Prior to commencing his 17th Cape Epic, I had the opportunity to chat with John about his take on the race and what – if anything – it has gifted him.
We chatted survival strategies, chainring sizes and water bottles. As you do. We also chatted about how this race has galvanized his friendships with each of his race partners.
Who is John Gale?
I have the great and inexplicable good fortune to be married to Dr Beth Harley. I have two boys, a university blue for fencing, have completed 4 Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathons and am one of a handful of riders to have completed all 16 ABSA Cape Epics.
Where do you live?
Cape Town, South Africa! Spent a couple of years in the USA as a child, but managed to find my way back to SA.
What do you occupy your days with?
Work, Wife, Children, Dogs, Cats, Cycling, Hiking, Camping, Photography. In no particular order.
Where is your favorite place to ride and why?
What an unfair question – to have to pick only ONE place!! The entire Epic is a collection of the most awesome riding, so I would be very tempted to go with “The Epic” as my answer. I do most of my riding in Cape Town in Tygerberg, Tokai and the Peninsula and these are obviously great places to ride. Perhaps my favourite area is the Wild Coast. The combination of wild un-spoilt coastline, the mixture of foot and animal paths and the rugged beauty of the area make it hard to beat.
Along with six partners, you have completed every single Cape Epic. What are the secrets to this incredible success? Could you elaborate on any survival strategies you have?
Partner selection is the key to success. My Cycling Sensei [Jakes Jakobsen] took me to the first Epic and introduced me to this particular world of pain. The Epic has been the mechanism that forged strong relationships with magnificent men and rekindled friendships with the most exceptional human beings. Jakes, Riaan, George, Serge, Pierre, and Chanan: I salute you.
What would you say are the three things you most look forward to at the end of a stage?
A wee lie down in the shade, ice-cold liquids, and that little Woolworths towel. To name just the first three.
You prefer to sleep in the race village as opposed to a motor home or more luxury accommodation, why is that?
The Epic is more than a race, it is an immersive experience. I wouldn’t want to miss a second. Also, the admin is just so much easier when you are in the village…
I see there is only space for one water bottle on your bike, do you ever carry a second bottle?
On long hot days I carry a second bottle in my pocket – but mostly I ride with just one. And mostly that works well enough.
What chainring size do you use and when did you make the switch to a single chainring?
Warren Lamb held my hand and did some impressive maths to coax me from 3×9 to 2×10 – and then he had to up his game to give me the confidence to make the change to the SRAM 1×12. But his maths is good and his judgment sound and the current drivetrain is better in every way. For the last 3 years I have been running a 34 tooth chainring and living the life.
True or False: You once rode 4 days of the Cape Epic using a spoke to hold your bike together after the main pivot bolt snapped?
TRUE – back in 2005 or 2006. It did induce a bit of uncertainty to the handling. I think bikes may have been tougher back then. Certainly I was.
In the modern era of the Cape Epic, are there any misconceptions about the race?
In the early years, there was a lack of knowledge (we really did know nothing), but there are no more novice riders left. Even those riding their first Epics are completely prepared. They are trained and technically skilled and mentally prepared. There are no misconceptions left.
What has bike riding taught you about yourself, your family, friends and about life in general and how was that lesson learned?
All endurance sport teaches you about yourself and it teaches you every time. Sometimes you learn the same lesson, and sometimes different lessons, but always you learn. You also get an insight into what those around you are learning…
What’s the best piece of advice – relating to riding the Cape Epic – you have to offer?
There are no more mysteries, Google has made everyone an expert in training and riding. The only advice left is this: “Avoid bad luck!”.
Hypothetically speaking, you have got three bikes in the garage; a marathon bike, a road bike, an eTrail bike – which one do you grab to go out and have some fun on?
I guess for me it is always the MTB. Whether I am riding to Cape Point or traversing Tygerberg, the MTB is always more fun.
What does the future hold for you?
I used to hate it when my parents’ friends used to ask me where I saw myself in 5 (or 10) years’ time. I really had no idea then, and I have no idea now.
| IMAGES: Chris Brand |
| WITH THANKS: Tokai MTB |