Surviving the Cape Epic, when nothing goes wrong, is hard. But something ALWAYS goes wrong….
However, there is a lot you can do to minimize the risk of disaster and have a more enjoyable race. Here are 8 simple survival tips that have helped me and might help you through (or even save) your Epic.
| WORDS: Amy Wakefield |
This year, the route is tougher than tough. Harder than hard. Ruggeder than rugged! You get my drift… I cannot stress enough the importance of pacing yourself. If you’ve read my previous article you will know what the route entails. Someone once told me “You can’t win the race on the first 3 days, but you can lose it”. This goes for anyone in any part of the field. Ideally, you’ll have a coach or even an experienced friend who can help you with a pacing strategy.
I cannot stress enough the importance of fuelling your body, this is an avoidable mistake that I’ve made more times than I will admit in public. It doesn’t matter if you’re the fittest person on earth, if you don’t put fuel in the tank, you won’t go anywhere. You want to aim for 80 – 100g of carbs per hour in a steady stream, and try to avoid massive feasts at Waterpoints, although I do see the appeal! The subject of fuelling warrants an article of its own so, watch this space.
Year after year riders are on drips in the medics’ tent as early as stage one and are forced to forfeit their finisher’s medal before they’ve even started. The consequences of dehydration can be devastating! I’ve been there, it’s easy to get carried away and forget to drink, or skip a waterpoint because you have half a bottle and feel ‘ok’. These days there are hydration packs that take up to 2 liters in addition to the bottles in your bike. In hot weather, even a few extra kg will be far faster than getting dehydrated. It’s extremely important that you replenish your liquid stores after each stage, not only for recovery but to start the next day adequately hydrated so you don’t fall behind.
Communication and ego control
You and your partner will never be exactly the same strength. You could be similar, but then you will take turns to be the weaker or the stronger partner. This could happen throughout a stage, or you could each have good days and bad days. The other scenario is that one partner is stronger the whole way through. If you are too proud to ask your partner to tap off because the effort is unsustainable for you, the inevitable will happen, and you will blow. If not that day, in the following days. This will slow the team down way more than asking your partner to tap off and allowing them to help you. If you are stronger and make a point to prove to your partner, competitors, and spectators that you are stronger (this happens all the time) then you will break your partner and you’ll both be much slower than if you used your strength to help them. Here’s the rule of thumb: The stronger partner needs to nurture the weaker partner aka break the wind, remind them to eat, give them a push if you have the strength, let them ride in front and set the pace on climbs and descents, fill their bottles, and know that they are doing their best. The weaker partner needs to allow the stronger partner to do that. Remember the point of a team race is to get both riders over the line in the quickest time possible, and it may seem paradoxical, but being kind and empathic is often the fastest.
Another thing we see every year in stage races is the spreading of viruses, sometimes it’s bad luck, but there is a lot you can do to avoid it. Become OCD with sanitizer and washing your hands. Eating in the food hall is lekker and you should enjoy it, but be very careful with touching things, hugging and kissing people, and shaking hands. It might sound extreme but you don’t want to get sick in this race, trust me! Try not to take things that other people may have touched, like bread rolls and fruit. If you have the luxury of staying away from the race village and self-catering, just make sure you have simple food that is fresh and well-cooked. Request that your support staff is fastidious with hygiene, and be very careful pre, and post-stage. The public toilets are also a big danger zone, try and avoid them if you can, if not then just be extra careful.
Another very preventative form of DNF’s is mechanical issues. Get your bike fully serviced about a week pre-race. As in stripped down and rebuilt. Going into Epic with a bike in less-than-mint condition is unfair to your race mechanic and increases the chances of something going wrong. Many mechanics include a full pre-Epic service done by them to prevent this kind of drama. If they don’t, take the initiative. Know how to do the basics; fixing a puncture, breaking a chain, changing a derailleur hanger. Make sure all the bolts on your bike are torqued. Put as few new things on the bike less than about 3 weeks before the Epic but the longer the better. Many new things have manufacturing faults. I have experienced this with brand-new wheels, drivetrains, and brakes. Make sure you check your tyre pressure each day and that it is a tyre pressure that will withstand the rocky terrain. Generally, 0.1 bar but no more 0.2 bar harder than usual will do. Ride with all the spares you can. As a minimum: bombs and adapter, mini pump, plug tool and plugs, tube, tyre levers, derailleur hanger, multi-tool with chain breaker, quick links.
Getting a professional bike setup is an absolute MUST. You may not feel any niggles in training, but in a race like the Epic, a seatpost or handlebars that are a few mm to high, low, forward, back or a saddle that is marginally too wide or narrow, could have devastating consequences ranging from a very uncomfortable race to having to pull out and take weeks or months off the bike. There are many professionals who provide this service, Reece McDonald who is also my coach does setups at SSISA and I can personally vouch for him. While at the race, I would highly suggest daily massages.
There is an actual Bum Clinic at the Epic where people line up, drop there jods, and get all their blisters, raw skin and whatever else goes on treated by nurses. Yikes! I, fortunately, have not experienced the atrocities of this but I have heard horror stories. This too is mostly preventable by a bike set-up, a good quality, relatively new and well-fitted pair of bibs, and bum cream. Training and conditioning of course goes a long way as well but I’d hope anyone doing the Epic would have enough conditioning on their tush.