- It was no easy Friday at the Cape Epic, with stage 5 being the Queen.
- Heavy overnight rain meant the wettest stage yet, at this year’s Cape Epic.
- The most challenging stage was made a touch easier by mild temperatures. But you will have hated it if you don’t enjoy riding in wet shoes.
Many things define the Cape Epic. But amid the hierarchy of suffering, one stage consistently ranks as the most arduous. The Queen stage.
In mountain bike stage racing, the Queen stage might not always be the longest. Or the stage with the most climbing. But its combination of gradient, trail texture and terrain make it the most challenging.
And at this year’s Cape Epic, stage 5 was the Queen. And it was always going to reign. At 102km and 2450m of elevation, stage 5 was statistically intimating.
But what triggered the most doubt while we were in the start chute was the climbing profile into Groenlandsberg. One of the Cape Epic’s most iconic and notorious climbs.
Stage 5’s climbing was front-loaded, with the worst happening in the first third of the stage. That included Tierkop and then the ascent of Groenlandsberg.
No wind - but all the mud
During any Cape Epic stage, the weather is the kingmaker. We’ve endured headwinds at this year's event. Still, ambient temperatures have been much milder than other Cape Epics. That helps, especially with a partner suffering from stomach issues and low energy levels.
Cooler weather was the theme for stage 5, but heavy overnight rain meant lots of mud. And in some sections of the stage, rapidly flowing streams.
The descent into Lourensford was welcoming and terrific, the first time we’ve seen Cape Town this week. But earning our descent meant hard work up the climbs from Elgin. And with so much overnight water spilling down the trails, it was tricky.
Very challenging muddy terrain
Riders familiar with the Overberg area know that sand is a feature of its trails. And once that mixes with moisture and cakes rocky surfaces, you have a terrain combination that completely defeats traction. I can’t remember how often my rear wheel spun and slipped on the rocky climbing sections during stage 5.
Some of the natural trenches on the Queen stage were filled with water, significantly increasing risk. Riders who approached these 'flooded' trenches without caution often paid for their ambition with a crash. Rocks that would ordinarily be visible were hidden by water.
There was an enforced portage down the steepest rock trails, which would have been impossible for even the most gifted pro riders to descend. This is where your crash risk was paradoxically high, despite being dismounted and walking with the bike.
I felt for riders on tired legs. There’s nothing worse than exiting the Cape Epic with a portage crash because you slipped walking down some slippery rocks.
Mud is harsh on mountain bikes
We had a great day. Although it was testingly muddy and the Queen stage lived up to its reputation, we finished strongly and will start the penultimate with confidence.
There were times on stage 5 when we were pushing up climbing sections with water up to our knees. It was a day I was grateful to have traditional analogue shifting, instead of an electronic system, considering all the water exposure.
I saw a few teams doing brake pad changes at the water points, indicating how much the moisture and grit acted as abrasives. Destroying bike components. Our bikes are fine, but I suspect some mechanics will be working overtime tonight in preparation for stage 6.
Cape Epic 2023 | Stage 1 ride and data report - all the wind
Cape Epic 2023 | Stage 2 ride and data report - the longest stage
Cape Epic 2023 | Stage 3 ride report – finishing into the medical tent
Cape Epic 2023 | Stage 4 ride report – fun before the nightmare stage