Eight days, five venues, 658 kilometres, two sick riders, three finishers, one third place overall. The 2018 Cape Epic is done.
We are currently a bit too tired to really appreciate the journey we have been on and to celebrate what has been achieved. It’s hard to quantify the successes, but there have undoubtedly been many.
We must start with the quite incredible third place overall for the Silverback-KMC team of Mariske and Annie. The result in itself is no less than was expected from this partnership. They were second overall last year, bagging a stage win along the way, and came into the race as one of the favourites. However, racing the final two days whilst suffering from a nasty sickness virus puts a whole new spin on this achievement. Mariske suffered so hard, and Annie worked so well to nurture them to the finish line. Fifth place today was more than enough to see them step onto the overall podium in front of huge crowds in Val de Vie.
They were disappointed to have not been able to race the way they wanted to in the final days, and to show what they were fully capable of. But having such a strong start to the race and establishing such an impressive time buffer is something that they are proud of. Once again they proved that a great partnership is worth so much in this extraordinary race.
Secondly, the new and exciting partnership from Martin and Raph. The guys had only known each other for two weeks when they embarked on the toughest of mountain bike races, but they showed a noble desire to suffer and work for one and other from day one. With this they moved from 33rd in the overall rankings after day one, up to 13th on day six. Two 11th place finishes demonstrated their ability to deliver results, and seeing them race at the very front of the lead group on Stage 4 was a really special and proud moment. Sickness was our worst enemy during this Cape Epic, and Martin succumbed irrevocably. His withdrawal on the morning of Stage 7 was a really saddening sight. Martin had raced so well – drawing on his Cape Epic experience and displaying some impressive strength – so it was especially hard to see him reluctantly side-lined. With the form and confidence that Martin showed over the first six days, we are really excited for the season ahead.
Thirdly comes Raph’s strength of spirit. There are very few people who can put themselves into the hurt locker for hours on end and then raise a smile at the end. Or who offer to go back to the food tent and collect an extra lunch pack for their team manager at the end of a stage. Or who don the Lonely Leopard jersey with such understanding and compassion when their partner is forced to retire from the race. Or who think about carrying said partner’s race number in their back pocket to the finish line because “You don’t leave a team mate behind”. Raph’s first Cape Epic was a baptism of fire, but he handled it amazingly. And he finished!
Lastly is a mention for the team behind the riders. Supporting such World-class athletes is a privilege and an honour, but it’s not glamourous and it’s not easy, especially at Cape Epic. We are all still alive, and all smiling. That’s definitely a success!
We are raising a glass of South Africa’s finest, and then making a beeline for bed! Over and out.
The penultimate day of the Cape Epic is usually a welcome stage of the race: with the end in sight, morale is boosted and motivation is high. However, this morning our spirit took a real knock. Illness had struck the team and continuing the race was in serious jeopardy.
By 0530 it was clear that the fever which struck Martin yesterday afternoon had not abated, and he was simply too ill to start Stage 6. We announced the following:
We are sad to say that Martin Gluth has to withdraw from the Cape Epic today.
After some sensational rides in the last six days riding at the very front of the race, he has succumbed to the sickness virus that has spread across the Epic village.
It’s devastating news for both Martin and Raphaël. They were battling hard to close in on a top 10 finish, recovering from a 33rd place on the prologue to 13th overall last night.
As always, the rider’s health must come first and whilst we are all disappointed at the news, we can be immensely proud of the effort, professionalism and courage the two riders displayed to race amongst the World’s best in the toughest race of them all.
Raphaël will start today as a ‘Lonely Leopard’ and we will give him our full support as always in the final two days of the race.
With that tough decision made, another was just around the corner. Mariske had also fallen sick during the night and was unable to keep any food or liquids down. With half an hour before the start, she made the decision to try and race. It would be a matter of steady survival mode and seeing if her body was capable of completing the day.
To our amazement, and with thanks to Annie for her unwavering support and assistance, the Silverback-KMC duo kept going. Water Point by Water Point, they ticked off the kilometres and edged closer to the finish line. It was almost inevitable that the team behind them in General Classification – the strong Team Ascendis pair of Sabine Spitz and Robyn de Groot – would overtake them. The focus was therefore on holding off the fourth placed team of DormaKaba 2. With incredible willpower, they only lost 1 minute and 24 seconds, and with that they sit comfortably in third place overall. A podium in Val di Vie is still in sight.
Mariske went to the medical tent immediately after the finish to asses her condition and thankfully nothing is cause for concern. She is recovering well now, but we cannot be sure how she will feel tomorrow. Fingers crossed that this tough lady can make it to the finish line.
With his partner sidelined, Raph was still keen to make it to the finish line in Val di Vie and complete his first Cape Epic, albeit not in the way he had hoped. Donning his fetching new leopard print jersey, Raph rolled off with the ‘C’ Batch, behind the UCI Men, UCI Women, ‘A’ and ‘B’ groups. He rode up through groups on the open sections and then sat behind on the singletrails and enjoyed the South African countryside.
Yesterday evening and this morning really tested the strength of spirit within the team. Months of preparation go into the Epic from both the riders and the staff, and to fall short is really hard to handle. However, looking back on an awesome effort from Martin and Raph over the first six days, and looking ahead to what Martin’s form indicates could be an amazing season, fills us with pride and excitement. As for Mariske, it is hard to describe the physical and mental toughness she displayed today. It is far beyond the limits of most of us.
Martin is smiling again and Mariske is feeling much better. Health comes first, and hopefully Raph, Mariske and Annie crossing the line in Val di Vie tomorrow comes next!
Stage 5 saw the return of a mid-race time-trial, last raced in the Cape Epic in 2011. The route was a relatively short 39km but with 1800m of ascent and every second counting, there was no expectation of an easy day.
Martin and Raph rode a controlled and tactical time-trial, finishing in 18th place but holding on to their 13th place in General Classification. Mariske and Annie also defended their overall position with another podium ride – third today keeps them in second heading into the final two days.
Martin and Raph began their stage at 0713. The sun was up but the air still held an overnight chill. Having discussed their plan of attack last night, the guys knew that they must leave energy for the top of the main climb which got increasingly rocky and difficult towards the summit. Consistency was king today; steady on the way out and strong on the way home. With Martin having been the stronger of the two thus far, he pulled on the front when the speed was fast and the tracks were wide, and Raph set the pace on the narrow climbs. With “the best singltrack day so far”, according to Raph, the pair clocked a time of 1:55.05 which slotted them into 18th position.
A smart race and a great partnership today.
It was another podium performance for the Silverback-KMC pair of Mariske and Annie. Annie led them out after rolling down the start ramp at 0759, and they two disappeared round the corner at the end of the start straight to rapturous applause from the crowds gathered at Huguenot High School here in Wellington.
After an amazing bounce-back performance yesterday, Mariske again struggled to find her legs today. Racing the Epic is such a delicate balance of effort, exhaustion, illness and recovery. And even when you manage all of those things, sometimes you just don’t have the strength that you hoped for. Amazingly, with a combination of experience, consistency and determination, the team were still able to pull off an impressive third place. Even when Mariske’s legs are a little weak, her mind is so strong! Annie rode a great race to pace her partner to perfection and bring the team home. Team work makes the dream work!
Today was a classic example of it taking more than strong legs to succeed at the Cape Epic. You need tactical nouse and togetherness as well; looking after your body and each other.
The Queen Stage delivered a battle royale today; 113km with vicious climbs and testing traverses, all whilst fighting to create or close gaps and move up the General Classification.
The transition stage from Worcester to Wellington saw Silverback-KMC achieve their best result so far with a superb 2nd place, whilst the Silverback OMX Pro Team fought another strong battle to finish 11th place and jump up to 13th in the General Classification.
Yesterday, Mariske said at the finish that she had left her legs in the camper that morning. Thankfully we found them and gave them back to her before she set off from Worcester today! The Silverback-KMC pairing were full of fun, even at 0630 as they rolled to the start, and they were still smiling at the finish line (although we guess they stopped for some time in between!). The long singletrack trails played to their strengths and they were able to expend energy efficiently as the route twisted and dived through rocky terrain. Annie lost two water bottles early on which made for a tough time in the searing heat, but she managed to recover well after Water Point 2. Riding together with Team Ascendis, Mariske and Annie knew that the pressure was off them; Ascendis were lying behind them in the overall standings so the onus was on them to make up time. Content to follow the wheels and let the pace drop, it wasn’t until the entrance to the final singletrack that the Silverback-KMC team decided to make a move and make some time. With Ascendis’ Robyn de Groot evidently feeling the strain, it was a perfect attack. Annie and Mariske soloed into Wellington in second place. With Team Spur withdrawing from the race this morning, Silverback-KMC are up to second place in General Classification with three stages to go.
After some very hard days in the saddle, it was with a little trepidation that Raph headed to the start line this morning. However, once the race started rolling it was clear that this Cape Epic newbie was ready to fight another day with the big guns. Both guys were suffering to hold the pace in the early stages, but they made the crucial split and were still with the leaders through Water Point 2 at 45km. The group rocketed in, scrambled to collect their bottles and sprinted out again. It was like feeding time at the zoo! From there the climbs came and the decisive moves were made. Silverback OMX Pro pair dropped back before they topped out their rev limiters, and soon other teams also cracked under the pressure of the leaders. Martin and Raph were caught by teams behind them, but also caught up to teams ahead. It was a constant fight to keep the balance of catching and being caught in their favour. They sat in a group of three teams up the famous Bain’s Kloof Pass – a 9km tarmac climb – and then began the descent down to Wellington. The group swelled to four teams on the approach to the finish so the guys hatched a plan to win the sprint. Raph attacked early to lead the group in, and Martin then had to use his explosive power to finish as high as possible in the bunch sprint. It worked perfectly, with the guys crossing the line 1st and 2nd and taking 11th place. In a long race like Cape Epic, the difference between 11th and 14th on one stage is not all that important, but these boys love racing and winning a sprint is always good fun!
We have broken the back of the 2018 Cape Epic, and done so in style today. Three more days to go.
“The Longest Day” was a hard and fast 122km, transitioning from Robertson to Worcester.
Silverback-KMC finished in fourth after a day of suffering for Mariske, but held onto their third place overall. Martin and Raph were put under pressure from the big, marathon men but they fought hard for a great 13th position at the finish.
“I think I left my legs in the camper this morning”, said Mariske at the finish line. However she tried to loosen them off, push through the barrier or settle into a good pace, they just wouldn’t respond. It’s an awful feeling, both physically and mentally. But on day four of the Cape Epic there is little you can do except push on the best you can and hope for a change of fortune.
With Annie feeling strong, she took to the front and rode in support of her team mate. Communication is key, and this partnership has it dialled. A crash for Annie and a puncture for Mariske didn’t help their cause, but with calm professionalism they pressed on, working hard all the way to Worcester. Damage limitation was effective; the ladies finished fourth but retained their 3rd place in General Classification with a seven minute buffer over fourth place.
In the Men’s race, today’s stage was the big chance for the marathon specialists to make time on their cross-country compatriots. And they took it. Pushing a high pace, they motored along the district dirt roads like a train! Gaps were established early on but Martin and Raph knew what to expect and they managed to make the second major group on the route, sheltering in the wheels and holding onto the high pace. It was not an easy ride, but they managed to save enough in the tank to win the sprint for 13th position in Worcester. They stay 16th in General Classification and, despite some serious suffering in places, still raise a smile at the finish.
Four days down and four to go. The rhythm of racing is here, but so too is the fatigue. Early mornings, hard hours in the saddle and life in the race village is not easy. The half way stage is mentally tough; you are tired but there is still a long way to go. Luckily these riders are made of tough stuff – it is quite incredible to see them perform at such a high level, day after day.
With the riders now sleeping, the staff are hard at work preparing bikes, making food, doing laundry, tidying up and ensuring that our teams are in the best possible position to race hard again tomorrow. Stage 4 here we come!
Stage 2 was a tough day, but our riders were tougher!
Mariske and Annie claimed a thrilling third place, less than 1 second behind second position. Martin and Raph showed their capabilities today with a brilliant race: positioning well, taking their turn at the front, and coming home with a strong 11th place.
Having been dealt a harsh hand yesterday, Martin and Raph were determined to find their feet at the front of the race and prove their Cape Epic credentials. With the sun spilling over the mountains behind them, the Elite Men sped out of the start and into 106km of tough terrain and they were up towards the front, just where they wanted to be. As they zig-zagged through the vineyards towards Water Point 1, the duo were sitting comfortably in the front group, looking to have found that critical balance between eagerness and efficiency. Chasing through the Robertson Valley after them, we saw the race flying down the dirt roads kicking up a trail of dust that silhouetted them against the bright morning sun. As the long train of riders slowed and turned towards us we could see that it was Martin sitting on the front with Raph tucked in behind him. Very few riders have the talent to lead the front pack at the Cape Epic, but our guys were stepping up to that mark. They passed through Water Point 2 in second position, and stayed with the lead group until the attacks started coming from the big title contenders on the final major climb. Raph didn’t have the top end power to stay with these accelerations so the pair settled into a sustainable pace and pushed for home. Sprinting into the finish line, Martin and Raph held off Cape Epic legends, Karl Platt and Urs Huber, to take 11th spot, and only 4:46 off the leaders after 4 hours and 10 minutes of racing. And with that they jump up to 16th overall. That’s what you call a good day!
Mariske and Annie had a third place in General Classification to defend as they rolled out on Stage 2. With the long game in mind, the pair aimed to have a conservative day, riding consistently and efficiently rather than swinging between the red zone and recovery. Of course, that’s easier said than done when the race leaders are attacking! Finding a compromise between staying with the leading group and not over-exerting themselves, Annie and Mariske followed wheels on the flat and found their own rhythm on the climbs and descents. A big attack from the leading team of Songo Specialized was too fast to follow, but with an efficient pace they could close the gap to second-placed Team Spur and ride the final 20 kilometres together as a group of four. Deciding it was not worth the expenditure of effort to try and split the group and push hard for home, a sprint was on the cards. It was thrillingly close but Spur took 2nd place by less than a second, and Silverback-KMC took the third spot on the podium but with no time lost to their closest rival. They remain 3rd in the overall standings and feel in a strong position for the coming five days. The big smiles on the podium say it all!
Three days down, five to go. It’s only just getting started…
The first of four consecutive days over 100km got underway on Stage 1. It was the first real test of this year’s epic – who could handle the heat?
For Silverback OMX it was a case of handling it in different ways; the ladies turned up the heat and claimed a fantastic third place, whilst the men kept their cool after puncturing and then turned on the burners to chase back to 22nd.
A strong sun shone down on the finish line at Arabella Wine Estate, but the air was still cool as the sun rose and the riders rolled to the start. Cloud cover kept the temperature down in the early stages of the race but the clearing skies, brutal climbs and long district road drags made for an increasingly tough day.
Martin and Raph faced these challenges having already been dealt bad luck. A big sidewall puncture only five minutes into the stage left them biting the dust as the Elite field disappeared into the distance. With huge thanks to the Silverback Volvo team of Shaun-Nick Bester and Jaco Pelser, the guys could get a replacement rear wheel for Raph and begin their chase. Losing time so early in the stage left them alone and facing the day without wheels to follow and groups to shelter in. Not only is it physically harder, it’s a tough mental game. Thankfully Raph and Martin have both strong legs and strong heads! They made one more stop to adjust the rubbing brake on the replacement wheel, and the rest of the time it was pedal to metal to limit their losses and finish in 22nd. Hopes of a good overall result are not lost, and we are excited to see what this pair can do when luck is on their side!
Mariske and Annie were plagued by press rather than punctures, with a storming ride to take 3rd place and move into 3rd overall! They crossed the line with huge smiles and were immediately surrounded by cameras and microphones. Talking about the day’s racing they explained that the pace gradually built up as they wound out of the wine estate and onto the gravel roads. Second-placed Team Spur followed the lead of the Zebra jersey, Team Specialized Songo, but Annie and Mariske opted to hold back and not push too hard too early. They joined up with Team Ascendis and DormaKaba and the group worked well on the open tracks around Water Point 2. Knowing their technical strengths, the duo tried to attack into the next single track section, but a wily Sabine Spitz picked up on the plan and blocked Mariske’s opportunity to overtake. Next time around, heading into the Land Rover Technical Terrain section, the ladies were sure to be at the front and from there they built their lead over fourth place. Hammering hard towards home, they claimed the podium spot and gave themselves a five and a half minute advantage over Team Ascendis in the General Classification. Another great display of team work and fine form. Congratulations Annie and Mariske!
Some days team can be proud of their riders because they make the podium, and some days they are proud because of great character and spirit when the going gets tough. Today was both!
Tomorrow we face Stage 2: 110km again, and 2000m of ascent. Bring it on!
The 2018 Cape Epic kicked off in classic style, with scorching sun and dusty trails on the slopes of the iconic Table Mountain.
The Silverback-KMC pairing of Mariske Strauss and Annie Last laid down the fourth fastest time in the Women’s field, whilst the Silverback OMX Pro Team duo of Martin Gluth and Raphaël Gagné made a solid start with 18th place.
Raced over 20 kilometre, with 600 metres of climbing, the Prologue was a tasty appetiser of what’s to come. Despite not being too technically taxing, concentration was key. The race cannot be won on the opening day, but it can be lost with a moment of misjudgement or excessive eagerness!
With a Cape Epic together already under their belts, Mariske and Annie were relaxed and confident ahead of today’s test. Annie was cool as a cucumber on the start ramp, and Mariske had a little dance. They looked across at each other, smiled, and rolled down the ramp with a sparkle in their eyes.
It wasn’t a perfect day, with the heat suppressing that top end power and making Annie feel a bit flat, but a sensible, sustainable effort led the ladies to a great 4th position. They were just 1 second off the podium, and 2 minutes 15 seconds behind the winners.
Starting his first Cape Epic, Raph was excited and intrigued. He had asked all the right questions and done all the right preparation, but in the end there is only one way to discover the untamed Epic.
The starter counted them down and off they went to face the first of 658 kilometres. After 48 minutes of racing they crossed the line feeling rather hot but happy with their efforts. Having guzzled some water and thrown the rest over his head, Raph was quick to emphasise his “amazing partner”. “Martin is very clever; a smart racer”, he explained. With good legs and smart heads, they took a solid 18th place. The time gaps are small and the race is long.
And so one day of the Cape Epic is ticked off already. But with a race like this, the work doesn’t stop when the riders cross the line. Recovery from today and preparation for tomorrow are key to success. Following a two hour drive up to Arabella Wine Estate outside Robertson, the team camp is now set up for three days. Eat, sleep, race, repeat.
We are excited to announce that we will once again be racing the World’s premier mountain bike stage race, the Cape Epic.
The 2018 edition of this infamous race will be held from the 18th to the 25th of March, travelling through South Africa’s stunning Western Cape region.
Silverback OMX will be entering two teams to compete with many of the World’s best Marathon and cross-country racers on this acclaimed international stage. In addition, we are lucky to have Silverback’s South African outfit, Silverback Volvo, riding in support of our team, offering assistance in the case of mechanicals or mishaps.
OMX Pro Team has had huge success at Cape Epic, winning the Prologue in 2015 and the Queen Stage in 2017, plus many other podiums.
But success is not just measured in medals. When riders have crashed and staff have become seriously ill, when mechanicals have put the future of the race on hold, when our bodies have decided enough is enough we have had the strength of mind and the power of passion to pull together and pull through. Nothing tests you quite like the Cape Epic does. And nothing beats the satisfaction of sharing success in this harsh environment.
This year the riders will cover a total of 658km and 13530m of climbing as they race from the Prologue on the iconic Table Mountain to the majestic Val de Vie Estate seven days later. Technical terrain, searing heat and long days characterise this race, and the 2018 edition will be no different.
The Cape Epic is something exceptional; it heightens every emotion, pushes you further than you thought possible, and challenges every aspect of mountain bike racing. It is a giant, a legend. It is untamed, but it is not unbeatable.