Race Report - Overcoming Challenges - 2021 ABSA Cape Epic

It’s been a couple weeks since the ABSA Cape Epic, and I have finally had a bit of time to reflect and enjoy the achievement of completing such a challenging race. It was my second time racing it, and I absolutely loved the 2021 edition.

Every year the course is different. This is what makes the Epic so incredibly exciting. You never know what you’re going to get, and those who enter early, eagerly watch to see the course revealed. The biggest change to the 2019 edition was the increased amount of single track. Thinking back now to my two Epic experiences, I actually can’t compare them as they are so different. More single track definitely suited my riding style, as well as my partner’s, so we had a field day when it came to playing in the mountains. To have someone who matches your technical ability is magical, and I am so grateful to have shared this experience with Vera Looser.

Stage by stage, I hope you enjoy reading about my 2021 Cape Epic Experience!


It’s finally here! 19.64km;

581m Climbing.

Weather: Wet | Rainy | Muddy

Racing time: 1:00:29

Stage Result: 6th Place

GC Result: 6th Place

Personal Reflection:

The perfect way for Vera and I to race-meet each other. Communication was great, riding styles match perfectly. Climbing-wise, Vera was incredible at open gravel climbs, while I balanced us out with tricky technical climb gees. It was wet and rainy, but I have always enjoyed that kind of weather funnily enough. I feel like it takes the pressure off completely, and the more fun you can have, the smoother your lines, and the faster you’ll ride.

Stage 1:

What a start! 97.46km;

1967m Climbing.

Weather: Dry | Warm | Sandy

Racing time: 5:02:57

Stage Result: 6th Place

GC Standing: 6th Place

Personal Reflection:

Holy smokes! If growing pains are thing in racing, we managed to overcome them in 5 hard hours of racing. Within the first 10km of racing, Vera managed to double pierce her tire with the longest wire I’ve ever seen, and I managed to twist my handle bars skew through a river crossing. I had a good laugh when the cameramen were on us while we swiftly fixed the puncture and began our race back to the main field. It took us 4hrs and 30min to catch position 6th and 7th. I couldn’t believe it. To add a cherry to this cake, there was a sprint for the finish line. I loved it. What a way to start the Cape Epic!

Stage 2:

Queen Stage. 98.70km;

2141m Climbing. Up, Up, Up, and Over.

Weather: Dry | Warm | Rocky | Steep!

Racing time: 5:10:38

Stage Result: 7th Place

GC Standing: 7th Place

Personal Reflection:

Tankwa, my dear friend. It’s a love-hate relationship and today was a beautiful reflection of that. We were both feeling the fatigue from yesterday’s comeback but fortunately, I knew the terrain like the back of my hand. I love the technical rocky terrain, it beats on your body but if you know how to ride it you can actually find rhythm in the chaos. Vera and I took turns and worked really well, despite time that we lost. I enjoyed parts, other parts were brutal, but the 5km final descent was breathtaking, including the part where I rode into a rock wall with my left hand... Poor rock.

Stage 3:

So Close! 88.17km;

2089m Climbing.

Weather: HOT!

Racing time: 4:51:26

Stage Result: 5th Place

GC Result: 6th Place

Personal Reflection:

I remember knowing what was coming on this day. There were crashes in the beginning of the race that added some spice to the normal filtering of positions that happened. I held back in the beginning (mentally I was struggling too because I knew how gnarly Fanties Pass was!). Each downhill I found my groove and I got stronger as the day went on. When we saw 5th place in front of us, Vera found a new gear and I honestly was just holding on, dreading the effort I was putting in before t

he hardest climb of the Epic. As we hit the climb, it was as if a mushroom cloud poofed out of my head and my parachute was released. I even got a push from Vera until she saw what we were up against! Moments of the day: I got to see Lachlan Mortan twice, we caught 5th but they had better climbing legs, Me crashing in the technical terrain, Vera bonking and crashing after the technical terrain. Haha!

Stage 4:

Transition Day. ‘Short’ with a Gnarly Finish. 70.03km;

1561m Climbing.

Weather: Dry | Warm | Fast

Racing time: 3:33:24

Stage Result: 5th Place

GC Standing: 6th Place

Personal Reflection:

Super-fast in the beginning of the race. The course was flatter in the beginning which allowed us to open up the legs a bit. I had a good first hour, but then slowly faded towards the end. Typical rookie error for going too hard in the beginning! Luckily my partner found her Olympi

c road legs and looked after me in the second half of the race. True teamwork character and her words of encouragement while I tried pulling myself out of the “hole” was well timed. A hard 10km finish but relieved to have had a shorter day on the bike.

Stage 5:

The Only Way is Up. 84.70km;

2831m Mega Climbing.

Weather: Overcast | Chilly

Racing time: WAY TOO LONG! 5:30:42

Stage Result: 7th Place

GC Standing: 6th Place

Personal Reflection:

An unlucky day. I woke up feeling really good and excited to make a comeback as the single-day race version (Imbuko Big 5 Challenge) of this never seems to go well for me. I thought to myself “third time lucky!”, and Murphy’s Law came to bite me. Vera’s legs were feeling a bit off at the start, but with such a long day we dubbed this day as the “no pressure day”. Pacing ourselves well up the first major climb, I knew exactly where we needed to be to make our move. The girls in 7th place GC were having a great day, bringing excitement and competition into the stage. I was loving it, until I tried to shift to easier gears and nothing happened. Half way up the second major climb I turned to Vera and said “I actually don’t know how to fix this”. Between running, smashing 30rpm up the mountain, swapping bikes to help ease the load, we made it to our tech boxes where we managed to move the 4 useable gears to the upper section of the cassette. Now I had the 2nd from the easiest gear and 3 gears harder for the second half of the race. Never have I wanted the finish line to come sooner!

Stage 6:

Breakthrough Day. 79.98km;

1878m Climbing.

Weather: Wet | Muddy | Technical.

Racing time: 4:33:56

Stage Result: 4th Place

GC Standing: 6th Place

Personal Reflection:

“When your body says no, and your mind says go, you get to decide who you’re going to listen to!”

This day is my most memorable day of the Cape Epic. After a brutal Stage 5 I woke up absolutely exhausted. I knew everyone else would have fatigue in their legs by now, but I felt like I had gone to the gym and done max squat reps. As the sun came up, I could already feel my muscles aching. I was scared and kept hoping that my legs would feel better after a good warm up. I wanted to be able to race hard with my teammate, but I just felt empty. We started the race and the whole time I seemed to be fighting myself in my own head. I felt tired and sore. It’s funny how we apologize to teammates about how we feel. We went through

a waterpoint and up this awful vineyard climb. I could see the group riding away and my heart just ached because I wanted more than anything to be with them. I turned and said “I’m so sorry Vera, I just feel so flat”. In that moment she rode up close to me and said, “Don’t worry Sarah, today you are not the only one”. Those words rang in my ears for the next hour. I’m not the only one, I’m not the only one. Soon we came across familiar trails and I could feel the energy creeping back into me. The power of knowledge is incredible, especially when you know where the top of the mountain is. It felt like our day had changed to a play day, we were flying down the single track and starting to laugh and feel more spirited. I turned to her and said “it’s like a battle in my head, everything in my body is saying no, and my mind is feeling so strong like it wants to go.” She laughed and agreed as we carried on playing. I have a bad habit of looking down when I am suffering, and for a momen

t up a climb I remembered to lift my head. It was a huge rush seeing our competitors up ahead. Hours and hours of thinking we were miles behind all of a sudden lifted and we were back in the game. Each corner became a chance to gain milliseconds, and before I knew it we were about to pass them. I turned to vera and told her that the top was close, and if we went hard now we would break the elastic. With each pedal stroke I could feel like muscles in my legs screaming at me to stop. Again I kept thinking, I’ve committed to this shift in energy, I want to go and despite what my body is saying, I choose go. There’s a joke on a movie about a miscommunication between two characters. One is saying no and the other is hearing it as go. “Is it no? or go!?”. I laughed at myself thinking about such an arbitrary thing on route, which lifted my spirits even more. The elastic snapped and we were in sync as we ripped down the course. At the following waterpoint, we saw the girls ahead of us and it was this time that Vera decided to send in an attack. I was with her and she took the pace from hot to insane (or at least that what it felt like in the moment), and we just hit the final 15km as hard as we could. I decided then to race it like it was the final day. I wanted the breakthrough and I knew how difficult it would be to hold the gap at the very end. I think we came into the finish just over a minute ahead, after 4hrs and 33min of racing, the final

hour was … insane. Just before the finish line I said to Vera, “This is the best result I have ever achieved in my life so far, thank you”. Her big smile confirmed how cool of a feeling it was and seconds later we had the cameras on us as the 4th team who had finished on the stage.

Stage 7:

Dead Legs. 68.25km;

1807m Climbing. Minimal Single Track.

Weather: Beautiful | Warm | Clear Skies

Racing time: 3:55:26

Stage Result: 6th Place

GC Standing: 6th Place

Personal Reflection:

After racing the previous stage like it was our last, I began the day on my reserve tank. Every gel and sip of electrolytes I had was topping me up only to make it through the next 15min. The start of the day was hard, making it over the steep mountains before the trails opened up. We decided that we were going to keep it steady, as I could only do what my legs could do at that point! Rather finish with a smile on our faces as all the hard work had been completed. I was grateful when Vera could see that I was hurting. She called it and I happily followed the instructions. It was about making it from water point to water point, until we could smell the finish line 10km to go. What a feeling, and what a powerful finish!

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