Photo: Dennis Venter, coached by Ben Capostagno, will be riding his third Cape Epic in 2022
Known as the Tour de France of mountain biking for the gruelling nature of the terrain and effort required to cross the finish line, the Absa Cape Epic holds a special appeal for the regular cyclist: to compete in the same event as professionals.
Of course, one marvels at the efforts and technical prowess of the professionals making their way around the course, but there are nearly 600 2-person teams traversing the same 700km across the Cape, with over 17 000m of vertical ascent. Many of these riders are parents, hold demanding jobs – and balance their training into their schedules to celebrate on the polo fields finish line at Val de Vie. Our coaches at Science to Sport have had navigated the necessary training with a number of these everyday heroes. We’ve helped them balance work, life and training – by making the most of the time available for the best results.
We spoke to a few of these riders who are riding the 2022 Absa Cape Epic to find out more about their training, preparation, expectations and advice ahead of the event.
DECIDING TO WORK WITH A COACH
“I travel to work on our farm every second week. So, time is crucial for me. Because of the nature of our business and travel, my stress levels and fatigue can be really high at times. One of my friends said that I look drained and over trained after the 2021 Epic was cancelled. He suggested that I ask someone to help me manage my training and load to work smarter, and I was introduced to Reece. He changed my view on training and intensity to achieve my goals”, says Mariz Nel.
For other riders such as Hannes Kotze and Garth Ennion, the need to work with a coach was driven by their competitive spirit – to get better and beat their friends. However, every athlete agrees that the main motivating factor in deciding to work with a coach was wanting train smarter within a busy a schedule.
“Planning your own workouts can be a hassle – and it’s easy to miss a few sessions without the accountability” comments Warren Hauser. Warren has also recognised the role of his coach, Darrel, in recovery, injury prevention and overall wellness in the months leading to Epic. Alastair Walker, coached by Ben, was similarly looking to take the guesswork out of training.
For Andre van den Berg, who tends to overdo things, it was his wife who decided to enlist the services of Reece as a coach for Andre. says Andre.
Ben’s athlete, Dennis Venter, knew that he needed to put his money where his mouth was after accepting a dare to ride the Cape Epic. “I had three and a half months to get fit. I was horribly unfit and knew that I needed help,” he explains.
“Yes, it’s hard getting up at 4.20am only to find yourself crawling on someone’s lawn after 8 x 2min zone 5 intervals before the sun is up, but I love it,” says Hannes. He is quick to also reiterate that “John makes it very clear that something like Epic does not define who you are in life, it’s just riding a bike.”
For Reece’s athlete, Ilse Nel, who will be starting her first Epic, she has realised that you don’t only need to cycle 3 hours for training effect – which makes maintaining both running, cycling, a family and career much easier. “As a mom, it is second nature to put yourself at the back of the line if the pressure is on, but on the other hand, the training motivates me. Deciding to work with a coach is the best investment I have made for myself in a long time”, says Ilse.
Dennis enjoys knowing that there is a schedule for him – and that he cannot convince himself to settle for a lesser option. Of course, he admits that he cycles to be able to enjoy the after party, which is also a perfectly good balance!
MOUNTAIN HIGH AND VALLEY DEEP
It certainly hasn’t all been flowing singletrack to the Cape Epic 2022 start. Following the cancellation in 2020 and the delayed race in 2021, things finally seem to be returning to normal. Maritz says if it weren’t for covid, he would be claiming his Amabubsesi this year.
Covid restrictions didn’t only change races, but also downed nearly all these athletes, who were off the bike from as short as three weeks up to two months, with major lung capacity issues. After a podium finish at the Transbaviaans, shortly after starting to with John, Garth broke 5 vertebrae on a regular Saturday ride. Hannes battled with a severe prostate infection for a few months and Hein suffered two cracked ribs and damaged biceps. Andre is looking forward to starting his second Epic in 2022, after having to abandon on stage 5 with a viral infection in 2021.
With the help of their coaches, these lows have become relatively inconsequential in comparison to the highs. Interval training sessions became anticipated – after feeling and seeing actual improvements. “The thrill of seeing a completed green pie chart in Training Peaks and knowing that you’re putting in the work is a high every week for me,” adds Hannes. Alastair hasn’t seen a huge improvement in single intervals, but has improved the consistency between intervals. He remarks that “It is incredible to feel this improvement, which has directly translated into my races”.
Lining up at the start of the Imbuko Big 5 in February already felt like an achievement for Maritz, after recovering from a severe case of Covid. “It was an extremely hot day and I was battling, but pushing on. I finished in almost 8 hours. Reece was also doing the event as his first ever mountain bike event and he finished in something like 4 hours and 30 minutes. When I crossed the finish line, Reece was standing there waiting for me. That was so lekker to see and feel that the guy also cares and shares in our goals. I couldn’t believe somebody would wait 4 hours in 40-degree heat for somebody else to finish and give him a pat on the back.”
Getting a coach is the one piece of advice that resonates true for all these athletes. Multi day events require a specific approach. Energy management is key when playing a balancing act with everyday life. With the help of a coach, your training is specific to you, and monitored so as not to over train.
“I think I would have had a huge wakeup call during the Epic if I did not have Reece on my side” says Ilse. She has learnt how to fuel, to cycle conservatively to save your legs, etc from her coach.
“Having a coach takes the thinking out of it for me. If it wasn’t for the program, I would never have made it” comments Dennis.
It’s also of no use to rely on a coach if you’re not communicating openly with them, observes Hein. He adds that speaking to people who have completed the event holds great value: shoes, socks, tyre pressure, what to pack, etc. Alastair recommends to ride as many events as possible to mix up the training. He also warns that taking on an event like the Epic is a big commitment, but that the journey of getting to the start line is indeed a special one.
Partner selection is critical, agree Alastair, Ilse and Hein. Hein suggests that you find a partner with whom you are evenly matched with, where one each is slighter stronger in different aspects. But more importantly, that your partner is someone that you like and can get along with for 8 days through the ups and downs. “A sense of humour is vital”, he adds.
more about these cape epic athletes
COACH: JOHN WAKEFIELD
Team: ESA partner / Van Deijl
Stage that you’re most looking forward to: Stage 7 – to see my wife and kids at the end
Stage that you’re most dreading: not so much dread, but stage 5, with Rusty Gate climb, is going be a massive make or break day
Training session that you love to hate: Difficult one, but lets say 10min all out
Favourite coffee stop: BARA in Durbanville
Epic camping or glamping? Just being honest here, I won’t tent at Epic. That is very hardcore. Problem is I always have soooo much stuff with me (more than needed), that I need space to sort out my stuff. Little bit OCD before a race
COACH: JOHN WAKEFIELD
Team: ESA partner / Van Deijl
Stage that you’re most looking forward to: I like the long ones, so I’m looking forward to stage 2, heading to Greyton. Stage 6 shuld also be fun, but hard.
Stage that you’re most dreading: The prologue! I just know how strong Hannes is out of the blocks, I think I’m going to bleed there.
Training session that you love to hate: 40:20s without a doubt…I hope that John is not reading this.
Favourite coffee stop: Bootleggers Camps Bay and Trecastelli in Blouberg.
Epic camping or glamping? Glamping in an AirBnB
COACH: REECE MCDONALD
Team: ONE / Sumeil
Stage that you’re most looking forward to: The last stage because there is going to be friend with plenty of brandy at the finish
Stage that you’re most dreading: Stage 1 and stage 6. Especially stage 6. It is going to be a tough day. We ride that route a lot and in the heat and it can take everything out of you.
Training session that you love to hate: Interval sessions are horrible. Especially when you have a power interval session with a comment from the coach “Full gas”, then you know you are going to kak.
Favourite coffee stop: Ride In or any other place with cold beer.
Epic camping or glamping? We are camping in the tents. My partner believes it is a must to stay in the tent and take in the full experience of the Epic.
COACH: REECE MCDONALD
Stage that you’re most looking forward to: All the stages – I can’t wait to see all the beautiful places we are going to. The special thing for me about mountain biking is that we get to experience the best of nature. You cannot reach the places we go to by car and if you do it by foot it will take you months. I am super excited.
Stage that you’re most dreading: Prologue – this is normally the hardest day for me to break the ice. For the rest I am not sure – I am not someone who studies the stages, overanalyses, or overthinks this in advance. I just take one day at a time. Not sure if this is a good or bad thing.
Training session that you love to hate: Blowouts
Favourite coffee stop: Bootlegger
Epic camping or glamping? Camping
ANDRE VAN DEN BERG
COACH: REECE MCDONALD
Team: ZZ2 Laeveld Agrochem
Stage that you’re most looking forward to: Stage 6 because it looks like it has the most singletrack
Stage that you’re most dreading: Stage 2 (but also stage 1) with the portage sections, climbs and distance
Favourite coffee stop: I’m a Woolies fan, but won’t say no to a Wimpy coffee
Epic camping or glamping? My partner is doing his 8th epic and advised that we use guest houses for this (even though I enjoyed camping at the PE2PLETT)
COACH: BEN CAPOSTAGNO
Stage that you’re most looking forward to: Obviously the Prologue – short, sharp and the course looks awesome. It’s also nice to be able to watch the pros. In terms of real stages, Probably Saturday (stage 6). I’ve ridden the trails before and they’re amazing
Stage that you’re most dreading: Definitely stage 2 – its going to be long and I think after that portage, the legs will be fatigued. I also think mentally once we’re out of the W2W area, we’re going to have to dig deep because it’s still a long way!
Training session that you love to hate: When I see an “All-out 10 minute – do the most you can do on the day” – that scares the hell out of me
Favourite coffee stop: Croft, Tyrone Ave, Parkview
Epic camping or glamping? Luckily glamping
COACH: BEN CAPOSTAGNO
Team: Mud Munchers
Stage that you’re most looking forward to: The last kilometre into Val de Vie. In Greyton, I have arranged for a Mud Munchers helicopter to ferry us to the start from our accommodation, and I’m the pilot.
Stage that you’re most dreading: I think that stage 1 will be the worst.
Training session that you love to hate: The hill repeats are a killer. Up and down until you’re tired. I prefer the journey from point A to B
Favourite coffee stop: I spent many months in Italy. Small Italian towns in Tuscany are amazing for both coffee and food.
Epic camping or glamping? Neither camping or glamping, five star! We have hotels and accommodation on Lismore Wine Estate booked, with our own chef and helicopter.
HEIN DU TOIT
COACH: JOHN WAKEFIELD
Stage that you’re most looking forward to: I enjoy the longer marathon stages – the climbs tend to be longer and not as sharp.
Stage that you’re most dreading: In Epic I have learnt to respect every single stage. Stage 6 is almost 20km shorter than stage 1, but with a similar amount of elevation (2700m). It also comes after a 110km day with 2400m of elevation. The climbs are shorter and sharp. This will be a hard day with no free miles.
Training session that you love to hate: Blow-outs, for sure. Especially mid-season when the target watts are higher … but I think John does that on purpose.
Favourite coffee stop: The Village in Hazelwood. Nice vibe. Numerous options. Close to home.
Epic camping or glamping? Glamping. At Epic we refer to the tented village as ‘the Concentration Camp’ – not so much for the way it looks, but more so for the appearance of those who stay there … especially after day 3. Those oke’s are hard core.
COACH: DARREL FITZGERALD
Team: Diesel and Dust
Stage that you’re most looking forward to: I always love the last stage and the excitement at the finish. The feeling of accomplishment when you complete the final stage is worth it all. The cold beer at the finish is the best beer!
Stage that you’re most dreading: Im dreading stage 1, but not far behind stage 2 and 3 will be tough.
Training session that you love to hate: I love to hate interval training and under/overs. Sometimes I see a workout from Darrel and think its impossible, but when it’s done I feel great!
Favourite coffee stop: Seattle.