Cape Epic 2023 | Training to beat the Overberg heat and wind

Cape Town is a gorgeous mountain biking venue. But the heat and wind are real issues during summer for Cape Epic riders. (Photo: Ash Oldfield)
Cape Town is a gorgeous mountain biking venue. But the heat and wind are real issues during summer for Cape Epic riders. (Photo: Ash Oldfield)
  • Heat is one of the Cape Epic challenges you can’t glean from its intimidating stage stats, like distance and meters of elevation.
  • The Western Cape regularly experiences heat waves amid the Cape Epic’s scheduling in March. And that there’s no easy way to acquire heat adaption.
  • You must do your time in the sun and suffer into that heat adaptation threshold. But going 'slower' can be an advantage when heatproofing.

For those Cape Epic riders in the Southern Hemisphere, now is the time to complete your long hours in the heat. 

Peak summer is the best time to get those hard yards done, as the days are long and the temperatures often reach 30 degrees Celsius. Heat adaptation is one of the trickier elements to understand for endurance mountain biking. The only natural way to adapt is to spend time in the heat and sweat literal buckets.

By mid-March, most local Cape Epic riders will have had no option but to acclimate to the heat and be well-adjusted to it. Certain conditions can come up unexpectedly, like in 2017 when the race left Hermanus in soaring 40-degree temperatures, with the organisers eventually cutting the stage distance to just 65km. 

Cape Epic
George Hincapie and Cadel Evans during the Cape Epic 2017 prologue at Meerendal, a day before that Hermanus stage which decimated the field. (Photo: Nick Muzik/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS)

Tour de France pros and Cape Epic heat

I was spectating at the Cape Epic 2017. We were part of a group that was lucky enough to spend some time with Tour De France winner Cadel Evans and his teammate for the race George Hincapie. 

The pair won the Masters category that year, seemingly on a diet of local wine, if our dinner together was anything to go by. Both confirmed that conditions on the 'Hermanus-hell-stage' were unbearable.

Having ridden more than 20 Grand Tours, Evans and Hincapie carry immense authority, and said organisers made the right call to finish the stage early.

Cape Epic
Cape Epic stages get so hot that riders need to cool down their shoes. (Photo: Dominic Barnardt/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS)

The Overberg is windy  

Aside from the obvious heat, don't be surprised to find yourself battling strong, gusty winds on the Hermanus, Stanford and Lourensford days.

The Cape summer is plagued by Southerly winds that often crest 60km/h, which makes for slow and painful progress when it's pumping into your face (which it always seems to do). 

Inland stages surrounding Oak Valley are less affected by the wind, but with that comes stagnant heat.

Cape Epic
Cape Town road riding in summer is all about coping with wind, which can become a challenge on those long dirt road sections of the Cape Epic. (Photo: Ash Oldfield)

You can ride strongly from snow to summer

It’s not all terrible news if you’re overseas and currently training in the Northern Hemisphere winter.

Simon Andreassen of Cannondale Factory Racing pulled off some sort of miracle at the 2022 Attakwas race (a 122km event scheduled as a heat test in January each year).

He flew in from training in snowy Denmark. Then he proceeded to win one of the hottest Attakwas on record by measuring his effort better than the local pros—showing that slower can be faster when conditions are stiflingly hot.   

Cape Epic
CSixx is based in Woodstock but globally renowned for its premium mountain bike components. And these carbon handlebars ride terrifically. (Photo: Ash Oldfield)

Carbon bars make a difference

How is my weekend warrior Cape Epic training progressing? I have made some good gains on the fitness front, which I will come to later, but I have found some substantial comfort gains in the form of carbon handlebars for my Pyga Stage.

I’ll cut a long story short, I snapped my previous handlebar clean off in a classic crash at the 2021 Wines2Wales race and have used a borrowed aluminium bar ever since. 

Local component manufacturer cSixx has begun designing and producing its own range of carbon handlebars for most MTB disciplines. They are light, strong, look great and have seemingly superb feedback damping. 

The reduction in shake and fatigue in my upper body over long rides was noticeable immediately. Wrist pain and forearm fatigue don’t appear to be an issue on long rides of five hours.

Many riders think of the handlebar merely as a steering component, but it carries a lot of your rider weight. It can be a significant comfort and fatigue-mitigation upgrade, too. I'm pleased that such a small change has made a big difference.

Cape Epic
Hours of harsh off-road terrain can punish your hands, wrists and shoulders. A locally designed carbon handlebar from cSixx helps to reduce the fatigue. (Photo: Ash Oldfield)

Into the final Cape Epic training phase 

My training is changing with the Cape Epic less than three months away. The long weeks are well under way, and much of my training has focused on threshold improvements and long stints at zone 4 power. These have sometimes been two-hour intervals at just below threshold, with intermittent, short kicks into zone 5 to simulate those technical climbs which require short bursts of power to crest a rocky outcrop or steeper section. 

I work on the traditional four-week training block plan, where three weeks gradually build up training load, and the fourth week is a recovery week. This halves my time in the saddle and focuses on recovery rides (there can still be long zone 2 rides during this week). 

For the last two months, I’ve been trying to hit between 14 and 16 hours of riding per week, with recovery weeks being around eight hours. Loading up consecutively long rides on weekends appears to be helping me adapt to the load as I’ll do a hard four-hour ride on a Saturday followed by an 'easy' five-hour trail ride on Sunday. 

Cape Epic
You need to earn your Cape Epic heatproofing. And South Africa has all the dirt road mountain passes to facilitate that. (Photo: Ash Oldfield)

How many hours should you be riding?

The use of power data during training has proved quite motivational, seeing the watts for similar sessions every week steadily increase. My Power2Max is around ten months old and has yet to need a battery replacement despite daily use - I'm not complaining.

A few interesting numbers to divulge from it at the end of December: my one-hour power number increased, toppling my 2022 best (albeit by just 3 Watts). This is a good sign considering it’s still quite early in the season. There is also a four-hour average power increase from 180 Watts to 188 Watts, something probably quite useful considering those Cape Epic stages will be around six- to seven-hours long in March.     

January and February are long hard slogs regarding both hours needed to complete and hot weather adaptation. Think of it as eight weeks of sacrifice, before a relatively easy taper before the start at Meerendal.

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