Banksy and I arrived in Cape Town, admittedly with some fear, trepidation and a healthy dose of false bravado to be greeted by the following poster:
Admittedly, at this stage we had no idea just how true this sentiment would become.
Cape Town remains absolutely fantastic. We were picked up at the airport by HotChillee's SA team - Hazel and Tony. From that point on we were in Hazel's capable hands and were managed and organised in a style that HotChille have realised is absolutely necessary when dealing with the two of us.
We were dropped of at the hotel which was a stones throw away from the race village and the waterfront and before you could utter the words "race prep" we were reunited with Team Flavourome and immediately began making very Ryan sad! These races burn an awful lot of calories and have a devastating effect on the body so proper preparation is vital of course!
|In Cape Town and lunching with Garth and the boys|
|Garth, myself and Banksy under the 10 year logo|
|HotChillee caps - super cool!|
The kit they give you for the Epic is pretty good. We got new luggage, t-shirts, buffs, hot drink mugs, washing bags, phone protectors etc. Of course the usual race numbers, shirt numbers, transponders and wrist IDs as well. Registration was a little chaotic but overall ran pretty smoothly. With less than a day to go before we would be starting at Meerendal we decided to go and pack, conduct kit checks, final bike fiddles and then head back to the waterfront to watch Wales thrash England followed by what had the feel of our last supper. So we had a very nice bottle of wine just in case it was!
Our alarms went off at some ungodly hour on the day of the race. We showered, squeezed into our team lycra (at least two sizes two small for me) and met Tony outside the hotel at 5am. A quick diversion to pick up a massive trailer plus the legendary Stephen Roche and Svenski and we were off. There was no hiding now, in less than a couple of hours we would be started on our Epic journey.
|Banksy and myself looking cool and unworried - kind of.|
|Sven, Stephen, myself and Banksy - immediately you will notice the disadvantage Banksy and I have competing in cycling races!|
|On you marks, get set...|
|And our Epic is underway|
I would be lying if I said our prologue went well. It was a massive shock to the system, our bike set-up was less than perfect (mild understatement) and I almost killed myself overcooking the first major technical hurdle. We started by riding through the actual Meerendal cellars (incredible) and then straight down two flights of stairs outside the main entrance to the wine estate in front of a massive crowd and however many thousands of people who were watching the race live. Unbelievably, we both negotiated this part of the race rather well.
|Entering Meerendal cellars|
|Riding through the main hall|
|Following Banksy down the second set of stairs|
The same unfortunately can't be said for the rest of the race. Whoever named that climb the "stairway to heaven" clearly has a sick sense of humour. Whoever decided to make it the first climb of the race, starting pretty much from the first kilometre - is probably criminally insane! I was very soon beginning to wonder whether perhaps I had over anti-oxidised the night before? Just look at how happy we look going up......
Banksy and I clattered through the prologue and I for one was extremely happy when we came back over the hill and could see Meerendal and the race village once again. We had not had the best of starts - I had fallen, lost all my tools and my brand new epic sunglasses as had Banksy (all returned by spectators later in the day), I punctured, our tyre pressures were ridiculously high and quite probably nerves had got the better of us. As the picture below describes, first blood had been drawn by the Epic and it had only given us a taster of what was to come!
|Coming in to the finish of the Prologue - my face says it all!|
|Epic 1 - Jannie 0|
I am not sure where to begin. The prologue had left me really worried and what is more, my knee had not reacted well and had flared right up which resulted in me having to spend every morning before and afternoon of the race back in the medics tent. After that first visit they had read me the riot act and I spent the afternoon whilst we were travelling to Citrusdal in some pain. Banksy was great and did what he could to relieve my anxiety, as soon as we got to Citrusdal (whilst Banksy checked us in) I was back in the medics were they de-brided the wound and dressed it. I was not the greatest dinner companion that night and went to bed a worried man.
|My knee at 05:15 at the start of Day 2, Stage 1|
So Stage 1 was my first real introduction to Dr Evil (the course designer). Sandy doesn't begin to describe it. Hot - just a bit! And tougher than we imagined it ever could be. Both Banksy and I went down hard during the day. At one stage Banksy wiped out on every corner in the sand (it is difficult to describe how difficult riding becomes when you being put through the wringer) and was fondly considering my murder, I was falling over in the soft sand all over the place and then had a spectacular high speed wipe out that caused a whole raft of people to stop and see if was dead. In fact it took several of them to recover me from the ditch I ended up upside down in.
|The dirt all over my shoulders tells a tale|
|I think the term is "battered"|
So day 2, stage 1 was over. We were battered. But we loved every single minute of it! And much to our surprise - we improved our ranking by over 100 places. Medics, beer, dinner wine, sleep - repeat! Day 3, stage 2 - bring it on. Banksy and I were back.
|Garthy and myself hit the medics|
|Day 2, stage 1 finished - bigger smiles|
|Joel Stransky, Rochey and myself|
|That is not a tan|
Day 3 saw us faced with a massive 146km of riding to do with another 2,350m of climbing from Citrusdal to Saronsberg. But by now Banksy and I were feeling better. We had also learnt from the previous day that the old hands don't race the Epic - they ride it. They take it steady and don't take unnecessary risks that could result in a broken bike or worse, a broken body. The medics tent the previous night had been pretty frightening - there were a lot of dehydrated people, walking wounded and the attrition on stage 1 had been really high. Stage 2 started with a lot less teams than the previous day. The final descent down into the race village was reminiscent of Andalucia and as a result Banksy and I cruised it. We took it steady but were very glad of some of the new found skills we had picked up in Spain
|Awesome single track was to be had|
|We were never more than a few metres apart most of the race|
|Looking vaguely competent|
|Heads down and grinding away the miles|
|This was a pretty cool technical section on Day 3 I think|
|Scorched earth - hot, damned hot!|
|The end of day 4|
|But still smiling!|
Day 5 was another big day with 120km to do and climbing another 2,300m. It was on this day that the heat really began to play a serious role in threatening our race. Temperatures continued to climb and spent most of the day in the high 30's and hitting 40 degrees. At just over 80km we hit the foot of Baines Kloof Pass - a long winding 16km climb with some of the most awesome views of the Cape you will ever see. Just over the summit and we discovered the Bain's MTB Trails at Welvenpas. The single track for the rest of the day made the whole stage worth it. Great fast flowing trails through acres of fynbos that led us all the way into the new race village in Wellington. The isotonic recovery beers were very good that afternoon. I showered at the race village so as to reduce the amount of time wasted fetching and carrying that poor Hazel had to do going backwards and forwards to our B&Bs and the medics. I am glad I did because I got to see just how good the facilities were at the race village for all the people camping. Very impressive - the organisers certainly have honed the running of the race village extremely well over the years.
|Team Adrenaline Junkies|
|Evidence of how the race was taking its toll - day 5 done!|
|I very nearly hit that tree at pace|
|Evidence that I missed it|
|The HotChillee Team - Dane and Craig got a top 50 finish!|
|Whats this - single track at pace?|
|These damn trees - who put them all over the place?|
|Coming up to the finish on the last day|
|Finished and waiting for medals|
|Getting our medals - rather pleased!|
Banksy and I need to give credit to a lot of people who have assisted us in getting to the finish of the Epic. Our families have been incredible and have both suffered at our prolonged absences whilst training. HotChillee have been fantastic. During the Epic we did not have to think about anything other than riding the race. And our coach, Jay McStay of M1Performance (aka Jedi) is a legend. His decision to take us to Andalucia was a risk that paid off. Without that race we would in no way have been prepared for what lay ahead of us. In addition the condition he got us into so that we could enjoy it was excellent. So thanks to all who supported us, all who have donated to our charity (I look forward to seeing many of you at our charity dinner on the 25th), all who kept our bikes going, our wives and kids and all of you have read this blog and wished us well.
|The after party - Banksy, Garth, myself, Guy and Dave|