For so many cyclists in South Africa and the world, The Absa Cape Epic is a dream race. It represents the pinnacle of Mountain Biking globally and takes place right in our own backyard. The race is an incredible meeting point for both the world’s very top bike racers and people, like you and me. We all get to battle the same route, suffer the same mechanicals, and most importantly, share the same memories.
For me personally, the dream of taking part in an Absa Cape Epic arose when a family friend took part in the 2009 edition. For a 13-year-old me, the gift of a used Absa Cape Epic Water Bottle became a symbol of a dream for years to come. That bottle accompanied me on all my big races. Year after year it was brought out to take on the Cape Town Cycle Tour, Die Burger, and any and every big cycling moment I would have. As the years continued to pass, for me personally, riding went through many different phases. Regardless, one thing never changed, the dream to do the Absa Cape Epic and earn my own water bottle. Every year at the start of March I would tune in to the live stream, and marvel at the world’s best racing on our own local trails. Racing at other events, such as Tankwa Trek, gave a small taste of what was to come. But in reality, nothing can prepare one for the energy and emotion one feels lining up for the biggest mountain bike race in the world.
Fast forward a few years, an amazing job at Ciovita, and I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to line up at the start of the 2022 Absa Cape Epic - a dream come true. Daniel, a fellow team member at Ciovita, and I were incredibly honoured to represent the Ciovita Family at our very first event as partners of the Epic Series. Luckily for us, the MC’s at every water point made sure we knew about this too. Having just moved to the Netherlands, preparing for the Epic was not easy. But nothing substitutes for time on the bike and turning pedals. And so I embarked on many cold, rainy, and flat hours of riding. I really focused on trying to do long hard efforts coupled with increased volume. To make up for the lack of time on the trails I decided to take up gym training. Now, I do not want to sound like a gym boet, but in all honesty, the benefits of this far surpassed any expectations I could have had. I was able to get through Epic feeling strong on the bike and without any niggles in my back or any other sensitive areas. I often think this is an easy area to underestimate as we are so focused on pushing more watts and riding faster. Gym work really helps keep the whole body in good shape throughout the 8 days of riding. Despite the relatively hard and intense training I put in, it was far shorter than I would have liked. As the race rapidly approached, the thoughts on what I could have done differently, or better started to creep in. If there is one thing to pass on. It is that at this point in your Cape Epic journey, the very best thing to do is to let go of those thoughts and focus on what you can control in the present and the future.
Nutrition, spares, and kit are all crucial to a successful Absa Cape Epic and there is still time to nail these down. As they always say, make sure to always test all your nutrition first. As a bit of an Excel nerd, I was quick to make a spreadsheet through which I could plan for each hour I was out riding. It might sound silly and over-planned, but at least I was confident in the nutrition I took to the event and what I was aiming to consume each hour. A little trick I picked up along the way was to always ask for ice in my bottles at the aid stations. This really helped make the energy drinks a whole lot easier to stomach 5 hours in on a 35-degree day.
When it came to kit, we were super fortunate to be kitted out by CIOVITA. Again, it was really important to not introduce anything new to the mix when it came to bibs. Luckily Daniel and I were familiar with which Ciovita bibs worked best for us and the sizes we needed. Racing with a partner for 8 days is no joke. At times we were each hanging onto each other's pockets to catch a break or scrambling our way up some impossible climb. Through all of this, our kit was perfect. In fact, the same kit has now gone bikepacking through the alps and on 500km single-stage races. Knowing the passion and tireless work that goes into making our clothing from start to finish, I was incredibly proud to be able to take it through the harshest of harsh terrain and see it come out the other end in near-perfect condition.
Now up to this point, Epic might be sounding a little too dreamy. Trust me it was not. A stomach bug mid-way through the week left me unable to keep almost any food down. I remember lying awake late into the night in Greyton wondering if my Epic was coming to an end. To feel this way, not because I could not survive the riding, but because of a stomach bug was very humbling. Luckily for me, I had a little 13-year-old, clutching his Cape Epic water bottle, telling me that now was not the time to be thinking like this. Despite the desire to use the toilet a bit too often, I realised that in many ways, this is what makes the Epic the Epic. It is not just a bike ride, it’s months of all-encompassing preparation leading into a full week of adventure and experience from start to finish. Perhaps, living in this little bubble, where much of the outside world seems to fade away, is what makes the Epic a bit of an addictive experience. It is 168 hours of wholehearted focus on a single goal.
Riding Cape Epic takes one to places that are hard to find in any other environment. One gets to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows all while doing what we love. Never let any moment of the race overshadow the fact that taking part in an Absa Cape Epic is an incredible privilege. 8 days of riding bikes, descending mountains and eating snacks. WHAT COULD BE BETTER?
- Zandi Rohrer (CIOVITA Head of Systems, Process and Optimisation)