It was really cool to come back for the 2017 Cape Epic. I loved the challenge: putting a team together, working out strategy, deciding on equipment. As well as the training, where it's always a fine line to be in shape and recovered enough. All really cool. But it's happiness now. I have retired for real.
Jaroslav Kulhavy and I wanted to win the final Stage 7 on Sunday, but I wasn't fresh enough. I was very much at the limit for the last five minutes on Franschhoek Pass. Into the headwind, Nicola Rohrbach was driving the bunch but when we turned and it became a tailwind and I saw Nino Schurter go to the front, I knew it was going to be very hard to find any more watts.
A few of us got dropped but Jaro gave me a couple of pushes and I knew that we'd be fast in our aero position on the descent and we did quickly catch them.
But coming in to the finish at Val de Vie Estate wasn't as expected. I thought there would be a bit of drafting and recovering on some dirt roads but it was always sandy, and after the last water point, very loose sand with rocks. When you've already been on the limit, if you lose just a few seconds the stage is gone.
Riding over the finish line was bittersweet. We wanted to win the Epic, so I'm not happy with second place. On the other hand, we can be proud of our achievement. This year's race was very, very hard.
You know when you start the Epic that everything can go down the drain in a second. Two flat tyres is completely average, but Jaro and I had one hiccup too many. When you're at the limit and it's seven days into racing and you get another hiccup, it's so hard to chase back to a very strong team who are having a smooth ride. By the end of the race, I was empty and was just happy that the finish line was here and that it was all over.
After the Epic, we'll have a team dinner, then a chilled breakfast the next morning. I'll do some media, a private dinner, and then we fly back to Switzerland.
Next month I get properly married: the non-emotional marriage – signing papers – because we've already had the party. Then a few days' holiday in Italy…and, yes, we'll take the trail bikes. And the ebike.
Since I retired a year and a half ago, I've never had a moment where I'm bored. There's always something to do: go for a ride, test equipment, do my job with Specialized, work on my bikes, or do something with my wife Andrea.
I would say the Cape Epic is very close to being perfect, but I think the live coverage can still improve. That would allow mountain biking to raise its profile and start to compete with road. It's never going to be as easy as on the road: like the Tour de France, you would need a relay plane to relay on the broadcast signal from the helicopters. It's hard for me to judge because I've always been part of the race so I couldn't watch it but I hear people say that the Epic's live streaming still sometimes breaks down.
People often ask athletes about the secrets of success. First, I say, you have to bring the talent. There can be a million riders doing exactly what Nino is doing, but they'll never make it. That is for sure. You have to find where your talent lies. I did so many sports and I loved them all but I had only average talent. I also loved mountain biking but very quickly discovered I had a talent for it.
Then, you have to be clever. One of the most important things is to train your weakness. You can only train so many hours in one day, so to get the most out of it, train your weakness.
I've ridden the Cape Epic 13 times, but Stage 5 this year was a very dark place for me. I've been dropped at the Epic before but only very much towards the end of the race and when it didn't count. Stage 5 was the first time at the Epic where it really counted if my rivals rode away.
I'm somebody who never gives up. There's something about keeping on going hard, even if you have a thousand excuses to let go. That competitive spirit has paid off so many times and even on Stage 5, by the end I felt really good again. Never give up. Out of your comfort zone is where the magic happens.
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