We survived the 2023 Cape Epic, we can survive anything!
Each year up to 1500 people make the journey to Cape Town south Africa to compete in the world’s ultimate mountain bike stage race, the Cape Epic, a grueling eight-day, 650-kilometer event with 15,500 meters of climbing.
For my partner and I, called ‘The two Tannies’ (Afrikaans for ‘The Two Aunties’), we faced fatigue, injury, gastro, bike mechanicals, cyclonic winds and the infamous rain and flowing ‘mud’ rivers of stage 6, with the constant anxiety of wondering if we would make it to the finish line.
We trained for a year, sacrificing our weekends to the pea gravel hills east of Perth, grinding away in the West Australian sun, in the rain, amongst the Wandoos and the roos. We did hill repeats and rode for hours in 40-degree days, we fell, we crashed and one of us even got COVID with only four weeks to go. Everything was put to the side, ‘we had to get through the Epic!’.
After a crash course on how to disassemble our bikes and fit them into Airline approved bags, our kids give us their blessings and off we went from Perth to Cape Town hoping the bikes were not lost in transit.
We donned our vibrant Cycology jerseys for the Prologue. Just like the Tour de France, we made our way to the starter’s chute where the crowds were cheering, and the event announcer introduced us, ‘here are the Two Tannies all the way from Perth, Australia.’ A moment before, I had discovered the headset on my bike was loose, there was nothing I could do, we had to start at our allocated start time. Adrenaline pumping, we set off for the first of many climbs and steep descents. Spectators encouraged and clapped as we went past. Music, cow bells and the whirling sound of the media chopper carried us across the finish line where we breathed a sigh of relief. My bike had stayed in one piece, we had got through the first day, and we were in the EPIC.
For the following seven days we spent an average of six to eight hours a day on the bike. We climbed and climbed and climbed some more. Then down the other side we flew, cautious of loose shale and ruts in the trail. We called ‘Tannie, are you there?’ Our Cycology jerseys ensured we were some of the best dressed pairs in the peloton, their colours kept our spirits high and kept us from losing each other especially when the visibility became low in the mist and rain. Everyone came to know us because of our vibrant kit. We concentrated on getting over rocks and roots, through rivers, some waist deep, over mountain passes painted with beautiful flynbos and down single track on the edges of cliffs with paths so narrow that we dare not look anywhere but straight ahead. It was sunny, it was warm, it was wet, it was cold, and there were winds so wild that they blew people horizontally off their bikes, with rain so relentless it turned tracks into knee deep rivers of mud. Our tents blew away, our bedding was soaked, and gastro spread rapidly through the rider village. Each day our bodies became more sluggish with fatigue, and our minds grew heavy with the fear of catching the gastro ‘plague’. Every day was a new challenge, with new friends, people from all corners of the world, people who helped us get through both physical and mental hurdles we never dreamed we could achieve. We laughed and we cried with them, some made it, and some didn’t.
By the last day, thirty percent of the participants had pulled out of the race. The previous day (day 6) had been one of the hardest in the Epic’s history, most of it was spent pushing and carrying our bikes through mud and rain. It was so cold we couldn’t feel our hands and feet and the black bin bags given to us at an aid station offered only a little relief. It had been our longest day on the bike, and we had only just made the time cut off. So, on the last stage our smiles widened when the sun came out to warm our skin, the skies were blue, and spectators lined the course in their droves, clapping, singing and dancing carrying our battered bodies to the finish.
We made it. We crossed that last finish line. We survived everything the Cape Epic of 2023 threw at us. It was beautiful and it was brutal.
Written by Fern Cooper 😀