“If you had asked me after the Cape Epic if I would do it again, the answer would be no… but right now I would always say yes.” – Ila Stow.
With the monster stage race looming on the horizon, we decided to get last minute tips for those who are riding the ABSA Cape Epic. I contacted my friend, Ila Stow, who rode the Cape Epic last year with her husband Darryn. This dynamic duo managed 10th place in the mixed category after only finding out that they would be riding six weeks before the event! Ila recently took part in the UCI World Cup and, coming from a cycling-mad family, she knows a thing or two about riding…
Cape Epic Tip No. 1: Add This To Your Bag
“Ear plugs… and maybe some light sleeping tablets,” says Ila, who can usually sleep through anything. Even after a tough day on the bike, it can be hard to sleep in the tented camps. “There is always a lot of activity and noise.” On the plus side, Ila says that she found she actually didn’t need as much as she thought she would. So don’t let the packing stress you out. “That can be the beauty of riding your bike for days on end – life is simple; it’s all about eating, sleeping, riding and then repeating,” she adds. Sounds like a good life.
Cape Epic Tip No. 2: Let’s Talk Mechanicals
Ila says that she always keeps pro rider Christoph Sauser’s motto in mind when it comes to this touchy topic: keep calm, be efficient and be fast. “In all my stage racing I have never had a mechanical,” Ila says, touching wood. As a member of the incredible Uitsig Bike Park crew, she knows her way around a bike, “but if I did have a mechanical, I would probably have to call a friend,” she jokes. The key is to ride smoothly and mindfully; don’t take unnecessary risks that could cause problems for not only your bike, but you as well. The Cape Epic is called ‘untamed’ for a reason – that terrain is completely unpredictable.
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Cape Epic Tip No. 3: Parter In Crime
Ila rode the Cape Epic with her husband, Darryn, and although it’s a tough day in the saddle, she says they had the best time together. Darryn races mainly shorter distances (XCO, enduro and downhill) and this definitely kept things interesting. “Every day he would say, ‘I have never done 100km on a mountain bike before,’ and the next day would be even longer!”
But they didn’t put any pressure on each other and just rode the best that they could. One thing Darryn pointed out when it comes to stage racing, is that there will always be a slightly stronger partner and a slightly weaker one. It’s vital to ride for the weaker rider and assist as much as possible. “Some people forget it’s a TEAM event,” Ila adds, “and the better you ride and look after each other, the better you will do.”
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Cape Epic Tip No. 4: There Will Be Tough Days
“My hardest day was definitely the queen stage (the stage with the most climbing),” Ila says. With six days of riding already locked in the legs and the onset of a head cold, Ila found it a tough day out on the trails. “It was extremely difficult to stay motivated and keep moving forward without losing too many positions.”
For Darryn, his toughest day was day one. “With eight days of racing, there will always be a tough one, where your body says no, but it’s very much in the mind to keep pushing through,” Ila explains. It’s a mental game just as much as it’s physically taxing. It’s important to keep a level head and not go into panic mode. “That’s the beauty of the Epic – learning how to push through those days and finding out that you can do it.”
Cape Epic Tip No. 5: Let’s Go Camping
“I sometimes say it’s harder to survive the camp than to ride the eight days,” Ila jokes. It’s not glamorous, but it is part of the experience. It gets noisy (again, earplugs) and ablutions aren’t too fun. But a good night’s sleep is achievable, so stay calm – and did I say earplugs?
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Cape Epic Tip No. 6: Ila’s Top Tip For This Year
“After riding the Epic twice, I’ve realised there is so much that goes into finishing the event and getting the best result you can,” Ila says. There are so many factors that could play a role: getting sick, crashing, mechanicals, etc. “It’s an eight-day race so be consistent, know yourself and your partner’s strengths and weaknesses,” Ila concludes. “And, again, remember that you are a team!” But, most importantly, have fun and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
You’re in for the ride of a lifetime!