Skip to main content

Darkest hour, greatest moment

Image 1 of 20

Time for a push

Time for a push (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 2 of 20

Jeremiah Bishop

Jeremiah Bishop (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 3 of 20

The peloton

The peloton (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 4 of 20

Sue Haywood consumes another gel... How many is it so far this week?

Sue Haywood consumes another gel... How many is it so far this week? (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 5 of 20

Sue Haywood gives Jenny Smith a push on stage seven.

Sue Haywood gives Jenny Smith a push on stage seven. (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 6 of 20

The Trek ladies get some camera time.

The Trek ladies get some camera time. (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 7 of 20

Sue Haywood and Jenny Smith

Sue Haywood and Jenny Smith (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 8 of 20

Trek's women make it through another day, still in second overall.

Trek's women make it through another day, still in second overall. (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 9 of 20

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet? (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 10 of 20

The Trek women enjoy a shaded part of the course.

The Trek women enjoy a shaded part of the course. (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 11 of 20

The peloton

The peloton (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 12 of 20

Sue Haywood leads through a brusy section.

Sue Haywood leads through a brusy section. (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 13 of 20

Sue Haywood still has enough energy left to wave at the camera.

Sue Haywood still has enough energy left to wave at the camera. (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 14 of 20

At least one of the Trek team members was riding a hardtail.

At least one of the Trek team members was riding a hardtail. (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 15 of 20

Jeremiah Bishop

Jeremiah Bishop (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 16 of 20

Jeremiah Bishop in the support area

Jeremiah Bishop in the support area (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 17 of 20

Jeremiah Bishop and Chris Eatough

Jeremiah Bishop and Chris Eatough (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 18 of 20

Time for a push - a strategy employed by many in the Cape Epic.

Time for a push - a strategy employed by many in the Cape Epic. (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 19 of 20

Bork keeps all the bikes running.

Bork keeps all the bikes running. (Image credit: Sven Martin)
Image 20 of 20

Hanging out after the stage one day to go.

Hanging out after the stage one day to go. (Image credit: Sven Martin)

April 4, 2008

Standing amid pre-race music and a predawn marine layer of clouds (before stage seven) were just 900 of the 1,200 riders who signed up for the hardest and longest event in the history of the Cape Epic.

"Udo," I called out from within the start box. "Which race is harder, this one or the Tour de France?" I asked with a smile.

In a thick German accent, Udo Boelts, a veteran of more than 10 Tours replied, "It is about the same. The Tour is longer, but this… in this you have no recovery, no smooth spinning and descents on which you can eat, drink and recover. This race, it is always go, go, go!"

Somehow, I suspected that might be the answer to my question. The Cape Epic is like the Tour without the chatty laughing from the peleton or occasional neutral pee breaks. At the stage finishes of the Cape Epic, you'll never see sparkling clean bikes and fresh faced riders. And you'd better bet your ass that the riders in this race are suffering from the beating that close to 1,000 kilometers of prehistoric red dust, sand and volcanic rock can dish out on your hands, feet and tail.

This morning was tough at the Trek team camp. Jenny [Smith], who is in second place on our women's team, was sick and wore a look of dread on her face. I asked how she was doing. "Not good," she said, holding back tears. I knew she was not only sick, but also run down. Who isn't run down at this point? I know I am. Sleep deprivation, aching muscles, the hardship of brutal five-hour stages, the best competitors in the world; these things add up. I wasn't much feeling like putting my raw ass on a bike's seat for one more day, but I didn't share this. Instead, I said, "I'm proud of you. There's only one more short day after this! We're almost done!"

During our race today, Chris [Eatough] and I fought to make the lead group. I helped Chris keep up with the pace on the steepest sections. We were riding close, always communicating and putting in a super-focused effort to make the jump to the lead group for the high-speed dirt roads that always links the jeep track trails. After feed zone one, we rode toward the tail of the leading group with Bart Brentjens and Alban Lakata of the Dolphin-Trek team. Apparently, Alban was another rider facing sickness. He was lagging badly behind Bart; Bart was too far ahead to help, so he just would look back with a puzzled expression. Alban looked green and his head hung in a strange way but he fought to continue and did!

In the second half of the race, Chris, too, was hurting. However, unlike Bart, I sensed my team-mate's condition and stuck as close as possible. Since I was feeling very good today, I pushed Chris to keep us in that top group.

With 10 kilometers to go, we were caught by four riders of the ETTO-Hoydahl teams (ETTO-Hoydahl has three teams in the race). Rune Hoydahl, the many-time World Cup winner was in the group. Nearing the finish, as they continued to work together, and we suffered like dogs to stay with them. We raced down the last dusty dirt road to the finish, teeth gritting in the dust, not able to see anything. We were in the zone.

We put on some nice moves to beat the second ETTO-Hoydahl team for tenth place in the stage. After the race, I thought of our day and I knew we had ridden not only as well as we could, but most importantly, we rode though the toughest part of the Cape Epic as team and found our greatest moment from our worst.

We hope tomorrow will be a smooth and short stage to the finish.

Thanks for reading,
Jeremiah Bishop
Trek-VW Racing Team

Men's team:
Jeremiah Bishop (USA), 32, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Chris Eatough (USA), 33, Oella, Maryland

Women's team:
Sue Haywood (USA), 36, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Jennifer Smith (NZl), 35, Gunnison, Colorado

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*

Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59

Join now for unlimited access

Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

For the first time, American-based team Trek / VW is sending racers to the internationally reknown Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa from March 28 to April 5, 2008. Two men and two women, all four accomplished in various off-road racing disciplines, come together to take on some of the toughest stage racers world-wide. Chris Eatough, who dominates the American 100 mile and 24-hour endurance scene, has partnered with World Cup racer and US Olympic Team contender Jeremiah Bishop while Xterra Off-Road regular Jenny Smith teams up with Sue Haywood, the winner of El Reto Guatemala, TransRockies, and La Ruta de los Conquistadores. All four racers and their team manager will take turns contributing diary entries before and during the event.