Four weeks ago began an epic journey:
The Cape Epic once again did its name justice. The scenery, course, kilometres, climbing and the commitment of the riders were all epic!
The eight days of the Cape Epic catapulted the Novus OMX Pro Team into the media spotlight in a way never before experienced. It all started on Sunday 15th March with the Prologue, a 20 kilometre time trial on the slopes of Table Mountain.
For Martin Gujan and Fabian Giger, a truly world-class professional Swiss pairing, the Cape Epic could not have got off to a better start. They came into the race under the radar, inexperienced and with no grandiose statements of intent, but made their mark very quickly. An awesome display of speed and skill saw them win the opening day and go straight into the overall leader’s jerseys. The Novus OMX Pro Team brand was now very much at the forefront of world mountain biking’s attention.
For the Novus OMX Pro Team girls,an all-South African pair of Mariske Strauss and Cherie Vale,the Epic got off to a more steady start. A conservative approach, which they hoped would see them safely through the race without mishap, mechanical or meltdown, saw them sneak inside the top ten on day one, and then gradually work their way up the rankings as the week went on.
Starting in Cape Town, the race transferred to beautiful Oak Valley, Grabouw, and proceeded onto the long hours and many miles in the saddle each day which characterise the Epic. Oak Valley saw both Novus OMX Pro Teams settle into the race and look to consolidate strong starts. With two fifth places Martin and Fabian established themselves as contenders for stage podiums, and in addition they maintained a very respectful fifth place in the general classification. Mariske and Cherie were also showing some good form, moving up a place in the general classification thanks to a tenth and eighth place on stages one and two respectively.
Confidence and camaraderie were at a high as the longest day loomed. The transfer from Oak Valley to Wellington was 121km of harsh dirt roads. Under the baking hot sun and into strong head wind, this stage was never going to be an easy affair. Indeed, it was the day it all got a bit too epic for Cherie. Her body was tired, her legs heavy and soon her head was battling with the effort as well. This was when the strength of Mariske and Cherie’s partnership really shone. Protecting Cherie from the wind and offering food, encouragement and advice, Mariske coaxed her friend and team mate through to the finish line. Cherie was a broken rider when she arrived in Worcester, barely able to get off her bike, and struggling to find any positivity.
What makes the Cape Epic so unique, and what makes the riders so inspirational, is that the following day the girls were back on the start line, smiles across their faces and ready to go into battle with 111 kilometres and 2000 metres of climbing. The boys too were motivated and ready not only to complete the next stages but to race them, pedal to metal, at the front of the elite pack. Their fitness, finesse and focus were truly remarkable to witness.
And so it went on. Both teams were making a real impression on the race, both in terms of their results and their professional but personable manner off the bike.
From Worcester the race moved onto Wellington. This transfer stage was billed as the ‘King Stage’ thanks to its long distance, technical trails and copious amounts of climbing. In spite of everything that the day threw at them, the Novus OMX Pro Teams conquered the stage in fine fashion, both pairs taking sixth on the day.
Stage six offered mixed fortunes for the team. After riding the previous stages with a mind to get through the Epic and not burn-out, on stage six Mariske and Cherie switched up their strategy and chased down a podium. Their self-belief was rewarded with a fantastic third place. Their big smiles broadened, a Cape Epic podium was theirs to savour.
For Martin, who had ridden out of his skin all week – up at the front of the race and challenging some of the very best riders in the World at a discipline he doesn’t specialise in, in a race he’s never done before – the tank emptied! Like Cherie on stage four, Martin had to dig very deep into his reserves of energy and spirit, and like Mariske, Fabian’s job was to see that the pair could pull through. With their overall standing at stake, the boys mustered every last watt to power through to the finish and onto the final stage.
Stage seven, day eight, took the riders on their final leg of the Epic journey, from Wellington to the wine estate of Meerendal. The girls finished with a solid sixth place on the day and the boys, a week after they stormed to the prologue victory and into the leader’s jerseys, performed an amazing comeback to once again ride onto the podium. Attacking the overall race leaders on the last climb, the boys crossed the final finish line of the Cape Epic just a few seconds down on the win and to the rapturous applause of a huge crowd.
With the podium ceremonies over, it was time to pop the corks on Meerendal’s sparkling wine and toast the end of a testing, sometimes stressful but ultimately hugely successful week. Novus OMX Pro Team entered the Cape Epic as outsiders for a possible podium finish on a single stage, and finished up with three podiums, a day in the Elite Men’s leader’s jerseys, and the utmost respect from the mountain biking world. Ninth place overall for the Martin and Fabian and sixth for Mariske and Cherie, coupled with the three podium places, exceeded expectation. Our athletes put on a stunning performance, highlighting themselves and the team as world-class.
The five o’clock starts, the midday heat, the almost interminable miles and the nightly knowledge that tomorrow would bring the same were all eventually worthwhile. Martin and Fabian, and Mariske and Cherie, did the team very proud.
The Cape Epic journey has finished, but the 2015 season is only just starting…
We are full of confidence and we are ready to race. #weareOMX