7:44 am and we're gearing up for the start of the untamed mountain bike race, the 10th Absa Cape Epic. There are 1,200 other riders from 41 different countries doing this event and the atmosphere is slightly apprehensive. Covering 698km with 15,650m of climbing over eight days, this is the world's largest and toughest mountain bike race, and I have somehow agreed to ride with my good friend Sven Thiele, HotChillee's founder.
We've just finished HotChillee's Cape Rouleur, a multi-stage road bike event in the region. Road cycling is the kind of riding I am used to, but here I am, on a Trek Superfly 29er mountain bike - not completely alien, but I've not exactly spent a great deal of time on a mountain bike prior to this.
We're in a mountain biking Mecca, right on Cape Town's doorstep, waiting to embark on the 22km prologue, with 700m of climbing. This will take us out and back from Meerendal, Durbanville. And we're off - under foggy conditions, but it doesn't take long for the blue skies to shine through, presenting yet more of the unbelievable scenery this country has on offer. I've come to love cycling in South Africa. It is second-to-none, whether on a mountain bike or road bike. Coastal roads, mountainous terrain, singletrack, gravel, dirt, fallen trees; you name your favoured cycling and backdrop, South Africa has it.
Almost as soon as we start cycling in the prologue, we're faced with a challenging climb up the aptly named "Stairway to Heaven" to the top of Dorstberg. It's hard work, but when we get to the mountain top we're faced with incredible views. I can see Table Mountain, Robben Island and Cape Point.
But there's no time to stop. A quick moment to take on some water and it's head back down. We've decided to stick to water for our hydration. Perhaps it's a bit old fashioned, but the last thing we want is our stomachs being upset by special drinks. It's an eight-stage race, and we're not prepared to risk anything.
It's then back to the steep vineyards, enough to test even the best mountain biker's legs and a finish on singletrack. We completed it in one hour, 33 minutes and 37.7 seconds.
It was an incredible 22km ride. You see so much more on a mountain bike than from the road, and it's a completely mixed terrain. One minute you're on gravel, then dirt, then small stones, then big stones, then fallen trees. It certainly keeps you on your toes. There's a real buzz at the Rider's Village tonight and all riders are socialising and having a great time. Tomorrow brings a 100km stage.
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1987 Triple Crown Winner Stephen Roche is sharing his experience riding the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race in South Africa with the HotChillee Absa Cape Epic MTB Team. Roche is racing with Sven Thiele. This is part of a joint celebration of HotChillee's The London-Paris and the Absa Cape Epic's 10-year anniversaries.
The HotChillee Cape Epic MTB teams' sponsors include The Bicycle Company for Trek MTB Bikes and Bontrager components, add-ons and Service Corp; PowerBar for nutrition; Hertz for vehicles; Continental for Tyres and LeMarq for clothing.
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