The Nguni Bulls team of Rens Rezelman (AKA Woody) and his riding partner, Andrew Koen (AKA Rocky) finished the 2014 ABSA Cape Epic in 49th position in the Masters category. To do so they had to overcome some serious obstacles, dished up by the weather, the race officials and a nasty virus. Here’s Rens’ account of eight tough days on a mountain bike:
Prologue done. What a great course. Our tactic was well carried out: take it easy, be safe and have fun. We reached our goal to make the C batch start on stage one. Update from the race village at Arabella Wines. So stage one was always going to be a bastard of a day. It’s tradition on the Epic to quickly filter the pack into those who should be here from those who haven’t prepared properly.
In the race briefing we were informed of an additional 6km thrown into the day, bringing us up to a moderate 113km with three big climbs in the way. Big climbs. Nguni Bulls tactic: sit tight. Grind the climbs out. Pace the jeep track. Ride for Tuesday. Eat for Tuesday. My tent was cosy (although I was blessed to have Americans opposite me. I already knew where they were from, what races they’d done, etc. And that was just from unavoidably listening to them speak loudly!)
We made it! Worst.Day.Ever.
Five punctures… What a mess. Completely set us back. Every time we got going… bang! Hissssss. Stop. Repair. It really messed up our momentum. Lost a lot of time. But, we came through okay and we can handle any situation patiently.
The tyre (all punctures on the same one!) is currently in a holding cell and will be shot at dawn. I reckon if the bastard wants holes, we’ll give it to him. Bliksem. That evening the weather turned for the worse. There was talk of a cut-off low pressure system hitting during the night. 50-60mm forecast. Mudfest. Makes for tricky conditions. And the bikes take a beating. Oh well, so be it.
There was a sombre mood in the camp in the morning. Heavy rains had fallen throughout the night. Stage two was muddy. And bikes as a rule, don’t like mud. It clogs all the bits up.
Now that was a kick in the nuts. Mud from the word go. And then some. Rocky and I were really hammering it and then at 38km his free hub broke. That means you can’t pedal the bike. At all. You’re dead in the water. Shaun Payne of the Assos Cycle Lab team then came past as Rocky was running his bike along and we asked that he get a message through to Amanda (Rocky’s wife) to get a spare wheel ready.
But you’re not allowed outside assistance. So we had to ask race organisers about the rules. Eventually I could get the wheel from the mechanics. I strapped the wheel to my Camelbak and rode against the ride to Rocky and his buggered bike. This all took about 45 minutes. So again we lost valuable time and positions. But we finished despite the setback and lived to fight another day.
So stage one was tough. Stage two was even tougher with mechanical issues. And now for the clincher: we got a one hour penalty for the wheel replacement debacle. Time Separation! We thought everything was cleared with the race commissar but there are further issues.
We could protest at some monetary cost, but decided to suck it up because we don’t have the names of the officials we spoke to. Talk about a tough Epic! Forget the riding, try bike issues and the Epic officialdom! We decided to persevere and show some Nguni Bull fighting spirit.
The longest day, distance wise – a 134km trek to Greyton. It was our third century in a row (112, 105 and 134km) so this is where endurance training becomes so important. We had been relegated to Group E… which was not great as it was the one day Rocky and I could’ve switched on the diesel engines and purred along in a fast bunch. But the truth is there aren’t too many racing snakes in Group E. So we needed to set the pace and claw our way back to a higher group ourselves.
Everyone’s eyes took a beating on stage two. You couldn’t wear glasses as they got clogged up too quickly from the mud, so we had chunks of mud flung into our eyes throughout the day. We all looked seriously hung-over with our bloodshot eyes on the start line of stage three! Rocky and I were allowed to stomp our hooves and run a Bull Run out of lowly group E. We left carnage in our wake as we bellowed through the weaker D group riders…
We paired up with Joel Stransky and Stefan Terblanche for 80km. They too had a bad mechanical on stage two and were also in group E. Water, as they say, finds its level and the four of us ploughed through the strong headwinds to end in a very good time. When Joel told me I was “putting him in the heart locker” I smiled inside as he’s a very competent cyclist. So for once our report back was just about the ride! We avoided any officials. We nursed our bikes. And we rode like men possessed, earning an earlier start. Thank goodness for that!
Rocky and I awoke and were, by all accounts, in good spirits. Our bodies were certainly tired, but that’s par for the course. On stage four we tackled 88km over rough shale tracks all over Greyton and the Genadendal area. The positive psychological impact of not having to cross the 100km barrier again was super. The plan was to manage ourselves for stage five, the biggest stage of the 2014 course. It’s a minger with nearly 3 000m of climbing and well over 100km again.
By the end of the stage we were stoked. We managed to beat all of our fellow Smooth Knobblies team mates as well (and on a stage that didn’t suit us). Obviously we’re still a long way off overall because of the first two nightmare stages but we feel we have recovered some sense of pride. Stage four’s ride was beautiful. The most stunning scenery we have been exposed to. But the climbing was horrific! Needle steep climbs through mountain valleys. Rocky road like a Trojan and the Nguni Bull stampede rumbled on.
At the race briefing for stage five we were reminded of how big an outing it was set to be: 115km with 2 900m ascent. The terrain was varied but characterised by endlessly steep climbs up and over the mountains between Greyton and Grabouw.
In addition to this, the bodies and bikes have been put to the sword over the previous five days, so stage five was set to be a real test of character. Rocky was hit by a nasty virus in the early hours of the morning before the stage. I’ll spare you the eye of the needle squirt details. Anyway, Rocky rolled up onto the start line as weak as a puppy. On the toughest day ever! But hats off to Rocky as he pulled through. It was tough going.
Rocky needed to report to the medics at 6 am to determine if he would be able to continue. Fortunately the virus moved through his system quickly. After a good night’s rest and some cement with his morning coffee he was allowed to start.
Recovery ride. We literally took it easy so that Rocky’s system could just get over the trauma that it had been through the previous day. This 88km stage was just great riding really. Swooping singletracks countered by about 1 900 meters of climbing. We just wanted to tick the box and get to the final stage.
Well, there it is. We made it! I’m pleased to report that Rocky was in good health and we were able to put some sting into the last leg. The 204th overall and 49th in the Masters category was a bit lower than we’d hoped for but it was a very challenging week.
We worked out that we had three normal stage rides and three cursed stages. Personally I have grown as a cyclist on this Epic and the dynamic of being a team takes preference. It wasn’t just about riding…
Thanks again to our families, friends, sponsors (De Leeuw quantity surveyors, Douglas Jones and ITEC), and supporters for standing by us through this journey. We are humbled by the support.
Rens Rezelman is the general manager of Douglas Jones Trading and an avid writer and mountain biker in his life outside of work. If you’re looking for a good MTB read take a look at his Blog, www.smoothknobblies.blogspot.com. It’s a classic read.