Thursday, 7 April 2011

Posted by Velouria Posted on 21:15 | No comments

The ABSA Cape Epic - 2011

Two great events happen in the world of South African cycling in March - the roadies get their chance on the second Sunday of March to participate in The Cape Argus, the biggest timed cycling event in the world, and a couple of weeks later it is the chance of the mountain bikers to take on the toughest, most prestigious mountain bike stage race in the world - The ABSA Cape Epic.

This year I was on the other side of the candy tape, a Cape Epic spectator virgin, and I had no idea what to expect. Being a participant in the Epic is rather easy - there is a huge pool of knowledge out there with plenty of people eager to offer advice on training, equipment, nutrition, strategy and almost any other aspect of mountain bike stage racing. To be ready come race day you have to put in the training, make sure the bike is in good working order, and have a solid relationship with your partner - not much else can go wrong once the start gun goes off.

An early morning start for the foreigners
In comparison, being a spectator virgin is much like meeting your future in-laws for the first time. You don't really want to be there and would much rather be riding your bike, but it's one of those things that everybody has to do at least once. You don't know what to wear and inevitably regret your wardrobe decisions - do you wear a finisher's shirt from a previous Epic to show that you were once hardcore too? Do you rather choose an event shirt from another event to show off your versatility? Do you wear an ordinary shirt but make sure everyone can see that you are a cyclist from your legs? Do you run the risk of wearing something that will keep you warm at 6am, but by midday will have you sweating like a Pom on the London Underground in mid-summer? You're unsure of the correct etiquette - do you only shout for teams that you know, or just the teams that look good, or the teams that are struggling and need all the support they can get? Do you jump up and down and scream like you've just won the Lotto when you see your team, or do you instead employ a polite golf clap reserved for hallowed places like the 18th green at Augusta? Are vuvuzela's still all the rage, or is inflicting auditory damage on innocent bystanders so 2010?
Robin - cool and calm, Russell - about to sh*t himself!
And then there is the equipment - do you bring a chair to pass away the hours as you wait for your team that you'll have to haul across the countryside? Is it acceptable to bring a book and read while the front half of the field whizzes past? Do you bring an SLR camera with a four foot lens for that perfect photo, or just a point-and-click and adopt the strategy of taking stacks of photos with the hope that at least a few will be of sufficient quality to make the day worthwhile? Did you charge the camera batteries, or are you going to suffer from acute electrochemical failure just as your team comes into view? What shoes do you wear - do you wear flip-flops and run the risk of blisters and severe chaffing as the Epic organisers are under the mistaken impression that the spectators are as fit as the riders and enjoy the challenge of walking vast distances between the designated parking area and the actual spectator zone, or instead opt for Everest grade hiking boots and look like a missing member of a Kingsley Holgate expedition? And what about food - do you get up extra early to make sandwiches from old bread and left over mince, or do you run the risk of death by Delhi-Belly from the half-cooked greasy burger on offer at the finish for the price of an entry level mountain bike?
A very happy mountain biker!
These were some of the dilemmas that faced me, and while I did receive some tips and hints from my 4-time Epic supporter veteran wife, I think she deliberately stopped short of spilling all the beans. Becoming a seasoned Epic supporter is a rite of passage that one must do alone, and is a test of one's character, endurance, emotional stability, perseverance, navigational acumen and resourcefulness. You feel the scrutiny you are under from the other spectator veterans as they see if you have what it takes to join their ranks. It's hard work, but being part of the Epic experience makes it all worthwhile, even if it entails standing on the wrong side of the candy tape.
Completely shattered

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