Craig & Rudie’s Epic Stage Race Tips

Next March the most organised man in the world, Craig Kolesky will be taking part in his fourth ABSA Cape Epic. For his partner, Rudolf Zuidema, it’s Epic number two. Over the next few month’s they’ll be sharing some hard earned wisdom with you – wisdom that’ll see you through the Epic, Wines2Whales, sani2c or the Cape Pioneer Trek.

Rudy is a big fan of fat bikes and the trails they open up for riding.
Rudy is a big fan of fat bikes and the trails they open up for riding.
Craig tearing up his local Tygerberg MTB Club trails.
Craig tearing up his local Tygerberg MTB Club trails.


Are you guys riding any races before the Epic?

Craig: Yes, a few actually, especially stage races. It is important to get your body in that rhythm of riding days in a row. You learn a lot about your partner, how your gear handles, getting ready fast and packing properly by doing races.

Is training with your partner important and what are your options if you can’t train together?

Rudy: If you can it makes you a better team as you get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and even more importantly to read their body language. As guys we don’t always like to admit when we’re struggling, so knowing when your partner is, means you won’t push them when they can’t give any more. If you can’t train together often platforms like Strava and Garmin Connect are great tools to use to monitor each other’s progress and stay accountable to your team mate.

What’s your one strength and weakness?

Craig: That’s a tough one, I think although I suffer… a lot… I can pull through. I find I get stronger the longer I ride. I have what I like to call the 60km slump; I always seem to hit it but at around 80km it all comes back… I still suffer though.

How do you mentally prepare yourself to ride a stage race?

Rudy: For me it starts with setting a realistic goal and then training to achieve it. For me that means training six days a week leading up to Epic, so when I get to the start line I know that I can ride day in and day out because I’ve been doing it for the last six months!

Why would you put yourself through a stage race like the Cape Epic?

Craig: It’s a huge achievement finishing an Epic. It one of those races that is on any mountain biker’s bucket list. It puts you in another league of riding.

Rudy: I’ve done one before so I’m not quite sure why?! I guess it’s a bit of FOMO and taking the easy option; I’ve been working at the event since 2010 and I can attest to the fact that riding this event is easier than working it.

1×11 or 2×10 and why?

Craig: 2×10… I have seen a lot of riders arrive on stage one with a 1x 11 and the next day they’re on a 2 x10. If you riding the Epic to finish, why suffer more?

Rudy: Been toying with this decision for a while. Both have their pro’s & con’s; working for Trek I’ve been lucky to be able to ride both setups side by side and with the new front derailleur design on Shimano 2 x 11 gruppo’s the increased gear ratio far outweighs the potential drawbacks of a dual ring setup.

What makes a stage race so special to you?

Craig: It’s the challenge to get through the days. You also inevitably end up riding with the same group of riders every day and great friendships are formed.

What are you looking forward during the Epic?

Craig: To finish and not cry… again…

Rudy: The vibe and camaraderie that you build up with the guys you end up riding with day in and day out. No other event is quite like it when it comes to the excitement, fear and sheer scale of the Epic.

How have things changed since your first Epic?

Rudy: My first Epic was in 2009 and just about the only thing that hasn’t changed is the cloverleaf format and the amount of preparation it takes to complete an Epic. The whole race experience has changed in every way, from the bikes and equipment we used to the services and facilities in the race village. I believe Kevin’s dream of creating the Tour de France of Mountain biking has come true in the last two to three years.

What are you not looking forward to?

Craig: The dark times. Every rider will go through this at some point during the race and if you don’t, you’re not normal.

How do you know if you are ready for a stage race?

Rudy: For me it usually comes during a lull in a long tough ride, when I have time to reflect on what my body is telling me. If it’s not screaming at me to stop anymore – that’s when the light goes green and I know I can do this!

How do you get on with your partner?

Craig: Well, where do I start… We ride well together, we rode Wines2Whales last year and that was fun. I think we understand each other’s riding style. Rudy has been my support with bikes and advice since my first Cape Epic so I think we will work well together.

Rudy: I’ve known Craig for almost five years now and have been privileged to help him on his previous Epic campaigns in one way or another. We’ve become good friends during that time and have ridden together often. I think we’ll make a good team as we’re both experienced riders and have similar temperaments. So I guess the answer is that we get along well and will hopefully still be friends at the end of March.

Tell us about your bikes?

Rudy: We’ve decided to ride Trek Fuel EX’s for Epic, specced with the event in mind. We’ll be riding the carbon version specced with a RockShox Pike Fork, 2 x 11 Drivetrain and probably light weight Trail Carbon Wheels. We specifically chose the Fuel EX as it offers 120mm of travel and slightly more trail orientated geometry which paired with our chosen components will give us a lightweight bike that will handle even the most technical terrain with confidence. The extra travel and more relaxed geometry will also help ease the fatigue on our bodies, aiding us to finish fresher and stronger.

[author image=”” ]Craig Kolesky is a Cape Town based freelance photographer, shooting with Nikon gear, specializing in adventure sports, lifestyle and portraiture. You’ll have seen his photos on the covers of most mags in SA and he’ll be documenting the 2016 ABSA Cape Epic journey with unique POV stills. Follow him on Twitter @CraigKolesky.[/author]

[author image=”” ]Rudolf Zuidema is the Director of Operations and Marketing for Trek Bicycles and Bontrager in SA. He has an endless wealth of MTB knowledge and is the man to flag down if you have a technical issue on the trail. Follow him on Twitter @rudolfzuidema [/author]

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