The Sea’s the limit – with Sani2C & Hansgrohe

Team Hansgrohe Sani2C

Jonty Thurtle & Christiaan Coetzee at Sani2C 2015 finish line

Never mind the sky, it seems that the sea is the limit (excuse my silly pun) when it comes to the opportunities Hansgrohe has for branding at the Sani2C 2016. Nothing has been officially discussed, but Sino and myself went to check out the possibilities and to see how all works at the prestigious race this past week of 11 to 15 May.

On Tuesday we drove about 3 hours from King Shaka Airport to Glencairn Farm to meet up with Jonty and Christiaan who were being dropped off by the Hansgrohe driver. How ironic is it that the new owner of Glencairn farm is in fact no other than Glen Haw, owner of the Sani2C race? Though rather chilly, all was well at Glencairn and Sino and myself were pleasantly surprised to get FREE Nandos burgers for lunch before setting off to be shown the race village by Mandy Haw – thanks Mandy!


Decor S basin mixer at open basin area Sani2C

We have sponsored over 100 shower heads and 50 basins mixers for the two venues: Glencairn and Jollivet in KZN. We had a look at the great installation at both of these locations where you can clearly see the amount of resources that have gone into revving up the two venues – stunning! We also looked out for possible branding opportunities at these venues, which present themselves in a more permanent fashion given that both of these locations now belong to the event and will not change from year to year.

Showers at Sani2C

Showers at Sani2C

Though we were not able to catch up with Jonty and Christiaan, they report that things went well and we look forward to sponsoring two teams in next years race. We will be holding a competition for these entries – keep your eyes on this space!


Hansgrohe Sani2C branding

Hansgrohe Sani2C branding

Sani2C here we come!

Well, it isn’t two months after Epic 2015 and we (Sino and myself) are heading off to Sani2C to check out the new showers we sponsored at Glencairn Farm for farmer Glen Haw. We are going to put up some branding and see what we can learn from this sports event for next year’s more than likely increased sponsorship – you know how it goes!

We have two riders from Hansgrohe riding the Sani this year – yippee! So, we are bringing our pom-poms with to cheer them along the somewhat mid-level “Adventure” challenge they are taking on.

In preparation, Christiaan and Jonty, had some interesting tales about their training for this event. We begin with Jonty Thurtle, who is daddy of a 2 year old girl, who’s wife is pregnant and somehow decided he would be riding Sani this year – crazy right?

“Often I wondered how people training for mountain bike stage races find the time to get the necessary training in. It was pretty simple – Good-bye sleep!

Having a two year old daughter, a 4 month old Jack Russell puppy and pregnant wife has proven quiet interesting to get my 5 days/ 280km’s training in a week. Often getting back from a long ride and family is supper excited to hit the beach and my legs are just non-functional. I am incredibly blessed to have such a supportive family that understood the sacrifice for dad to enter Sani2C.

Hansgrohe sponsoring Sani2C allowed me the opportunity to do the ride. Which I am was thrilled about when I got the news. I am sure we will do team Hansgrohe proud. We looking forward to the race and are confident the preparation we have put in will pay off.”

Christiaan Coetzee, the CFO for Hansgrohe South Africa is riding with Jonty and says he has given up all sloppy habits for the past three months in order to whip himself into shape.

“When Jonty approached me and asked if I wanted to be his riding partner in the Sani2C coming up in May, I accepted without hesitation. A few hours later, it dawned on me….. I am going to be riding a total of 265km, sleeping in a tiny tent for 3 days… and the scariest part of all…. I had 3 months to train… All I could think was… am I crazy?
From that minute on, motivation and determination kicked in, and I started my incredibly strenuous training regime…. No more “lie in’s” on a Saturday and Sunday… no more sitting on the couch in front of the TV in the evenings….. all focus was dedicated to my cycling and fitness.

I was up no later than 5AM, just about 7 days a week, either doing a spinning class (and often more than one a day) or on my bike cruising the bike parks and trails, trying to get in a minimum distance of 50-80 km a ride.
At night, I sat on the spinning bike in my lounge watching TV, just trying to spend time “in the saddle” and get used to a sore bum.
There was also no more late nights, take-aways or a few cold beers on a weekend.
I have sacrificed more hours than I choose to count training, as opposed to spending time with family and friends, but feel that it has been well worth it.
I feel confident and well prepared for the race, and am sure that “Team Hansgrohe” are going to make the company proud.”

Stage seven: Wellington to Meerendal 92km, 1500m climb


TeamHansgrohe finishes Absa Cape Epic 2015

Team Hansgrohe finishes Absa Cape Epic 2015

So, we finally made it! Stage seven or the grand finale of the Absa Cape Epic 2015. I felt like a mother of seven when my little chickens came in over the finish line one by one.

Today, Hansgrohe did not operate in the ShowerZone area as we didn’t think there would be a lot of riders using them as is the norm – boy were we wrong. The showers were quite busy today. Myself and my crew were busy punting the Dirtiest Rider Competition – getting in as many votes as we could before the competition closed at 14h00.

I am so extremely proud of all of the riders and was happy to welcome them home after 7  grueling days in the saddle. First in of all of our riders was Leon Tobias of Jazzman Plumbing and partner David Boyer – these guys have done really well this year with Leon having met his match for Absa Cape Epic 2015.

Then followed by Robert Vogel who completed the Epic alone after Amanda Brooks had an asthma attack on stage two. It must take a special something to ride the Epic alone!

Third of the four teams to come in was an architectural client of ours from Johannesburg completing his first Epic and doing to very respectfully I might add! He rode with Gavin Ritchie who made for a great partner – the team worked very well together.

Bryan and Gavin were closely followed by Shane Turner and Dan Forsyth (of CP&B Group). This was Shane’s first attempt at the Epic and we are happy to report that he showed amazing spirit and strong will during the whole race to come in over the finish line with a big smile on his face.

Once again, a huge congratulations to all of the Team Hansgrohe riders who completed the Absa Cape Epic 2015 today! See you all again for 2016 😉





Stage six: Wellington to Wellington 71km, 2000m climb

VIP was the main word of the day and what a treat it was. My guests for the day included the new MD, David Cooper, and Markus Singler – the new country manager who moved from Germany very recently. We woke at the crack of dawn to join the race tour that began just after the first lot of riders set off.  After the race tour in a magical forest setting, we headed back to Absa Hospitality to welcome the pro riders into the race village for the second last day of Epic. Then, off for some very special heli-flips over the race village and race route – what a treat! We then met up with all our TeamHansgrohe riders at 5pm in the ShowerZone and it was great to have the whole group be together and social for a short while before heading off to the dining marquee for dinner with our special clients.

Well, enough about me – let’s here about stage 6 of the Absa Cape Epic from Robert.


“The race village was wet this morning. A soft, soaking rain was falling as we waited in the start chute. Something was not right as I did a mental check of my gear, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I grabbed the wet handlebar and it struck me! I had left my gloves behind. What now? My wife rushed off to the Assos store and lo and behold, they were open and she returned with a smart pair of long finger gloves.

Everything organised, the gun went and we were racing. On to the tar road for a bit and I could feel my stiff & tired quads as I raced to catch the back of the leading bunch. There were a few Outcast riders among us, so the pace was high and soon enough, the pro racing snakes were gone over the horizon, leaving the pseudo racing snakes to fend for themselves.

Today’s route would include some of the fantastic Welvanpas trails, but to take us there directly would be boring, of course. We headed around the Groenberg ( it’s tall and it’s green!) and started climbing a dual track that turned into a single track we had ridden during the 2013 Cape Epic. It was a nice flowing track, setting the scene for what lay ahead.

At the point, the route became a bit of a blur. We crossed many farms and the farmsteads were filled with cheering supporters, which was a welcome change from the “quieter” weekday stages. Being cheered on from the side lines gives the riders a real morale boost that cant be underestimated.

As an individual rider, the Cape Epic can become a very lonely place.  While there are lots of teams out on the route, they are all focussed on themselves and rightly so.

There is no time to socialise outside of your own team. The odd bit of banter here and there is all you’ll get as a lone ranger.

We entered the Welvanpas trails and I was in familiar territory. Very useful when it comes to pacing yourself through the stage. I kept up a decent pace and generally felt quite good now. The diesel engine was warmed up and the rain had stopped.

The rain had not been enough to soak the ground thoroughly, so the tracks were firm and riding nicely. We headed out on the white route on the left flank of the valley, climbed up a steep hill, dropped over into the next valley, turned and headed back up the hill we had just come down. The return to water point 2 followed the track on the left flank of the valley.

Even though the route was only 71km long today, I was happy to see the water points. I was feeling parched, even though I never felt dehydrated. I just had a craving to drink and an even bigger craving to eat watermelon. I couldn’t get enough of them as I have probably mentioned in a previous report.

As far as I am concerned, watermelon was the undisputed food highlight of the Cape Epic. In 2014 I was overdosing on apple pieces and sour worms. I bet everyone had a favourite treat during the race.

After water point 2, the route carried on along the regular Welvanpas White route, but after a sharp right, I found myself riding the White trails in reverse. Interesting.

We passed the Welvanpas coffee shop and began climbing up the mountain and once again, riding the final parts of the White route in reverse. Usually a descent, the trail was now pointing up at a steep gradient and some of the riders were having some harsh words with each other as those that chose to walk did not get out of the way fast enough and allow other teams to ride out the climb.

The last part of this climb was on a jeep track that took us to water point 3, on the side of the Bain’s Kloof Pass road. I grabbed a couple of pieces of watermelon and headed down the tar road for a short bit and then turned left, back on to the Welvanpas tracks. This time there was no nasty climb to the top of the hill. Instead, a sedate climb took into the flowing “Point Break” and Heaven’s Gate” single tracks. A group of us were flying down in single file, having a bit of fun towards the end of the stage.

We popped out of the upper Welvanpas trails at pace, all downhill from here. The run into the finish was the same as yesterday and I put my head down and managed to move past 2 teams before the finish line.

Even though the race is officially over for me, there is still a sense of determination to do well and ride hard.

The day’s racing was over early today, which leaves lots of time for “admin” and for me to put my feet up. A swim in the pool and a cold beer. All part of the recovery process.”

Stage five: Worcester to Wellington 117km, 2500m climb

Stage five done and dusted! Today felt like the hump day(middle point where things hit you) for me and there were a lot less enthusiastic faces coming through the showers today. David and Leon are holding a great position in the masters category and are doing Hansgrohe really proud this year, besides the flats and riding the last 5km of stage five on his rims. Robert is also riding quite well considering he doesn’t even have a partner to ride with. Dan and Shane are holding up their end of the bargain as they are pushing through each day. And finally, Gavin and Bryan have done so well so far – at times losing their sense of humour at times. All is forgiven considering the really tough last few kilometers had super steep climbs! Well done all!

Robert Vogel of Table Mountain Bikers riding for TeamHansgrohe

Robert Vogel of Table Mountain Bikers riding for TeamHansgrohe

Here is Robert Vogel’s report on stage five of the Absa Cape Epic:
“We have been riding solidly for 5 days now and for all of us, pro’s included, this is territory we step into once, maybe twice a year. There are 3 stage races in South Africa that go beyond 3 days, but the Absa Cape Epic is the toughest of the lot.

It’s essentially a Pro-Am race. As amateurs, we are constantly under pressure. The course is designed to test the professionals, so you can imagine how hard it is for the likes of us. Once off the bike, the clock keeps on ticking to get food into us, clean up, sort out the bike, get a massage, prepare nutrition for the next day, eat more, and get as much sleep as possible. Throw in the inevitable race fatigue and you can well imagine how hard the Cape Epic gets.

Before we headed off to Wellington this morning, we’d already dealt with 3 days of more than 100km. I was keen to get to Wellington, but would have preferred a more direct route.

We headed out of town and proceeded along the same route as yesterday. After a couple of km, we headed into unfamiliar territory and the first climb of the day. It wasn’t a bad one and my legs were feeling better than yesterday.

What followed was a series of climbs, hugging the right hand side of the valley as we headed towards the town of Wolseley. The terrain was loose and rocky and you needed your wits about you on the descents.

The wind came up out of nowhere and on the first BIG climb of the morning; it was buffeting us from all sides. This was a long and steep climb and I was tempted to get off and push in places. But pride prevailed and I struggled on to the top. A bunch of Epic Tripper riders were cheering us on at the top and there was no way I was getting off now. A quick descent and the next climb lay in wait. I passed the second placed Mixed team as I ground it out to the summit. They were in for a long day, the female part of the team was in her own little world of pain.

Through water point 1 and into a piece of single track that looked benign, but quickly started pointing up the hill at a serious gradient. My legs were still feeling good and I managed to ride up at a decent pace.

It was the day of the “shark tooth profile”. Up down, up down, up down. Relentless.

What I noticed along the way, was how empty the farm dams were. There were a couple of big ones that had, what looked like a mud puddle at the very bottom. “This area needs rain desperately”, I thought. “But wait till I’m gone with my bike!”

I reached a water table about 9km before water point 2, which meant there was some uphill pain to come. The climb wasn’t steep, but it was loose and sandy in places. An Austrian rider lost the ideal line and was fighting his bike to keep forward momentum. This is energy sapping stuff and he was swearing at himself at the top of his voice.

Water point 2 arrived came just in time for a bottle refill and a few mouthfuls of watermelon. I am loving the melon. It feels like you’re eating and drinking at the same time.

A long, boring dirt road slog took me to the start of Bain’s Kloof Pass.

I jumped on to the wheel of a group of 4 riders and hung with them for a while. The pace slowed and I thought I’d help on the front, but they dropped back and I carried on alone. A couple of km up the pass, the caught up with me again and I thought maybe now we could work together. No such luck, so I dropped them and rode to the top alone. Water point 3 was at the summit. The MC was talking about how we would love the Welvanpas single tracks coming up. Yeah right!

Two thirds down the pass, I had to turn left an up the notorious Black route at Welvanpas. I had ridden it before and knew what lay in wait. A long, steep, energy sapping climb to the highest point of these spectacular trails.

I was broken by the time we hit the first single track descent and wasn’t feeling comfortable on the bike as I should. The dappled light in the trees and my dark lenses didn’t work well together and I hit a couple of lines that almost threw me off the bike.

Once out of the single track, the route climbed even more to the Cool Runnings single tracks. These are great flowing trails down the mountain, but at this point in the stage, I was “gatvol” and just wanted to get home.

The final 5km through the farmlands were flat and I gave it all I had left to get to the finish as fast as possible.

I lay in the Woolies tent, wet cloth over my face, thankful that I was done. I rode hard today and I was feeling it.

With 7 hours in the saddle, this was the longest day of this year’s Cape Epic, not leaving much time to get the “admin” sorted out. Got to go!”

Stage four: Worcester to Worcester 111km, 2000m climb

Stage four of the Absa Cape Epic was a long day, but a very positive one for myself as I got to drive out to the water points on Spectator point A and B this morning. After three years of working on Epic, I had never been out there before as the ShowerZone needed me. This year delegation has become my friend as I am so grateful as I got to see our strongest team, Leon Tobias and David Boyer come in not too far off the pro riders – well done guys!

TeamHansgrohe: Leon and David

TeamHansgrohe: Leon and David

Let’s now hear from Robert about how it was to ride once again as an outcast during the Epic:
“My legs were sore when got out of bed this morning. Yesterday was a tough day and I was feeling it. Another day of 100km + loomed, looping around the mountains behind Worcester.

I found myself at the back of C batch as we headed out of the race village, but I don’t mind that. It gives me time to feel the legs and settle in on the bike. The first couple of km were flat and the pace was high. I slotted into a group and got pulled along for a while. We hit the tar road and I saw the group breaking up and I made the call to stay with the faster bunch ahead.

We turned off the tar and headed into the hills. What happened next? You guessed it. A climb. It wasn’t too bad, but I was struggling to get a nice rhythm and I knew, today was going to be a hard day. Water point 1 was at the Fairy Glen game reserve and not feeling 100%, I decided to stop and eat some watermelon.

By now,the race diet of Ensure and Carb drinks was starting to make me feel a little nauseous at times, so the fresh melon and naartjies were a welcome treat en route.

When you drive through Worcester on the N1, you see the very big mountains in the background and a low range of hills in front. But what lies between the two is where we spent most of the day riding. Long, dusty climbs which I remembered from the 2011 Cape Epic when we had a “rest day” in Worcester and “only” had to complete a 40 odd km time trial.

Water point 2 came around at 40km. On an 111km day that seemed a bit odd, especially since water point 3 was a 95km. A big gap in between which meant a lot of flat riding was to come.

Less than 1km out of water point 2 , who do I see in the distance, fiddling with a bike? Leon & David. They had a leaking front wheel and couldn’t quite work out where the hole was. In fact, they were having trouble working out how to use their CO2 adapter. Being out of the official race and seeing fellow team members in need of assistance, I was happy to stop and help them out.

All 3 of us were soon on our way and we rode together for a while, David and Leon chugging up the climbs ahead and me catching them on the descent. Eventually, my legs called for a break and I let the 2 of them go.

What followed as we a long stretch on flat farm tracks. Left turn, right turn and so forth, until we popped out on to a tar road (no idea where we were) and followed that for a while.

By now I needed water point 3 to come as my bottles were nearing empty and I needed an excuse to stop.

I had made the fatal error of not getting my chain lubed at water point 2. Now, the dust was wreaking havoc with my drive train. It sounded horrendous as I turned the crank! A loud grinding, crunching sound as if my bike was about to break apart. It sounded particularly bad up the steep climbs as I was putting all my power into the pedals to make it up the hills.

And we had to do a lot of climbing before water point 3! When you thought you’d reached the top, the trail turned around a fence and kept going up! These were 2 of 3 “skyscrapers” making my life hell before water point 3. After some sketchy descending, I reached the Karoo Botanical Garden and the water point.

The MC was telling the story of how a rider decided to follow the call of nature in the Fairy Glen reserve (backtrack to water point 1). He leaned his bike against a fence, not knowing it was a lion enclosure. A lion came along and bit off a piece of the bike’s handlebar! But I digress.

15km left to the finish and 1 more skyscraper to deal with. My chain was freshly lubricated and making no noise as I climbed another beast of a hill. At this point, a molehill would have made me work hard. I was tired and grateful when my inner GPS worked out that the climbing was over for the day.

For the final 6km, the ascents were replaced with a flat ride through burnt bush and along a railway line. We needed to cross the tracks up ahead and can you believe it, a passenger train passed us, horn blowing. The riders just ahead had to stop and let the train pass. I caught up with them and hid in the bunch for the final 2km.

I crossed the line, grateful that another stage was done and dusted – literally.”

Stage three: Oak Valley to Worcester 128km, 2300m climb


Left to right: David Boyer, Leon Tobias and Robert Vogel of TeamHansgrohe

Stage three was a grueling one for most riders today. It was a long day in the saddle and also out considering the two or three kilometers of sand that they had to push through! Some of our teams are not in great shape mentally or physically after this stage, but we made it over the finish line without any further losses to TeamHansgrohe. Robert has decided to continued his Epic journey come hell or no partner. Here is his version of stage two of the Absa Cape Epic:

“I was on my own today. No partner to look out for, but I still had to make it to Worcester. 128km gruelling kilometres lay in wait for the field today. A transition day at the Cape Epic means very little single track and plenty of open road riding. It’s not the kind of riding I enjoy and suits the “dirt roadies”.

We set off at 7:10am, heading for “The Nek” which meant climbing from the get go.

During stage one on Monday, we came over the “The Nek” from the Groenlandberg, but this time we were heading along another jeep track towards Theewaterskloof Dam. Once over the top, a long descent awaited with some washed out sections we had to look out for. I came across fellow Hansgrohe team mates, David & Leon, with David having just come a cropper. They were ok, so I carried on towards the first real climb of the day. A mean switchback climb on what looked like an old wagon trail.

We were now riding part of the 2014 Cape Epic route in reverse, which has its advantages. I knew what was coming up ahead, but then again, did I really want to know!? We were riding in the farmlands around Theewaterskloof Dam which meant steep descents, followed by lung busting climbs out of the valleys.

We turned on to the tar road towards Villiersdorp and crossed the dam wall, before turning sharp right , up another steep single track climb to water point 1. We were now 40km into the stage and the next water point was another 40km away.

The Villiersdorp Mast was the next climb we had to tackle. The sun was out and the thermometer was climbing steadily. Before we got there, the route followed an irrigation canal for a while. Nice and flat, but the wind was tormenting us from the front. Once over the top of the Mast climb, we hit the first of a number of dirt road stretches. I had to find groups to join, otherwise I was going to fight the wind and gravel on my own.

I met up with a Ladies and a Mixed team and sat on the back for a while, until we turned into farm tracks which eventually delivered us to water point 2. I was thirsty as hell by now as the sun was beating down. Through Eagle’s Nest winery and back on to the route.

By now I was joined by Leon and David again and I let them ride ahead up a brutal climb, under the power lines. The climb did not want to end and I was feeling pretty tired by now. On the descent, I caught up with my Hansgrohe team mates and passed them comfortably. My Cannondale has been great on the technical trails over the last couple of days, allowing me to really go for it. The bike probably saved me from wiping out once or twice, but that’s what a mountain bike is built for.

A 2km stretch of sand track was frustrating as it pointed downhill, but was not rideable. We were walking in the hot sand, not fun.

Water point 3 came at 100km. A quick fuel-up and I was on the bike again to deal with the last grind of 25km to the finish. And a grind it was! Open dirt road with a strong head wind. On my own, I had no chance! I tried to catch another 2 riders, but before I got to them, they had joined another team and were off.

I waited for another team behind me and sat on their back wheel. We cycled through Brandvlei prison, before turning and crossing the low dam wall that separates the Brandvlei and Kwaggaskloof dams. It wasn’t a smooth concrete surface, but a wall made up of large pebbles! You had to have your wits about you to not lose the front wheel.

Once across the bridge, we followed an old tar road around the dam , before exiting at the Nekkies picnic area and turning right on to the road into Worcester.

David and Leon were looking strong and we completed the last 5km together, crossing the line as a Hansgrohe team of 3.

Today wasn’t easy. 7 or so hours in the saddle means there isn’t much time  to recover and get ready for another tough stage on Thursday. One thing is for sure, a beer will be part of my rehydration routine tonight.”

Stage two: Oak Valley to Oak Valley 92km, 2300m climb

Amanda Brooks: an unfortunate retirement

Amanda Brooks: an unfortunate retirement

“Not every day goes according to plan.” And so Stage two was the end of the ride for TeamHansgrohe Mixed: Amanda Brooks and Robert Vogel. We here from Amanda on her unfortunate retirement from the Absa Cape Epic 2015.

“I write this with mixed emotions mostly disappointment for my partner Robert and also for team Hansgrohe who have been very supportive and have put in alot of hard work and effort for this race. I am sorry for letting the side down.

As we lined up on the start we were both feeling okay, I had a bit of a chesty cough but nothing that was of any concern or so I thought. So 7:10 am saw us out on course and heading up towards the first climb in a strong head wind, Robert was just ahead of me but had him in my sights, then I started coughing and had trouble breathing. I thought it would pass but as I rode on it got worse and I could hardly breathe I must of sounded like a old steam train. Robert was amazing and tried to help me out as much as he could by pushing me up the old pass as I took it easy trying to control my breathing, even pushing my bike for a bit while I rested to see if I could get my breath back, however as much as I tried to continue I had to stop and called it a day just past the road crossing, not easy biking with no air. I told Robert to go on as I rolled the short distance back down to the road where there were Absa staff, on the way down I had another bad bout of breathlessness and fellow team mates from Hansgrohe saw me and helped me down to the road and made sure I was ok.

I was then given an asthma “puffa” but still had trouble breathing so was taken to the Medi Clinic where I was well looked after as by this stage I must admit I was panicking ( which didn’t help at all) as not being able to breathe was not an experience I was used to at all and had not experienced since I was a kid. The staff there were also amazing and put me on oxygen and calmed me down made sure I was all ok so a massive thank you to all the staff who helped me out – you guys are awesome.

To all of Team Hansgrohe: thanks so much for your support and help today was really appreciated. To Melanie, Roberts wife for her support not just in the massage but today her friendly smile and kind words of support. Lastly to Robert my team mate whom I owe a lot for picking me as his partner and for being such an amazing help today trying to get me through I am just sorry I didn’t make it for you and really hope you have a good ride for the rest of the week and go hard.

Thanks to everyone for their support this is why I love mountain biking. I wish everyone of TeamHansgrohe and all racers the very best of luck for the rest of the week I will be watching and supporting you all.”

Stage one: Oak Valley to Oak Valley.113KM, 2800M climb


Things start to pick up as the Hansgrohe ShowerZone gets busy: Stage one Absa Cape Epic 2015

So, today was, um, let’s be honest and say miserable. Well, the weather was. But, the Hansgrohe ShowerZone was most certainly not as today the vibe officially picks up for us. But let’s not dwell on that when I know all you want to hear about is Stage one of the Absa Cape Epic 2015 – according to Robert Vogel  of TeamHansgrohe Mixed.

“Monday’s stage at the Cape Epic is notorious for being one of the toughest. Like using a mallet to tenderise a steak, the organisers use Stage 1 to soften up the field and to let us know we’re in a real race. With Nuweberg and Groenlandberg on the menu today, it was going to be a hard day in the saddle.

The morning started overcast and cool, ideal conditions for mountain biking. But ideal, turned into crap when cool turned into wet. Not a heavy downpour, just a soft, penetrating rain that came down on us for the second half of the stage. The Elgin fruit growers must have loved the rain, but not the 1200 mountain bikers, having to deal with a tough route and wet skies.

The gun went at 7:10 as we started in D batch, along with a host of familiar faces.

You have your own “circle of friends” in a race like the Cape Epic. These are the riders that finish in about the same time as you every day and become your mates for a week. Plenty of time ahead to get acquainted.

We headed out of Oak Valley estate at a relatively fast pace, with Amanda and I “chilling” at the back of the pack. We know the route pretty well and decided it would be wise to pace ourselves through the day and not overcook it.

Once through the town of Grabouw, we headed into the trails of the Grabouw Country Club and to the first test of the day, Nuweberg. Ok, it was “Lower Nuweberg”, not the big daddy itself, but still, it’s a climb. Coming around the hairpin bend on the lower slopes of Nuweberg, I couldn’t believe that the guys were pushing already! The sheer number of riders, trying to ride the jeep track meant that as soon as someone strayed sideways, he had to try and avoid the rider next to him and would lose momentum and put his foot down. That set off a chain reaction and soon 30,40,50 riders were walking a track that on any other day could be easily ridden.

Anyway, such is the Cape Epic. Busy, busy in the beginning and later, you’re riding without a soul around you.

This was early days still and after 20km, we hit water point 1, which we decided to skip and hit the long Groenlandberg climb. Put your head down and grind it out to the top. The climb takes just under an hour to the top, well at least for the likes of us. Either way, it’s quite a long time to point the bike skywards.

At the top, I quickly jumped off my bike, collected 2 stones and placed one each on the cairns for Burry Stander and Pieter Visser, the man who built all the trails in Oak Valley.

To get back down on the other side, we hit a long, 4km , rocky descent to the Twaalfontein t-junction. An Austrian rider and I had a good time flying down there. My Cannondale’s suspension was “dialled in” and allowed me to push my limits a little.

For a couple of Km we traversed the flank of the Groenlandberg, with a fantastic view of Theewaterskloof Dam to our left. Once over the Nek, we were back in the Elgin Valley and heading for the next water point at the Houwhoek Inn. A quick bottle change and a couple of pieces of watermelon stuffed into my face, Amanda and I were off.

We started (another) steady climb to the gates of Houtec ( the apartheid era missile testing facility) and out the other side onto a jeep track that took us over the Highlands. By now, the rain was falling steadily and I was feeling quite miserable. The wind was blowing at the high points of the route and I was happy when we dropped down into the valley and water point 3. This water point is b…ch to get to! It sits on top a hill that requires a lung busting climb up a steep farm track. If you’re the farmer and you own a 4X4 , who cares about the gradient!

Fed and watered, it was on to the last leg of the stage, the Lebanon single tracks! Something to look forward to, but another climb stood between us and the descent through the forest. At this point we had caught up with another Mixed team that had given us the slip earlier in the stage and Amanda and I tried to get away from them. We managed, but as soon as we hit the traffic in the single track, they were with us again.

It always amazes me, how many Cape Epic riders have little or no single track skills. On the open road they’re haring past you, but once in the single track, they’re slow and tend to not want to get out of a faster rider’s way.

We ducked under the N2 and passed Thandi farm stall, not stopping for a “Red Ambulance” (water mixed with Coke). We had 9km left to ride and wanted to get home. We climbed the Thandi switchbacks, crossed Paul Cluver farm and were back on Oak Valley land.

 Again , slower riders in the single track meant, we couldn’t shake the other Mixed team. I opened up a gap and thought it best to leave Amanda to fend for herself. Had I dropped back to let her take my wheel, the other team would have latched on and had an easy ride home and could possibly jump us at the finish line. Okay, we’re not racing the Tour de France here, but we’re in a race and want to beat other teams in our category.

Amanda got past a slower rider at the end and when I saw her pop out of the single track, there was no one behind her.”

Mission achieved TeamHansgrohe Mixed!