Force feeding to get through the Cape Epic

Jason Sager and Justin Lindine of World Bicycle Relief during stage 1

Jason Sager and Justin Lindine of World Bicycle Relief during stage 1 (Image credit: Nick Muzik / Cape Epic / Sportzpics)

Slowly and with the enthusiasm of a lumbersome conveyor belt, we masticated our meal. Flip flop shodden feet, covered in mud, we sought refuge underneath the black table cloth as we stared into the distance of the white RV walls. Coffee steamed, untouched.

Two toasts, saturated with a full pat of butter each and a double helping of jam. A ladle of porridge. Maybe a yogurt if things were really crazy. Ground Hog Day has nothing on the mornings of a stage race.

An army marches on its stomach, and a stage race is no different. You must fuel to function, and especially when it comes to breakfast, its important to keep it simple, proven, and on schedule. My strategy is to eat enough to offset the morning stomach emptiness that follows a night of sleep, but really to focus on eating while on the bike. Early in the week we're all in "race-food" mode - gels, blocks, proven fuels from the cross country scene.

Eating becomes a chore, a task like folding laundry or bringing the garbage cans up from the curb on pick-up day. As the race goes on, pallets, and the pace, evolve. Sandwiches, cookies, banana bread..things that normally you'd find too heavy, chewy, or prone to collecting dust become fair game. I even mistook a Marmite sandwich for PB&J. I'm not sure what "savory" really tastes like, but Wikipedia said Marmite is savory. I found it salty and pretty nasty, even after five hours on the bike. Banana bread and Coke, however, really hit the spot out there.

After yesterday's religious experience, where for the last three stages, it seemed nothing could out-do the epic nature of each set of circumstances, I really feared for what stage 6 could bring. How high could we raise the ceiling of suffering, or how low could the bar of failure be set?

Stage 6 was a mass start and around the 3km mark I found myself having to pull over and fiddle with an immediate mechanical situation. It was resolved in just a minute or two, but that was enough time to see over ONE THOUSAND riders pass me at 50+kph. If you've never seen over a thousand riders on their bikes, at one time, in one place, let me tell you, it's a lot of people. It's a roiling sea of people and abilities, veering left and right, and sometimes falling over themselves. One thousand backsides and helmets.

Today's route spent a few kms on the tarmac, then turned onto a dirt road that soon began what would be about 14km of climbing. Moving from that last marker position, back to the front-ish end of the race, gave a unique perspective on the event... and hopefully I didn't leave an impression on it of being a jerk to the 900-some odd folks I had to pass. Seeing that group, strung out wheel to wheel to wheel to wheel to wheel to wheel around a lake, up a dozen switchbacks, the leaders disappearing into the clouds as I began the climb.

If it's not this, it'll be something else. That has been the developing theme here at the Epic. As I rode through the field, taking the entire climb on the "B" line, all I could think about is how much food they'll need through out the day. How would the feed stations handle them? How many bars, gels, blocks, baggies, foil wrapped items must be in their pockets? I've read the stats on how many tons of Swedish Fish the race goes through, but those numbers don't mean a thing until you see the race from the back, lined out across an entire mountain.

My partner Justin Lindine waited for me at the top of the climb, unsure where I was or what had happened... we later I blew through feed station 1 today, the first feed station we skipped all week.

I was really looking forward to that banana bread.

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Jason Sager (Team Jamis) is in South Africa, racing the 2012 Cape Epic mountain bike stage race. The 37-year-old father and husband manages the Jamis team and also still competes professionally.

Sager is a long-time racer who often does in mountain bike stage races and other endurance events although you will still see him in some cross country races.

In 2011, he won five stages of the Trans Andes and finished second overall at the Trans-Sylvania Epic with three stage wins along the way. He was 17th at the Cape Epic with a few top 10 finishes.

The past two years, Sager has finished as runner-up in the BC Bike Race, in which he has eight total career stage wins.

Sager, a former banker, is based in Ogden, Utah.