The Cape Epic is rated by pro riders as the hardest multi-day mountain bike race in the world. But the race isn’t just about the pros; in fact, the majority of the field is made up of amateurs.
But these aren’t your average fun riders. Everyone on the Epic start line has made major investments in time, money and discipline just to get there. And every rider who crosses the finish line eight days later has earned respect, because if the journey to the start was tough, be assured that the race itself doesn’t get any easier.
Before you set out to conquer the Epic, here are 10 tips you might like to bear in mind.
1.Train like you race
The foundation of Epic fitness is a multi-day endurance capacity, produced at an average heart rate of 120-130 bpm. That means the bulk of your training rides should be long efforts that leave you tired but not broken. But it’s not all about rolling along at a low intensity: you need to throw in at least one high intensity interval session per week to build power and strength. And remember, the average climbing per day at the Epic is over 2000m. So, train hills.
2.Find a routine
Depending on your baseline fitness, as you get closer to the Epic, you’re probably going to be putting in 15 to 20-hour training weeks, week after week. Maybe even 25 hours a week. That doesn’t leave much time for anything else beyond work, eating, washing and sleeping. Which means that efficiency and stability in your life becomes highly desirable. You want to spend your time steadily progressing in your training, not fighting fires or overcoming setbacks at work and at home. Steer clear of crashing your car, losing your job or breaking up with your significant other in the six months prior to the race.
3.Ride a 29er
The Epic is an ultra-marathon event which favours bikes that can effortlessly eat up the kilometres, rumble over the rough stuff, handle predictably and that don’t climb like overloaded donkeys. With this sort of checklist, a 26er offers few advantages; a 27.5 bike is great if you’re not the tallest rider; which leaves the 29er as the undisputed weapon of choice.
4.Get your bike sorted
Once you really start paying attention to all technical variables involved in your machine, things can quickly get out of hand. Your position on the bike, as well as dozens of component choices, are all decisions of varying importance that have to be made. But when you’re riding five times a week, you don’t have time to mess around experimenting. Get your bike dialed ASAP, and make sure it stays that way.
5.You got six months?
The challenge of the Epic lies not just in your physical output over eight days of racing, but also in the logistics involved in getting to and staying in the race. Even if you take advantage of the superb services laid on by the race organisers, you still need to have worked out all your gear, kit, food, massage, bike service and transport needs. You’ll have juggled holidays, preparatory races, your bank balance and possibly injury setbacks. All this stuff takes time. You need at least six months to prepare properly for the Epic. Nine is probably ideal.
With the amount of riding you’ll be doing, you don’t want to compromise your body’s performance, recovery and weight loss by bingeing on pies and booze. In fact, you probably want to cut your alcohol intake to a maximum of six units a week, and a balanced diet that leaves you feeling full and fuelled is the holy grail of a successful nutrition plan. Find the ratio of carbohydrates to protein and fat that works for you and build your meals around that. Don’t forget to look after your nutrition needs on the bike too.
7.Manage their expectations
With a demanding training schedule, the reality is that you’re just not going to have time to attend every family event or social get-together that pops into your diary. Your friends and family need to realise that they’re not going to see as much of you as they might like in the lead-up to the Epic. To avoid being excommunicated from your clans, explain your time constraints and make gestures to ensure they know that you’d love to be hanging out with them if you weren’t just busting your ass on the bike right now.
Race day at the Epic can be hectic; this is a professional mountain bike race, after all. So make sure you have all your ducks in a row: read the race rules; pack well; know the start and cut-off times, and where your supporters will be; study the route profile, conditions and water point locations, and be aware of the weather. Again, all this takes time. And you need your sleep.
9.Efficiency trumps all
Energy conservation and recovery is the key to finishing a punishing stage race in decent shape. Good planning will help you avoid last-minute stress or ongoing problems during the race. Manage your effort throughout each stage so that you don’t blow before each day’s finish, and leave plenty in the tank for the back end of the week when your cumulative fatigue will be at its highest. Refuel at the water points, but eat and drink on the bike: time saved at the water points adds up fast and will boost you up the General Classification.
Not everyone has the time and resources to set aside for an Epic attempt. Not everyone gets to the start line in one piece and certainly not everyone on the start line survives to the end of the race. For sure, congratulate yourself on the smart decisions that helped you dodge dehydration or hypothermia, but sometimes it’s just luck that you avoided that rock, that crash and that broken collarbone or shattered wrist. Be thankful for your good fortune, for the beautiful country you’re riding through, and for all the people who helped you get to where you are.