The Absa Cape Epic (March 19th to 26th) is the toughest mountain bike stage race in the world and is being held for the 14th time this year. Eight days of dust – eight days of pain – eight days of absolute exhaustion – that is what the 1,300 participants can expect on their ride through the untamed wilderness of South Africa.
Even for the elite athletes of Team Topeak-Ergon, the race poses a huge challenge time and time again, and can only be tackled with the necessary team spirit. Jeremiah Bishop is paired with Erik Kleinhans to support Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek in the quest for the podium.
The race features everything that the South African border area has to offer; from merciless gravel roads, crisp inclines, technical downhills, flowing single tracks and adventurous river crossings.
Follow the team’s adventure with live reporting throughout the event from Team Topeak-Ergon; on Twitter; on Facebook, and through event-based coverage and real-time results.
The deep soreness in my glutes and quads is something I only get from racing. Over the past two weeks, I’ve had six high-level race days spread over three events – the most ever for me this time of year. Of the three races, last weekend’s Tankwa Trek three-day stage race was the toughest by far. It’s legit! (Lots of media on the event’s Twitter feed.)
Each day, my Topeak-Ergon teammates and I woke early for the 6:30 a.m. stage starts. We stayed in campers in the race village, and there was a lot of preparation fumbling around in the dark. In the early morning hours before Stage 2, a thunderstorm rolled through the desert and provided an unusual wake-up call. It was a stark sight filled with weary sleep-starved faces around the breakfast tables that morning.
Throughout the race, the sight of bandaged bodies, broken bikes, a few broken bones, and one fatality from stroke were reminders of just how intense these races can be. All this carnage came from only three days of epic-style racing; the Cape Epic looms with eight full days!
As a team, our race at the Tankwa Trek was good; it was not what we wanted, but it was what we needed. The race served as a yardstick of our form and fitness. It was a chance to practice our roles on the team and fight through the challenges that the desert and world class competition could throw at us.
Our team was faced with some unlucky mechanicals – the kind that can happen to anyone at anytime: a few flat tires, and a broken derailleur caused by a renegade stick. Our competitors the Bulls were on point riding strong and steady. Christophe Sauser had a setback when his teammate Sam got sick. The South African Telecom Team rode really well. Lucas Fluckiger and Nicola Rorback succumbed to a stomach bug.
In perspective, we really should be satisfied; as a team our cohesion has never been better. We laughed, had fun enjoying awesome trails, and even drank some wine at a post-race braai (traditional South African barbecue) at my teammates Erik’s house.
The past thee weeks of preparations and training in the rough, hot desert has toughened our minds and bodies. The challenges we will face in March will be nothing new and for that reason I think that we can pull together a strong Cape Epic. We are doing all the preparation it takes to endure as a team. At Cape Epic, more than at any other race, the best team wins!
In the next four weeks, Team Topeak-Ergon will have time to make the final adjustments for the biggest mountain bike stage race in the world. See you at the Absa Cape Epic!
The Fairtree Capital Simonsburg Contour Stage Race, held just a short ride away from our base camp here in Stellenbosch, was our chance to get in some speedy race practice. It’s one thing to train hard, but the rhythm, tactics, and constant focus required in racing takes practice.
During the first stage, my teammate Kristian Hynek attacked from our steady charging lead group and I went after his surge. This got us a small gap, but then Kristian flatted and regrouped with our other teammate Alban Lakata along with Dominik Buska of Future Cycling. I got a small gap on the chasers, but when they took a wrong turn off the course, my lead was magnified. I crossed the finish line to take the win and the leader’s jersey going into the second stage.
For those of you into power data, below is a screen shot of my work from Stage 1. As you can see, the hills were sharp at the beginning and end. From the KOM on (the last 40 minutes) is where you see the race really heated up. NP close to 355 for me at 72 kilos. I’d say the hard thing to see is how winning versus finishing well in mountain bike race requires closing speed or the ability to still put out high power efforts. Here I did a 850 watt surge and many at 600 to accelerate out of turns while getting my heart rate down on the very short descents.
Day two had some tough single track, and Kristian came back looking to prove his form. He attacked late in the stage on the serpentine single track climb of Never Say Never. A ripping downhill that was really fun followed. I was hot on Kristian’s heels and he and I both almost crashed racing the descent!
In the final kilometers, knowing the over all win was safe, I drove the pace and Kristian came around for the stage win.
A perfect ending to the weekend was hanging out at the after-party under the big tent listening to music and chatting with the racers and enjoying the first taste of Champagne in 2017!
Thanks to Team Topeak-Ergon for the support and great equipment that stands the toughest races in the World.
This season’s training has been good, but tough. Getting older makes you wonder if you can still make the magic happen on the racecourse. I’m excited because all the explosive power work and strength work from the past couple of months is paying off. Going into the race season, I feel ready for flight and I’m sure I can do some fast racing again this year!
In order to arrive at the Cape Epic more prepared than ever before, my team will spend several early-season weeks together training in South Africa.
This “Cape Camp” starts with Grabouw, Race #1 of the South African Marathon Series. This race happens to take place on one of the Cape Epic courses, so it’s a great opportunity for us to scout it out. Next we will do some summer training and recon the other courses. Being on the course gives us a chance to get a feel for the terrain, the layout and imagine how the racing could play out given the conditions. The sand, heat, hike-a-bikes, and leg-crushing climbs all hold surprises. The raw landscape presents hazards that can cause mechanicals and has the potential to cause race-ending crashes! This homework should pay off and make the difference in taming the Cape Epic beast… or at least appeasing it!
My home base for the next several weeks will be Stellenbosch’s relaxing Ride In. It’s a place I’m familiar with, as our team’s home-away-from-home when we convene for the Cape Epic. It’s a great base of operations, as a ride center and with a nice coffee spot.
If I have an odd day off, I’d like to go fishing for shark or help with some local trail work, but I have a hunch we will be pretty busy on the bikes if we do it right!
Toward the end of this trip, our final test will be the Tankwa Trek Stage Race. Competing in this race will assure we have all the wrinkles ironed out and that we are working together as a well-oiled machine.
Afterward Tankwa Trek, I will come home for a few weeks. I’ll tune up the top-end of my fitness, and look forward to racing Virginia’s Monster Cross, before returning to South Africa to take on the Cape Epic.
Beyond expectations lies the Mexico you don’t know! For my recent trip, I invited some of my good friends – SoCal racer Stefano Barberi and United Airlines senior pilot Marty Neary – to join me. I knew they would be blown away by the friendly people, the wild adventure and the amazing terrain.
After you get over the initial contrast that lies between San Diego and Tijuana and head down the vast wild coast things change. Aqua marine sea, islands and tan brown mountains make up a postcard scene. The bustling coastal city is full of Latin colors and character. This place, however, is more than that. You can tell you have arrived at a cycling hotspot. There are 1.5-meter rule signs on roads and cyclists buzzing around in team kits both day and night!
The second we arrived at the bike shop, we were greeted by Jorge Truilo the man behind the legendary race Baja 100k. He just opened his third bike shop and is a driving force behind the riding culture that is taking Ensenada by storm.
Hugs, handshakes, and fist bumps abound. I grabbed some selfies with eager members of the women’s bike club that assembled at the VIP dinner party. The party was catered by Jorges’s mama and papa, with lobster tails, Mexican style beans, flash-fried tortillas with home made salsas and some sort of tasty cream pasta. They topped it off with local microbrew beers and we kicked back and relaxed after the big travel day. Dulce Vida!
The new 5000-square foot bike shop puts most US shops to shame with its layout. The high-end inventory and picture-window bike displays featured the amazing Rampage Trail and the remote inland roads. There was an organized service area that had a squeaky clean and tool-free workbench. As a former mechanic, I know this is not usual, but rather the sign of truly professional mechanic.
The press conference we participated in was like that you’d see before a big rally car race: with the mayor, top international riders, TV, newspaper reporters and podium girls making for a full spectacle.
The night before the mountain bike race, we found great burger, listened to bumping house music and watched the stage announcer pumping up the spectators that watched the 5k running race that was taking place.
The next morning it was our turn. The start felt hectic with the TV helicopter swarming overhead. After the police-lead rollout, we hit the first mammoth climb with the $500 KOM at the top! I was ridding strong in second place, chasing star rider Hector Paez of the Italian Team Olympia that had sent three riders. Then I punctured and my CO2 hissed out a cloud of smoke. I stood there for a while thinking I was done for the day! Due to kindness of the neutral support and other racers, I was able to fight my way back up even overcoming a frustrating second flat!
Now because I was so far back, I was riding to enjoy it. The goal was to finish strong and to shred some trail. I was pushing hard for the simple pleasure of seeing how much I could nail the final climbs.
In the past few weeks, I’d missed several races because a knee-injuring crash. Being able to ride strong and push hard, made the feeling its own reward. Better yet, I was able to look around and enjoy the amazing vistas of the wild mountains layered next to a vast blue sea. The Rampage Trail was a descent down a fin of the mountain with an exposed 1,000-feet drop on either side and at times is as narrow as a skills park balance beam! The trail feels like you’re riding down the spine of giant dinosaur. It was damn cool.
The new section they introduced this year stunned me with its desert wildness. Sculpture-like giant boulders lined the small valley and blooming cactus decorated the trail as it weaved through the rocks and onto a half-track narrow benched section. It was really fun!
Post-race I was approached by a lot of fans, had a few cold beers pushed my way, and even held a baby for a picture. The bumping techno, beer garden and coastal venue was the stage for a fantastic time.
We got a good lead to head to the Mercado Negro for fish tacos. It was like a fish market out of a book: fish of every type staked in huge piles next to crabs, clams, octopus and more! We sat drinking margaritas, listening to a mariachi quartet and eating marlin tacos that words will never suffice to explain their splendor. Marty found a fine Cuban cigar and Stefano and I ate macaroon-covered ice cream while laughing about the funny stories of our day. Good times.
We enjoyed the awards, but had to head to the airport because of a super-early flight the next morning. After taking a couple of wrong turns in Tijuana, we approached the U.S. border. Just when I thought the adventure was over, we were selected for what seemed like a random screening by border patrol. In reality Marty’s ID scan revealed a warrant with his name on it from Ottawa Canada! As he was interrogated and finger printed inside the station Stefano and I looked at each other in disbelief. Like, holy shit, this ain’t looking good. After a while they all came out smiling and chatting and our ordeal came to a close. It turns our there is some dude on the loose with the same name and description. They had the wrong guy, but that added a bit of excitement to our already wild trip!
After two years racing in Baja, I thought I knew how this trip would go, but it was my best yet. Not because of my modest 5th place but because finish, but because I brought friends and they loved it. We all won the adventure of the unexpected!
I can’t wait to go back already!
– Jeremiah Bishop