Come along on the journey of one of the most challenging weeks of my career – Cape Epic. An eight-day mountain biking race across the difficult terrain of South Africa´s Western Cape, it is an hors categorie event, and as I discovered, it is an absolute beast.
For Cape Epic 2023, I lined up for my first attempt at the notoriously treacherous MTB event with my friend and fellow podcast host Ian Boswell. As far as adventures go, we were really in it together – much more than we had even realised ahead of the race – sharing the camper life, the challenging days in the saddle, and all the ups and downs that followed us through the week. Going in, we expected this to be like a stage race, obviously a challenge but also with some of the predictability that comes with stage racing. Bos was looking forward to getting into the groove, with visions of hanging by the camp village, bonding with other competitors, and trading war stories in the evenings. (Spoiler alert: it did not pan out like this.)
Before the start, there was an electricity in the air that is hard to describe, and within hours of touching down in South Africa, I had bumped into a whole heap of people I know from different corners of the cycling globe, all coming together in this far-flung destination to put ourselves to the ultimate test.
There were riders who had done this event before – my friends Al Iacuone and Wade Wallace were here trying to finish this race for the first time, on their third and final attempt. I caught up with last year’s winners Georg Egger and Lukas Baum for some insider tips, and we camped alongside Dave and Fran Millar, competing for the first time, in the mixed team category. These friendships forged and existing added to the sense of camaraderie that was obvious throughout the event, but not even this was enough to detract from how truly challenging this event is.
The war of attrition began even from the early planning stages, and lasted right through until the finish line on the final day. The eight days of racing threw a bit of everything at us, and then some. Bad weather, torrential rain, mud slips, rocky climbs, very long days in the saddle – you name it and we conquered it. There were many, many times when we couldn´t see how we would make it through the week to complete the race. By the end, we were in pieces, and my fatigue level was hovering down around the level that it would normally be at the end of a Grand Tour, to put things into perspective. Put simply, this was a lot harder than expected. But the sense of accomplishment was also massive and difficult to put into words, and one beer in after the finish, we were already talking about coming back next year. It was an incredible journey and something we have only really come to fully appreciate in hindsight.
The week taught me a lot about mountain biking and teamwork, and I took home plenty of memories, as well as a nasty stomach flu that took some time to shake (a commonplace illness at the event, as I was told by the medical staff.) It is tricky to properly convey the brutality of the week I spent racing at Cape Epic – and reading my account might give you pause if you have considered doing this event yourself, or maybe it has made you even more determined to cross it off your bucket list. Either way, I hope you enjoyed coming along for the journey and if you haven´t listened to the episode, head over to the pod to take a listen.