Absa Cape Epic – The Saga of Suffering


The Saga of Suffering

by Jackie Baker for Liv/giant USA on Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 10:19pm ·
Recently, Liv/giant’s Marketing Manager Jackie Baker joined Giant Bicycles’ East Coast Regional Sales Manager Josh Fonner to race the 2012 Absa Cape Epic. The two, racing as the “Giant Honey Badgers,” finished one of the toughest mountain bike races in the world, but getting to the finish line wasn’t all daisies and unicorns, as Jackie explains:

In Cape Town ready to race!

You’d think that eight days of racing a mountain bike across South Africa would give a girl plenty of story ideas. Yet, here I sit, nearly two weeks after taking that final pedal stroke across the finish line of the 2012 Absa Cape Epic, and I still can’t decide on the best way to chronicle my experience.

Everyone seems to expect me to say that although the race was tough, I’d gladly go back again.

 The problem is not that I don’t have material to write about: 17 days of international travel; four 10+ hour flights; seven nights of tent camping after spending an average of eight hours in the saddle each day; riding those days with a teammate that I’d ridden with about 15 total hours before arrving in South Africa—all of these facts involve specific quirky anecdotes that would be easy subject matter for an entertaining tale. The problem is that every time I approach a topic, I end up with a lengthy saga of pain and suffering. And who wants to read that?

My Liv/giant socks are dirty!

The “Untamed African Mountain Bike Race” race covers 8 total days of dirt road and singletrack riding over and through the mountains, vineyards, and orchards of the Western Cape. Most of the Epic is an undisputed sufferfest—on and off of the bike. From camping in a tent city with 3-season tents that act as saunas in any temperature above 60 degrees (but turn into sponges at the mention of a rain cloud), to biting into what I expected to be a peanut butter sandwich only to discover that I’d chomped into a mouthfull of Marmite—on a 95-degree day after 70k the saddle, there are plenty of opportunities to tug on a reader’s heart strings, but I’m going to keep it simple.

The term “race” as it applies to the Cape Epic means different things to different participants. To the pros battling for category leader jerseys and stage wins, their competition was with each other, and to see who could complete the course and be freshly showered before their soiguers had lunch ready for them. To those of us at the middle and end of the pack, our race was against the clock. Each day after the 27km prologue, we were given a course ranging from 114 to 143km (that’s about 70-88 miles) with anywhere from 1,500 to 2,900m (5,000-9,500ft) of climbing, and usually about 10 hours to ride it. Just figuring out the difference between a mile and a kilometer was exhausting.

The problem is not that I don’t have material to write about: 17 days of international travel; four 10+ hour flights; seven nights of tent camping after spending an average of eight hours in the saddle each day; riding those days with a teammate that I’d ridden with about 15 total hours before arrving in South Africa—all of these facts involve specific quirky anecdotes that would be easy subject matter for an entertaining tale.

Prologue start. Little did we know what we were in for.

Still, every day seemed like an achievable task at a moderate pace, until the black holes of time started to add up. First we’d enjoy a bottlenecked hike-a-bike up a steep hill with several hundred of our fellow racers; then I’d have to pee, then Josh had to pee. Because  of the lengthy saddle time, energy gels were usually not an option, so it was mandatory to stop, unwrap, and chew food. Someone flatted; someone had a shifting issue (and by someone, I mean me). The next thing we knew, we were worried that if anything at all went wrong in the final 20k, we’d overshoot the cutoff time and be eliminated from the race—meaning a year of preparation would be dedicated to watching from the sidelines while everyone else took off on the next day’s stage. No matter how badly pedaling hurt, the thought of not completing a stage always hurt more.

Finishing one of the hardest days. We’re not that tan….that’s dirt!

Everyone seems to expect me to say that although the race was tough, I’d gladly go back again. Or that I’m going to fill my summer with a series of grueling races and rides. The truth is, I’m satisfied. I am not an endurance racer. To prepare for the Epic, I meticulously followed a training program provided by Giant-Factory Off-Road’s cross country guru Kelli Emmett—without which, I would have been completely lost. I finished the race with my teammate Josh. We did it.

There were elite athletes who dropped out of the race. There were many seasoned Epic veterans who failed to cross the finish line as a team. For finishing, and for pushing through some of the toughest moments I’ve ever had on a bike, I’m extremely proud. Yet I don’t look back on the race and wish that I could relive any part of it—well, I could go back to some of the ridiculously fast descents and short-but-rewardingly-flowy singletrack sections. And there was one time that I felt really strong on a flat dirt road and pulled Josh and several other guys up to the next singletrack section (at which point I promptly exploded—but I would like revisit the few minutes prior to self-destructing). Other than that, I’m glad that my lengthy saga of pain and suffering has come to an end—and don’t hold your breath for a sequel.

 –Jackie Baker

 Photos taken by Christine Perigen of Roam Life.

Visit http://www.facebook.com/goroamlife for more photos documenting our Epic.