having your on- and off weeks. I like to work in 3-week cycles - Build (B), Push (P) and Rest (R). To your ability, I will try to give a numeric value to each description, 90%, 100% and 70% respectively. This should not be made a strict pattern. You will know your family and business (and personal) schedule ahead, and then to plan accordingly. 3 week patterns may vary from BPR to PBR, or increase / decrease the cycle to 2 or 4 weeks to accommodate your needs - PR or BPPR etc.  



Then – and this is the question I get asked most often. How many hours a week should I train? 

Train as much as you can sustain for the 13 weeks period. But should you doubt, then do less. It is better to do less, and keep your workload, than do more and start fading on top of this sinus curve. I seldom do more than 14 hours a week. There are 3 weeks or so where it might go up to 17 hours. An old training buddy did 3 Cape Epics – first one he was training 22 hours average, second one 15 hours and the last one 12 hours. His best result was the last one. Think family, business, body, mind and soul. It is better to do 12 hours and not waste time, than to do that extra 8 hours sputtering around mindlessly just to reap up hours and to look good on Strava


There is no need to think that a business trip, family matters or even an illness (within reasonable limits) would set you back from the other teams – and/or your team mate. Just like a thriving business has a history marred with ill decisions or moments of stagnation, so you should view your preparation towards it. The worst position to be in, is to get anxious about it. If one week was not a good week in training, believe that the next week will be good.


Additions to your training regime would be to get a masseuse that works well for you. It is not everybody's cup of tea, herein lies a timely healing period after a hard week`s work. 


Your body:

Quite an important part of the whole package. As this is the flesh and bone part, I am going to be rather opinionated to some of the topics hereunder.


My own science behind training

Personally, I am not a gadget guy. I rely a lot on my intuition and therefore I believe in an approach to make me see the bigger picture in the whole adventure.  Most other riders like to be more focused and goal orientated, which make me more of a different approach. Hence, here is my less popular take on matters - it might interest you. 


  1. I do not do bars, corn syrup of energy fuel whilst training. I cannot see how you can run out of energy if you stock up reasonably good in your back pockets with natural energy-rich foods. Unless if you are in the middle of nowhere, you can fill up if you happen to run out of water. If it is a particular hot day, then pre-hydrate or take a hydration backpack with. I also do not believe what energy food brands proclaim “in our product there are nutrition that you will NOT find in any natural way” . Also, recent research shows clearly that artificial sugar has no benefits. I train on water, or put some watery homemade lemon cordial and concentrate to eat well on the bike.


  1. I do not do heart rate monitors and power meters. Again, there are lots of justification for using it, but I often find riders blaming their stats for a poor performance, instead of blaming themselves. It can also psyche you out – for instance – you decide to do a weekend race. The day is hot, the course is tough. Everybody is there, including Mark, John and Sam – who you dearly want to beat. Then there is this high hopes on a finishing time you have in mind: “Last year I did it in 4 hours, now with my Cape Epic training regime… I must do substantially better…” – So you put on your heart rate monitor on and you resting heart rate is ten beats higher! “Oh no! I must be ill…!” 


  1. I do like long rides to where I start out slower and gradually improve my work rate to where I can comfortably ride a pace that I would like to maintain for the duration of a typical ABSA Cape Epic stage time. By starting easier, I give myself time to get into the pace, working towards last halve of the ride to be my Epic-pace. Riding the ABSA Cape Epic, I will spend many many hours in that zone.  Train in it and your body gets used to it, workout without killing yourself. Remember to eat and drink well. 


  1. I do not go training in big group rides. The bigger the group, the bigger the admin. Wait for Steve, taking pictures, or now George has a puncture… I like to ride alone, or with some riders who echo my sentiment, or I make time to ride with your team mate – alone. 


  1. I do interval training, but I do not like it. My riding is my playtime, therefore I try to bring fun and games into the regime. For instance – I often do 6 repetitions of a mile steady climb at high pace. I rest by going slowly downhill to the start. I must improve each one`s time compare to the previous one. It is easy to bullshit yourself – just start your first one very slow. Yeah right - but what if you start to believe that you are getting fitter, hence you go out faster. If you manage to improve all six intervals, you now know that you are getting fitter. The positive attitude box… tick! Another one – I do once a month a time trial of 6.5 kilometers on a gradient and surface that get gradually more difficult. Every time, I must improve on the previous months’ time. If I do not, or bail out of the pace, I complete it, go down and do an extra one. Nice to get the self-doubting pressure of my back and in the process get a bloody good workout in. 


  1. I do little training on single tracks. Constant turning of the legs build better stamina. It is important to get good long climbs in as well, for sure. 


  1. I do bad choices. That is all in the package. If you do not meet the training aim for this week, your chance of succeeding the task next week is now much higher. See it that way. My best results I achieved were in the years that I felt slightly undercooked. To climb the steady slope up to peak performance has a daunting cliff on the other side -called overtraining. That is where you NOT want to be. Always stay on the steady side. 



The patient receiver 

How many times do I hear this…: “I was so fit… until I fell ill” This belief is completely un-scientific. It takes months of hard work to get where you are now. The body cannot and will not suddenly lose its form. What is important to know is that the body being in a fit state, is immunosuppressive – which means your immune system is under pressure therefore you can get ill easier than your lesser fit buddies. Be aware of it! The point I try to make is that an ordinary illness will not nullify months of training. What it is more likely to do is to give you a temporally low energetic level and a reduced level of self-confidence. For instance, you go out in a race after being ill and your lungs burn and you are short of breath. You blame this on your recent illness and your confidence drops. Instead, you should have asked the riders next to you about the pace and they might just agree that the start is hectic for them as well – and having the same burning lungs.

 

So how do you overcome this? Rest. Rest enough. Rest too much. It astonishes me how much fitter I come out of it. If you do not do it, you risk a longer recovery time, secondary bacterial infections and a prolonged period of self-doubt. 


The family within

Father, mother and child. Mind, spirit and body. Head, heart and legs. With proper parental guidance, parents give their offspring the best platform to excel in. It is important that your vision and your logic lines up or the offspring (the body in this matter) will suffer. That does not mean that parents may never argue? You are free to get cross for yourself – the infights in this trio are also necessary for maturation. In this piece, I encourage various ways to improve your body. Educate it, like a child needs a parent – do you talk to your legs whilst training? You might as well. While the parents hold hands, treat each other lovingly and create a stable home for the boisterous child, it grows up, equipped with valuable tools to face the big world out there. 


Your mind – I am sure that you pick up my take on mental training. Some of us will go further and find professional care in this matter – certainly it will be money well spent. But let me give you my 10 cents worth.

 

Picture this – you are a week away from an 800km race, ascending 16000 meters in the rough and tumble Western Cape Mountains. The week is a scorcher – looks like you will hit 40degrees C on some of the days. Your partner is fit, rearing to go. Every week he looks sharper. He talks big and you follow his cue half-heartedly. You realize that you cannot down-talk him. The team needs a positive vibe – so when it gets quiet, you sit down to motivate yourself by shaving your legs…. maybe this will make you feel better.


This is a typical pre-race scenario. The ABSA Cape Epic is a team race and this is the beauty. I managed a family friend through the Cape Epic 2008 and I quickly realized that his younger brother is steadily increasing his physical dominance over him. His resulting, and knee-jerk reaction was to go harder in his training, in the process driving himself into the ground. Visibly fatigued, he confided his dire situation to me to which I responded to him by saying that he should take a two week break from training - to which he answered: “…but then Matthew will just improve even more and I will not…!”

I rescued the situation. I held back his timing on buying that new bike he wanted to do the Epic in. This was the end of January and after receiving his shiny new steed, he was off into clearer skies, feeling better about himself and finding new zest for his training regime. 


I am elaborating about it here as this is the very essence in training for a monster to this magnitude. You have to re-invent yourself with positive thoughts. Be in the present. Try to prove yourself in training that there will always be another training day, and in the event, there will always be another stage, and in the race, always be another kilometer. Trust yourself doing the right thing.

This is my forward vision in training – it is good to be at the ABSA Cape Epic registration day feeling as if you could have done more. Great. You at least are not rolling down the other side of this peaked position, where it happens that the more you train, the weaker you get



Manage your partner – Dovetailing. Find the difference, take responsibility for your qualities, and talk about your weak points, your failures. Expect that from your teammate as well. Should you be very much alike or good buddies, discuss your opinions and find disagreements. It is therapy when these issues come out in training. Do not wait for the race when it will result in anger. In 2014 I had a team mate so different from me, even my whole town was waiting for a bust-up between us two in mid-stage. I was a good climber, he was a fast descender. He is hyper-focused and I am all over the show. I love tactics and he spends a lot on attention to detail. In the end, I made sure we made the right decision on the stage and he managed me and my stuff to make sure I am ready and on time the next day. Despite not having anything in common, we often have a coffee together because of that 8 days in the ABSA Cape Epic resulted in an enormous respect for each other.


Treat and punish yourself - Your body will take you to the finish on Day 7 but, as you will discover with the next chapter, it is your mind that will drive it there. There are the two sides within you that need to feed off each other, just like two individuals that make up your team. Good cop, bad cop. Yin and Yang. Sugar and spice. You have to have the fun but your conscience must be hard and realistic. Some of us rely on a strict training program that is more focused on the job at hand, but those people must be able to override what is written in the text. When I coached high school racers, I informed my athletes that they are allowed to scrap 20% on the set regime. My approach was as such that the kids had the authority over their destiny. This created a fun atmosphere where the dedicated athlete excelled without overtraining themselves.

Instead of having a strict training regime, I like to train towards the other side of the spectrum. My dark side is to get lax daisy.  When I train in a fun filled environment, I have to take stock of the work that is done over a long period. I often have to ask myself: “Am I on the right track, measured on what I have done in the last 2 months and what I should do to rectify wrong decisions when going forward.

Both viewpoints are right, but by not addressing the whole package of your training mojo, is non-balanced and you will end up either burning you out, or fooling yourself.



Diet – In 2009 and 2010, I was in the ABSA Cape Epic with Rob Sim. Rob is very much like me – seeing the bigger picture and does not always pay attention to the small stuff. We had the best days on a bike together, one of them being a category stage win – my only one. We also had bad days. Very bad ones. As I indicated before, we did not manage our similar dark-sides very well. Our preparations were under prepared and when we ended up with a technical, we did not know how to fix the bike! 

Rob has a studious personality and this sharp intellectual brain made him come to very logical conclusions. Such as dietary principles. Rob used to make his own (undrinkable) energy drink and energy bar which he used to call a “honde drol”   (dog turd). I am forever thankful to him for getting me into the shape of my life in 2010. After he saw me eating just whatever I liked during weekend training 6 months earlier, Rob gave me the dietary “ten commandments’ – try not to eat this, rather eat that – of which I can choose five to follow religiously, and the other five I can ignore. Only five. But then – one particular commandment I had to subject myself under


  1. Do not eat white rice – eat brown rice

  2. Reduce milk intake – rather use almond, rice or coconut milk

  3. Reduce wheat – eat rye bread. Even if you eat the mixed rye and wheat-based bread if rye alone does not work for you

  4. Cut out low fat products – go for high fat options like yogurt and butter

  5. Do not use ordinary pasta – use rye pasta (cooked longer than 7 minutes and you eat oats pap)

  6. Cut out meat at dinner time – eat plant based proteins, or eat much less meat

  7. Cut out corn based breakfast cereals – have nuts instead

  8. Reduce alcohol intake

  9. Cut sugar completely (including sweet stuff) 

  10. The last one – this is the one you HAVE to do. 

Breakfast like a king, lunch like a commoner, dinner like a peasant. This is that your breakfast should be well loaded – more than the lunch. The commandments above are included in your daily regime. Your dinner should be eaten before 19h00 and try not to have meat in it. But here comes the thing – between each meal, have something small to eat. Around 11h00, 16h00 or before you go to sleep, have an apple, for instance. 

The aim is to never grow hungry. If you are not empty in the stomach, you are happy with much less food. Rob used to say that children were right all along the way and it was parents that were in the wrong, who introduced the strict 3-meals-a-day program. That year, I went into the ABSA Cape Epic weighing 70kg, a crucial 2kg lighter than I was used to. I was fitter than Rob, his better technical skills kept him up with me – but do not ask him if it is true, he will never admit it… never.


Taper – You will most certainly not get unfit. This is your mind that messes up the family bond – as usual. You will not benefit from the last 3 week`s training. You might as well start to fill up the energy storage spaces within. You deserve that rest and in the process you start to focus on your task ahead, your aims and your desires. Go out on strolls together with your team mate. Talk the hype up. The last 3 weeks should be 70%, 50% and 30% of the average time and intensity. I remember the one training day we had with a week to go before the start. We attacked each little 50 meter climb on this fun filled 2 hour ride. I knew we were ready for big stuff – and we did not disappoint each other, and ourselves.


-o0o-



SECOND CYCLE – THE EVENT


Retrospection – Why are you here? What made you feel like a child a year ago? Now it is slowly becoming a reality, and you need to let it positively sink into your DNA. Fear often makes you forsake your original romance to this endeavor.  By now you should be constantly aware of your butterfly stomach, but never refrain from your initial excitement. I was blessed with the experience of the first Cape Epic event in 2004. The route was a big secret and nobody knew what the route organizers will throw us with. All we knew is that this will be a crazy 8-day event. So, cometh the hour, our team were optimistically looking forward to it, as we believed we were tough enough to do well. In the end we beat better teams by just being positive.



Your bike – When you taper before the ABSA Cape Epic, you now are starting to fill up those energy levels. Instead of wasting it on last ditch frantic training, rather use it by caring for your bike by looking and listening to it. By the start of tapering, you should give some critical thoughts to the following components:

a. Chain – especially if the mountain bike is older than this training season, make sure that the chain is in harmony with the rest of the group set.  Change your chain, if you need to, 3 weeks prior. Your cassette or crank rings might be happy with the worn chain, but as soon as it packs up, the new chain might be bulling the gears, leading to frustration and heavy strain on the whole group set. Now is NOT the time to think that your bike shop is bullying you into a purchase.

b. Tires and/or sealant – also better to replace it early in the taper period. Stay with what you are used to, unless if they are definitely not what you need in the ABSA Cape Epic. Overthink the sidewalls. Do not compromise like me way back in 2005. You are not going to beat Danny with your bike on lighter tires, Danny will be more likely the victor, while you are sitting next to the route putting in sidewall gators. Do not think weight – put more sealant in than usual. Fresh sealant is a must.

c. Inspect your bike – thoroughly. Do not wait for the last week like me. I found a tiny frame fracture four days before the event. I was lucky enough to have a sharp bike shop and a bike brand with a brilliant after sales service. I had a new frame on the same day without costing me a cent. It could have been much worse. And on that note – buy stuff that can easily be repaired, in mid-stage and by your mechanics between stages as well.

d. No-no`s – carbon handlebars and seat posts. With it, your bike looks funky, but the underbelly is compromised. There is a very good reason why Miley Cyrus is not a cage fighter. Do not go to the Epic on a Miley. And while I am on it, do not buy racing spec bikes. A mistake I did – and thankfully I was not punished for it in the first Epic – was to buy a super light Scott Scale 10 hardtail 26er. A nice bike it was, but it had a glued-on derailleur hanger. Had it broken in mid-stage, it would have meant the end of my race. The bike was designed for the pro-racers in the XCO WC events. If you break it there, your race is over anyway, so that is why the manufacturers shaved of a few grams on the bike. You do not have to polish your ego with “Team-issue” stuff. It is not designed for you. 



Team focus – By now, the two of you would have spent some time together, exchanged your thoughts, fears and foes. It is a good strategy to touch base again by having good communication. To hear again that your teammate has a problem with very hot weather, then you become his hydration manager, or tell him that you are not quick out of the blocks, which means he has to let you determine the pace in the first kilometers. Rob realized early in our races that I can easily “forget” to hydrate. He often would raise his hand in the air with his water bottle in hand to remind me to take fluid in myself. 


What is it that irritates you about your teammate? Do not hesitate to point out his weaknesses, and laugh about it. Then it is out in the open and you show him/her that you accept his/her shortcomings. Do both of you, for instance, know how to plug a tire, or to fix a chain? This sounds so obvious now, but you are confronted with time should it happen in mid-stage. You start to panic and it results in poor handling of the issue. By paying attention to this beforehand, you feel more in control when this happens in the ABSA Cape Epic. 


It is important to let you choose your portfolios. Who is going to set the early pace? Who is going to take charge, should a bike technicality occur?


The ABSA Cape Epic is a team event for a very good reason and that is to challenge you to manage team principals as well as you (both) can. Never forget this, especially with the next comment in mind:


If your ambition is to ensure your teammate has the best possible ABSA Cape Epic experience, you will as a result, have your best one as well.


This might sound altruistic, but the wheels come off when you approach this occasion of grandeur with a self-centered outlook. 




Prologue – I have seen many hearts broken on this silly twenty-odd kilometer stage. If you Google Joel Stransky 2017, you will see all the pictures of his face plant. If it happens to be that you are competitive and you want to race it, you can only lose the Epic on the prologue. The rush can turn into broken bones and broken bikes. The time you will lose on that day by riding within yourself will not destroy your objectives. Enjoy the atmosphere. It is a stunning day and do not get carried away. 


Stage 1 – As the prologue can break your bones and your bike, Stage 1 can kill you unceremoniously. Twice, I have been on a drip after the stage with an ultimatum to lower my urea and serotonin levels or I get chucked out of the race. It all happened because my dreams exceeded my capabilities and I paid less interest in the current weather conditions. I was so much in the zone to kill my main competitors – only to (nearly) kill myself. Folks, chill. And particularly the men. The dear Lord blessed us with testosterone, but we use it for all the wrong reasons. It is like Fentanyl – a wonderful narcotic for medical use - but not after 10 pm on the city pavement. The record drop-out figures in one day was stage 1 in 2022. A 2600 meter vertical climb of a beast, and it happened to be 40 degrees Celsius. Testosterone was the course that an insane amount of men dropped out of the race that day… and one woman. Coincidence?? I rode the 2017 ABSA Cape Epic in my top physical form with female tri-athlete, Mari Rabie. Being stronger than her, I attempted to push her up the hills from the start. Assertively, she declined it, saying. “Leave this for the second half of the stage. Otherwise I need to push you and that is not why I am here!”


Stage 1 is serious stuff. This day is like your mother – no need to be in fear of her, but please respect her presence. 



Team tactics – I left this one for last in your preparation because this is probably the forgotten family member. It is also easily fixed in no time. Please see this in context when I write it here - it is the closest bond to marriage. All it needs is loving attention. So, please bear with me and go through pointers that will be promoting your team image.

  1. If your teammate has a great day, you will have one as well - work on that approach if you are the better rider. If you are not that one - don't you think that you will appreciate it if your teammate does exactly that to you?

  2. At the start – Please do not be that team mate. BE ON TIME. Be prepared. Do not give your teammate fuel for frustration.

  3. Talk. - Know precisely how your teammate feels in, and between stages. In the first two stages riders do not feel they are beaten into a pecking order as to where they should finish in the result column. Rob Sim was stronger than me in 2009. I took his pace, chasing him on the first day. That nearly killed me, and our team result, because I did not want to spoil his day. This sounds crazy, but this is a typical Stage 1 mistake. 

  4. Stronger climber backs off – never half-wheel your teammate if you are the stronger rider. Worse, do not lead him/her with any size of a gap between you and him/her. Your message to the competition is that your teammate is on his/her max. Stay right behind – it looks stronger and your team mate feels in control of the pace.

  5. Weaknesses – Make yours known to your teammate and take charge of managing your team mate’s weaknesses.

 

-o0o-



THIRD CYCLE – IN THE RACE

  1. Daily diet – Manage your intake as such by never being without food in your stomach. An empty stomach affects the appetite negatively. Therefore, your fuel for the next stage starts the previous evening. Eat food that dissolves slowly. Personally, I eat solid meat as this leaves me with something in my stomach to wake up the next morning with. A well-managed stomach awakens a healthy mental state. You stay focused and you start eating food on the bike that you WANT to eat and what you NEED to eat. Also your shorter chain carbs now get incorporated into the food bolus and your energy gets better regulated in terms of your body intake.

  2. Early mornings – Be awake 2 hours before your batch start. Take your time with your designated team responsibilities. 


  1. The start - It is a good ritual to allow one rider to be in front at the batch start. It is scary how easy you can lose each other in the bunch. So, what I found works very well, is to give responsibility to the rider at the back, never to lose sight of the front rider. Sometimes it happens that you overtake your teammate as the flow speed varies in the bunch. Should you now become the team`s front rider, make loud and clear your situation so that your teammate knows he is now the back rider.


  1. When to drink – This depends on your rate of perspiration. Generally I go with a water bottle (750ml) per hour for an average late summer's day temperature. I am not a rider that requires that much fluid and there will be advice for you elsewhere that might indicate that you should have more fluid intake. The essence is to be proactive rather than chasing the hydration pack.

Then there is the discussion about race fuel. I personally feel that this is an overrated product to be in your amour. Personally, I am sensitive towards what I can drink. Some race fuels – usually the very scientific ones, often upset my stomach, causing my appetite to diminish.  Pro-racer, Alison Sydor did all her ABSA Cape Epic stages on plain water.  She did chew regularly on her food that she carried with her. 


  1. What to eat – Most riders who are interested in my advice will spend more than 5 hours on a typical ABSA Cape Epic stage. I believe in a strategy to see yourself eating on the stage like that on your usual meal procession. Savory first, then the sugary stuff.  Again, there will be other advice. Many riders take even a corn syrup sachet at the start line. If this is you, make sure it works for you as it can bite you at the end. This intake pattern can make you feel bloated. Constant sugar intake of more than 7% per volume over this many days can do you harm. That is why Water points serves Cola drinks at a 50% dilution. If bars and sugary sachets are your thing, keep one bottle with only water in your armor and drink well after you swallow it

  2. Read your partner – mountain biking the ABSA Cape Epic is a moody environment. Shear hell and lofty euphoria can fluctuate, reminiscent of a soap opera. Then you are also in it with a team mate who`s biorhythm might not echo yours. Pick up his style of riding through good times and bad times. Hence you will recognize the swaying of the shoulders, the dropping of the neck, or experience miles of utter silence. Ask about how your partner is doing. Tell him/her about your situation. Communicate strategy. Do you want to pick the speed up? Then, just don`t do it, first talk about it. Is the pace too hard for you on the climb? Talk about it. I found it works very well to command it with the word “TAP”. To request your teammate to “tap” is for him/her to drop to a lighter gear, thus asking to spin more than what is his/her regular climbing cadence. This way it eases up your team mate`s effort uphill by dropping a valuable fraction of the intensity.


In adversity – Mud, particularly in the rain, is a day that makes the bike technicians smile. Your drive train takes a lot of hammering. Make peace with the fact that at the end of the day, you are likely to pay hard for your repairs. Do it. Your bike technician is going to be frank with you, often resulting in skepticism from the rider`s side. Is this guy trying to rip me off?  Nothing is for certain, but I often hear about riders that ignore this advice, just to run into dire straits in the week to come.

And while you are riding in these treacherous conditions, it is easy to become overwhelmed, and your focus starts to wade. On top of it, your vision is hampered by all the stuff that gets thrown at you. Remember this one thing – your chain is Mother – listen to her if she speaks. Get off the bike and fix whatever is making the sound. It is so much worth the 10 seconds. I have seen many experienced riders grinding their much beloved jockey into a heap of scrap metal. 


Off-the-bike stuff – Sleep well. You are welcome to buy some sleeping tablets as you are likely to have a racy mind somewhere in the night. Riders love to go to sleep very early and unsuspectedly creating the moment of awakening in the middle of the night. I like to stay up later, fight a bit of sleepiness and leave the pharmaceutics alone. I also try not to sleep in the afternoon.

Go through your bike. Ask your team mate whether he picked up odd behavior from your bike as team mates look more at your bike than you. 

Rehydrate. 



-o0o-

See you at the start line!

Corrie

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