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Cape Epic Boot Camp

We rode the hardest sections of the Cape Epic, in preparation for what is to come next year.

Technical trails, with hills that have no mercy. Downhills and switchbacks which are both scary and the most fun I’ve had on a bike.

Fun fact: you can fly on a bike!

I arrived in Tulbagh on Friday evening and went straight to dinner with the girls. There I met a few of the women I hadn’t yet met, as well as the all-female media team who are covering our #SheUntamed journey.

So exciting!

At dinner, I was warned that the campsite we were checked into was a nudist camp and that there were indeed naturalists wandering about. More excitement! Haha, from me at least. Viva la freedom, I say!

It was a funny start to an all-round memorable camp.

On Saturday, bright and early, we all arrived at the starting line in our red Absa jerseys, ready to rock. We rode 45 km, with 1 260 metres of climbing. When I sent my friend the link to my ride, his comment was “That average speed is appalling.” 😅🤦🏾‍♀️

The bugger was right. I won’t finish the Cape Epic within the cut-off with an average speed like that.

Alas, we were not there to race it, we were there to get a taste of what is to come - and it’s quite spicy.

I was relieved to not be at the back of the pack as I usually am and found myself in the “medium” group. Relieved not because I care to be faster than others but more so because I deeply dislike others waiting for me…

It wouldn’t be a boot camp if we didn’t have to experience things we didn’t like though - and by Day 4, I was indeed at the back.

I don’t believe it’s because I got slower as the days went on, but rather that a fair number of people fell off.

I was proud that I didn’t and that I always chose the full distance each day.

After our first day of riding, we went back to the Klipfontein Farm where I had a taste of naturalist life for the first time.

Ingrid Avidon (my riding partner and dear friend) and I stripped down and went for a swim in the dam pool.

Kirsten Landman (the legendary enduro and rally rider) joined us but opted to keep her undies on. We giggled like school girls as we cooled off, especially at the sight of our teammates who were shocked speechless, not being used to such bodily freedom - in their faces.

As we got out, a chap walked passed and said, “Apparently you guys didn’t know this was a nudist camp before arriving?”

We confirmed that somehow that information was missed during the booking process. I then asked Caroline (the leading Matsimela lady, who is a gem to the world) to take a picture of mine and Ingrid’s bums, because why not!?

Our new friend jumped into the picture in all his glory and Caroline had to steady herself as she snapped away, at our three bare bums.

It was at this point that Des came down and witnessed the three of us from the front, blushed, turned around and went right back upstairs.

I later learned she went to say a quick prayer.

I must admit, I got kicks out of the whole situation and found that the laughter that came with this surprise got us off to a great start.

Sunday was Day 2 and still in Tulbagh - we rode only 43 km, with 1 180 metres of climbing. Never did I think I would use the word “only” before 1000 meters of climbing but considering what we were put through on Day 3, and what we will have to ride at the actual event - 1 000 metres is indeed child’s play.

After we finished our ride for the day, we all had lunch together and my darling Hannele Steyn (the Last Lioness.. the Queen of MTB, the most wonderful woman!) delivered a talk about nutrition to the group.

To sum it up for this: PROTEIN, protein, protein - we need it.

She looked at me, knowing I’m a vegetarian, and quickly added - there are many plant-based ways to get your protein but we have to ensure we are getting it.

Noted, H-bomb!

Then it was back to the farm for our last night in Tulbagh before heading to Paarl (our group stayed there but we actually rode in Wellington and then Stellenbosch for Days 3 and 4).

We spent the afternoon relaxing and had turns going for interviews with the media team. They tried to ensure that there were no bare bums behind us during said interviews but I’m told they didn’t fully succeed during Caroline’s interview. Oh, I can’t wait to watch it!

Our new friend, the one we took a picture with, kept on visiting us and it turned out that he shared a name with Ingrid’s husband, which was another little laugh as she addressed this naked man in front of her by her husband’s name.

He kept on insisting we join his crew for a braai.

I was keen as it’s likely not an experience I’m going to have again soon, but I was too tired to commit to a braai.

Ingrid and I, however, agreed to go and greet his wife and friends.

We sat in their naked circle and they asked us about ourselves, and to please share the story about how this group of women cyclists came to be at a nudist camp with no idea that that is what we were coming to.

We obliged them and shared a few jokes before I attempted to excuse myself to go and rest.

“Not yet”, our friend exclaimed, “you haven’t yet seen the playroom!”

Oh dear, Ings and I looked at each other, afraid to know more but too curious not to find out… so, we followed.

A red-lit room greeted us, and let’s just say it’s not a children’s playroom.

We hurried back to our dorm room and tried to talk the rest of the women into coming to have a look but they were having none of it.

As we lay in bed, ready to go to sleep, Ings said to me, “It’s safe to say this has been the strangest day of my life!”, before adding, “And I’m from Benoni!” Just to truly get the message across. 😅

We awoke on Monday morning, ready for Day 3, which we were warned was going to be HARD.

Erica Green, our coach (yes, the Olympic Wonder Woman and darling of SA Cycling), rode with us at times, sharing her knowledge freely and encouraging us. I feel privileged to have Erica as my Coach and try to soak up every word she says.

I also thoroughly enjoyed riding with my Insta bestie, Mamello Mnguni, whom I had only met in person for the first time at the Old Mutual Wealth Double Century 3 weeks ago, but we have been following and championing one another’s adventures all year. Through social media, we recognised in one another "a fighting spirit", if you will.

We accept challenges and we give them everything. The fact that both of us were selected to be part of #SheUntamed is a blessing that we don’t take lightly and one that we’re ready to go all in for.

To spend 4 days alongside Mamello was one of my highlights on this trip, along with Ann Harrison, the hippy girl who rides for the love of life, and Martha Koekemoer, a bubbly personality and firecracker rider.

I felt like I was in MTB heaven to ride the trails I did, alongside the women I shared them with, including "Matsimela Ladies", Manti Mashala and Des Moj.

I held onto that, as I struggled up the hills.

We did 2 060 metres of climbing on Day 3, over a distance of 58,4 km.

We rode a lot of the Queen Stage of the race, the most "brutal" of the days. I try not to use the word brutal lightly, but I feel it is somewhat justified in this instance. Yes, we do this to ourselves but it is guaranteed to be exceptionally difficult.

It was exceptionally difficult, and on this camp, on the hardest day, it was only 2000 metres of climbing. During the Cape Epic, my legs will need to handle another 1000 on the toughest day, and a total of 16 850 metres over 8 days!

As I struggled up the climbs, Sarah Hill, (the MTB machine and one of our top SA MTB riders, who I’m proud to say is my private check-in coach who is assisting me on a mental level for what will be the most difficult thing I ever do) rode behind me.

She told me to power through the climbs, stay steady and breathe through it.

Then we rode the downhills and man, did we ride.

No doubt Sarah slowed it down a touch or three for me, but still, I managed to mostly keep up at the pace she was going and I felt confident doing it.

What a thrill.

I hurt up many more a climb after that and WOO’d my way through more downhills.

At the last water point, Erica’s son, SA Downhill Champ, Tim Groenewald, asked me if I was sure I wanted to do the full route.

He could see I was hurting and some were taking the shorter route which another Marshall was going to lead them on.

When one feels the way I felt, there is no energy to verbalise how offended you are that someone would think you are a shortcut kind of girl but I think he got the picture when I simply said, “Yes, I’m sure” and rode in the direction of the long route to the finish 😆.

It was a treat to then ride that next section with him, having him watch my form, give his feedback and share his tips with me is something that I am truly grateful for. The Daisyway Coaching Systems team are world class and to receive alternating one-on-one time with them over 4 days is worth gold.

When we arrived back at the venue I felt positively exhausted and despite eating on the bike regularly, I was hungry after the effort of the day and ordered a large pizza.

Some seemed to be sharing theirs but I was not about to get on board with that kind of tom-foolery and I polished the whole thing by myself.

We went back to our guest house to rest for a couple of hours before Ingrid, Mamello, Ann and I hit the road again to eat some more.

At this point, we were all craving salads after eating too many bars and carbs during the last 3 days.

Day 4 saw us packing up our travelling lives as after our ride that day, it would be home time for all of us.

Off to Stellenbosch we went for our final day.

Upon arrival, I was required to do 10 pushups for forgetting my cooler bag in Erica’s car (that she told me to take out twice the previous day... I gladly did them, grateful that it wasn’t more elevation that was required as punishment).

I imagined that I was going to find the final day very challenging after 3 days of hard riding and had prepared myself mentally accordingly. When we started riding, however, I was relieved to find that my legs warmed up and my body did what it had to do. It was indeed challenging, especially considering we did a lot more climbing.

Day 4 was 58.5 km, with 1 300 metres of elevation.

We rode the magnificent trails of Jonkershoek and I found myself enjoying the switchbacks, while going up, which is unusual for me so I intend to hold onto that feeling and use it to tell myself I’m not as bad a climber as I thought.

I smiled as I went up, recognising that I was getting stronger and more confident in my abilities - knowing I could handle the technical sections and realising that the only reason I sometimes don’t make a switchback climb is more because of a lack of power than technique. By following my training programme, this will improve - and according to Erica and Sarah, it is possible to improve greatly over the next three months.

As we neared the end of the ride that day, my group caught up with the fast group and I said to Spook (Erica’s husband and an incredible Coach too), "How on earth did we catch them!?"

He replied, “This is your most important lesson. We have been steady and keeping our stops very short. They likely have had longer stops, so even though they ride faster - they haven’t been consistent with their pace.
As long as you keep moving, keep it steady - you’re good.”

I was glad to hear that and to see the principle in action because “keep on moving” is my jam. I’ve never been good at fast but I can go far, so my goal needs to be to go far at a steady pace.

Based on the fact that I only truly started riding a mountain bike 2 months ago, this is quite the challenge but I must admit, I feel as though I’ve found my match.

Mountain Biking is hard. It’s far harder than road riding (in my opinion), it can be scary, is potentially dangerous and it’s just so wonderfully thrilling that it ticks all the boxes for my personality.

All in all, the camp was superb. I left with a real understanding of what is in store for us in March and only now fully grasp the magnitude of what I am taking on.

The 2024 Cape Epic is the steepest in the history of the race. Seeing how slow my average speed was at the boot camp considering all the climbing we did frightened me, to be honest. It also highlighted where I need to put in more work.

Can we do it, Ingrid and I?



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