- by Oli Munnik
Sunday saw the culmination of the most bad-ass mountain bike race on the planet, the Cape Epic. It also happened to coincide with April Fool’s day, giving Dr Evil the perfect chance to pull a fast one on the riders with the excuse of it being a “joke”! But this year it seems he decided to play it safe, and as it turns out, it was a wise move on his part. Why? Because the entire field had already suffered a sense of humour failure (and many tears) due to the extreme weather and outrageously testing terrain encountered during the race. An extra loop or “secret” climb on the final day would have meant a price on his head!
What the media covers is the usual Cape Epic story which continually and seemingly exclusively focuses on the leaders and their exploits at the sharp end of the race. Their efforts are unquestionably amazing and absolutely mind blowing, however this is but a fraction of the true Cape Epic.
Despite what the annual TV coverage (dominated by the leading teams) might suggest, there are actually in the region of 1180 other riders in the race! Christoph and Burry might be winning a stage or 6 but at the end of the day every finisher is a true hero! Some teams “race” every stage just to beat the cut-off time. They routinely endure 8, 9 and even 10 hour days in the saddle! The Pros themselves are always quick to applaud the rest of the field, showering them with deserved respect, acknowledgment and admiration for their efforts. From teams in the top 100 to the teams fighting the cut-off battle, they’re all machines!
This point brings me to the ‘hidden epic’ – behind the scenes there are literally hundreds of ‘worker bees’ who ensure that the Epic hums along at its frantic pace. They include amongst others the full timers, volunteers, water point staff, medics, bag handlers, caterers, photographers, press and, of course, security personnel. Day in and day out, they’re in the teeth of the wind and/or in the open during a downpour! They too, are true Epic machines. The race would be crippled without them!
I spent most of my time at Lourensford on Sunday with two great friends of mine, the legendary ying and yang of mountain bike photography, Gary Perkin and Sven Martin. The two South African legends form part of the media contingent of the ‘hidden epic’ and are tasked, every year, with capturing the essence of the Cape Epic. They bring the event to life, recording gigabytes of material so that we may never forget the personal achievement, and of course, the suffering! Chances are you’ve probably unknowingly marvelled at many of their shots.
After several years riding pillion on a motorbike (which saw him, one year, compress a vertebrae chasing the leaders) Gary upgraded this year to a helicopter. This doesn’t mean life is much easier or safer for that matter… Gary told me the helicopter dropped a harrowing 300 foot vertically when they hit an unstable air pocket alongside a ridge outside of Caledon. Fortunately he is still alive to tell the tale! Sven on the other hand was stuck on land, pinning it on the back of a motorbike. It seems for the 8 days both Sven and Gary’s lives are in the hands of their respective pilots.
Their day doesn’t end with the winners crossing the finish line. Once the champagne has been sprayed and the trophies lifted, Gary, Sven and the rest of the media contingent head for the media zone where they download, select and edit their ‘daily selection’ which is then further cut down to a final selection for the official Cape Epic website.
Ed’s note: Gary and Sven were two of the official Epic photographers. Bicycling sent our own photographer to capture exactly what Oli is talking about – the hundreds of riders that make up the race, and try to beat the cut off gun each day. You can check out all his great pics here
Another example of a guy testing the limits is Nic Lamond who finished in 25th for RSA Web Songo.info. Not only was he racing but after every stage, he too headed straight into the media centre to get his daily edit ready for the Cape Times. These guys are machines!
I met Gary and Sven back in 2007 during my first Epic. I was 21 and a downhiller at heart (which I don’t think has changed much). Over the course of the race we interacted during the stages and I was able to provide them with some ‘not-so-serious cross country’ shots which they loved! You know, a different angle to the usual race face. Over the years we have had a lot of fun at races both in South Africa and Europe. I spent one of the best week’s of my life with Sven and his cronies (who are now my cronies) dominating the monster trails around Lake Garda in Italy! And it was all made possible by Gary who said I should go in his place. Good times with good okes and of course my 160mm rental bike, the “Fritz”! It was never quite the same after we launched it into the lake! (Travel trip: Lake Garda is paradise.)
The Cape Epic has always been a good time and place to catch up with the two globetrotting photographers. And with me not entered this year I made a point to find them at Lourensford. Unsurprisingly I bumped into them in the thick of post race action, shooting the overall GC podium presentations. This would be their penultimate duty after 8 hellishly long days. As I said howzit, I was humbled when they turned around and both shouted… “We missed you this year, it’s just not the same without you”. With them being the best of the best in their business it was really special. I banked that feeling!
This is simply the Cape Epic story of 2 guys who I know. There are hundreds of other people out there that deserve a round of high 5s for their contribution to making the race what it is. None more so than Sarah Harrop (the engine room behind the event) who needed a big hug and SOME DEEP BREATHING when I saw her! It might have been April Fools on Sunday, but there are no jokes when it comes to the Cape Epic. The race means business and it doesn’t disappoint. It breeds machines!
And on that note I’m heading out tomorrow to start training for next year’s 10 year anniversary!
Keep up with Sven and Gary’s exploits at http://www.svenmartinphotography.com/ and http://blog.flipper.co.za/category/gary-perkin/
Oli is currently living the dream as a professional mountain biker, racing for the GT squad based out of Cape Town. Keep up with Oli on his blog http://olivermunnik.wordpress.com