Photo credit: Max Sullivan
Prologue – distance 27 km / climbing 750 m
Tactical or full speed?
A week before the Cape Epic started, Kim and I were already wondering how to approach the prologue. full speed? Or maybe not wasting too much energy after all? In the end, we stuck to what Annika Langvad (4-time Cape Epic winner) said. "You always drive a prologue as fast as you can."
Without thinking about the upcoming seven stages, we drove the 27 km and 750 hm as fast as we could. Unfortunately, at the finish we were only 7 seconds short of winning the opening round and therefore also of the leader's jersey, but we were very happy with that. After all, our debut gave us the confidence we needed and the certainty that we can compete with the best riders.
Stage 1 – distance 98 km / climbing 2450 m
The wind, the wind...
"Be prepared for the unprepared"
The opening stage is notorious at Cape Epic and is usually considered to be particularly difficult. I already knew the area around Hermanus well from previous years and I knew: It will not only be a tough stage because of the basic data! The wind, with gusts of up to 70 km/h, also brought further difficulties. We were already behind early in the stage because after a position battle before the first singletrack I ended up on the ground and we lost touch with the top two teams. We tried to stay calm and focused on our own pace as the game progressed. Towards the end of the stage, Kim was also struggling with cramps and so it was a long and lonely day, on which we were often almost blown off the trails by the strong winds. Fortunately, the loss of time was limited in the end and we were confident about the second stage.
Stage 2 – distance 116 km / climbing 1680 m
First stage win
Courage to take risks
The longest stage lay ahead of us. Since we slipped down to 3rd place in the overall standings, we started a little conservatively at the beginning. After the first 30 flat kilometers a leading group formed with the first three teams. I knew the two long climbs of the day from a race I did three weeks before Cape Epic. In general, the whole middle part of the stage consisted mainly of single tracks, where overtaking is hardly possible. The runners-up overall obviously had a good day and vehemently controlled the race from the front, although we didn't have a chance to attack due to the lack of overtaking opportunities. So the decision for the stage victory remained open until the last 15 km. Shortly before the end, it was Team Specialized that increased the pace and thus heralded the finale. The leading team obviously had no interest in winning the stage and stayed out of the battle for positions, but Kim and I were determined to win this stage. After all, we've never been so close to a Cape Epic stage win.
In a crucial passage, just a few kilometers from the finish, I drove in front. The rider behind me had to get off and push her bike a few feet. Of course, I didn't let this chance pass me by and launched an attack. This is also because I knew that Kim would only have to beat one of the two riders in the sprint, which simplified the situation. The only problem was that I didn't know exactly how far it was to the finish. After driving full throttle at the front for a while, the odometer finally came up. I was shocked by the still endless 5 km to the finish, but I went through with my attack. In the end we saved a narrow lead of 4 seconds over the finish line and celebrated our first stage win.
Stage 3 - distance 100 km / climbing 2300 m
Why am I doing this to myself?
Overcome mental challenges
The third day took us from Hermanus to Grabouw. Although the profile was peppered with enough meters of altitude, I was hoping for an easier stage with one or two wide "gravel roads". I guess I hadn't done my homework well, because it felt like we were out on single trails all day. Basically, it's a lot of fun, but if your legs don't really turn and you don't have the energy, you just want to move forward and you only do that very slowly and with a lot of strength on the trails.
Somehow I made it to the finish today. I asked myself a number of times, why am I even doing this to myself? Do you really always have to suffer like this? It's amazing how you have to torture yourself when it's not right in your head. Luckily I had a great partner who encouraged me and kept the wind out of my face in the strong headwind. Today it was "only" enough for third place and in the overall standings we lost more valuable minutes to the two teams in front of us.
Stage 4 – distance 46 km / climbing 980 m
Energy management is key
Kim and I had talked about this stage months in advance. Since today was Kim's birthday, the goal was clear. She wanted a stage win for her birthday. However, since a time trial was on the program, I had to be prepared for "a lot of suffering". After 18 kilometers we got a first time gap to our competition - 1 minute in the lead! I looked at Kim and asked, "Is that even possible?" After all, we were always the weakest team in the top 3 in the last stages. But it looked as if the other two teams would pay for the high effort of the previous days. I gave everything I had. After all, I wanted to give Kim a nice birthday present. It paid off, we celebrated stage win no. 2! Not only that, we also gained almost 3 minutes on the overall leaders and their 5 minutes on the runners-up. But how much power had we wasted with that? There were still 3 long stages ahead of us...
Stage 5 – distance 102 km / climbing 2450 m
Unbridled will and mental strength
Since the starting signal is always at 7 a.m., it’s time to go to bed at 7.30 p.m. Sleep is one of the most important factors for recovery (apart from the SPONSER Regishake 😉 ). But after a few days you can no longer sleep really well, because your body is far too excited and exhausted for that. The light sleep meant that I heard the rain beating on my chaled roof all night. Basically, I like driving in the rain, because in the end it's a matter of attitude. If everyone else doesn't feel like driving in the rain and I like it, then I already have a decisive advantage. Only the material makes me a little sorry...
So we actually started what was on paper the most demanding stage in the drizzle. However, it looked like most of the rain had already come down during the night and would stop raining during the day. That was the case, but it still didn't stay dry. On the first long climb I went through a huge water hole in second place. It was lower than expected and the rider in front of me slowed down a bit and I had to hit the brakes too. Unfortunately, the rider behind me didn't react quickly enough and crashed into my rear wheel. I fell off the bike, swam a lap in the mud hole and noticed as I rode on that my BOA closure was again missing from the shoe. I tried to solve the problem with duct tape, which was almost impossible in the wet conditions. By the time I was finally able to fix the shoe to some extent, I was already being overtaken by the whole of Frauenfeld. Kim was waiting a little further up the mountain and looked at me questioningly. I gave her a “thumbs up” and the journey continued. We then had to meander past all the other women's teams before we could catch up with the second and fourth-placed teams a little further up the mountain. The leader's jersey had already disappeared into the clouds. We continued our pace and it was high enough that we were able to distance Specialized (2nd) and Cannondale (4th) right away. I was surprised and happy about my good legs. After a few more minutes we also provided the leader team and they couldn't follow our pace for long either. Since in the past I was usually the one who was left standing on the mountain, it was a great feeling for me. I was finally able to drive the other one away!
At the top of the first mountain Kim and I had to stop again. Due to all the puddles of water and streams (you could hardly see the trails up and down because of the water), the duct tape on my shoe had come loose and I had a loose shoe on my foot again. We decided to solve the problem with cable ties. This should not dissolve the water. The only problem was tightening the cable ties with wet and dirty hands. So Kim had to try her teeth and teamwork was required! Unfortunately, the leading team caught up with us again in this campaign. But no problem, even on the next long climb, the notorious Groenlandberg, our companions could no longer keep up and had to let us go.
We rode the rest of the stage at a safe pace down the mountains and kept it up on the climbs. The sun actually came out towards the end and so despite the strong wind it was still a pleasant day. The last 20 flat kilometers we really accelerated again and so we were able to win the king's stage. With a 2.5 minute lead over the leader's jersey and an even bigger lead over Specialized, we moved up one place in the overall standings!
Stage 6 – distance 74 km / climbing 2300 m
No Cape Epic participant will forget this stage in a hurry! The rain from the day before started again in the evening and just wouldn't stop, so we started the stage in the pouring rain. Compared to yesterday when there was mostly rock and sand, today there was a lot of mud and clay. Kim and I had big plans. The leading team had already shown weakness yesterday and so we saw our chance in the last two stages to catch up in the overall standings and possibly even slip into the orange leader's jersey.
The stage started with a long climb and we kept the pace relatively high. As high as the tired legs would allow. At the top of the mountain, only Candice and Amy, the current leaders, were left on our rear wheel. Amy was struggling though and Candice kept having to reach out her magic arm and give Amy a little nudge so she wouldn't lose touch with us. On the second mountain we drove over a gully and suddenly heard a bang. I drove first and quickly looked back. Kim right at my rear wheel also looked at me questioningly. Behind her, I saw Amy get off her bike. We continued our pace into the tech zone 11km away where our supervisors gave us new bottles and told us Amy was riding her rim. At that moment, I realized that they had a bigger problem and would probably lose a lot of time. Kim and I sensed our chance and rode up the mountains as hard as we could in the mud. We took a little more time going downhill to avoid making a mistake and to minimize the risk of falls and mechanical problems. When we arrived at the finish line, we were exhausted. The conditions sucked everything out of us, we couldn't see all the sand in our eyes and we were covered in mud from head to toe.
The clock was ticking and we were counting the minutes... How much time had we made up? At the beginning of the stage we were almost 14 minutes short of the lead. Our supervisors were already completely over the moon, because they probably knew more than we did. And indeed, it was enough! In addition to the stage win, we slipped into the orange leader's jersey. Of course we would have preferred to make up the time simply by being stronger, but unfortunately crashes and breakdowns are just as much a part of this race as good and bad legs.
Stage 7 – distance 78 km / climbing 1800 m
Biggest success of our career
We started the last day in orange and our lead was so big that we "only" had to get to the finish line in one piece. The morning before the stage we were both terribly nervous, because we were "only" 78 km away from the overall victory of Cape Epic's and the biggest success of our careers! But fortunately the legs rotated surprisingly well today. We were able to implement our goal of "arriving safely". On the last cool trails we tried not to do anything stupid and just drove clean and always nice after the Cannondale team. This sensed their first stage victory, which we also granted them at the end. So we let the Cannondale team go for the last kilometer and thoroughly enjoyed the finish line in front of an unbelievable crowd of spectators. We actually did it and won the Cape Epic 2023!
Vera Looser (Adrian)
Winner Cape Epic 2023