This year I was back racing alongside Theresa Ralph thanks to sponsors Garmin, Galileo Risk and Gear Group who covered our costly entry and made it possible for us to be on the start line.
The 2017 route was set to consist of 691 kilometres and 15 400m of vertical gain but extreme heat saw the total distance shortened by 40km (and 850 m of vertical gain) for the first time in history on stage 2. In the bigger picture only a small chunk was removed, but it surely made for some big discussions afterwards. Personally, I took a beating from illness and was only too thankful for the discount on suffering.
The 26 km prologue on day one was again held at Meerendal Wine Estate. From there it was on to Hermanus for the opening 101km stage. The next day riders left the local high school to finish the shortened 62km stage at Caledon instead of Greyton. Stage three’s 78km route started and finished in Greyton followed by the longest stage in the Epic which took riders from Greyton to the Oak Valley Wine Estate over 112km. Stages 5 and 6 were laid out in the Elgin valley and surrounding area, with the latter forming the Queen stage – 103km with 2750 m of elevation gain. Stage 7 took riders to a new Grand Finale Venue at the Val de Vie Estate near Paarl.
On the morning of the prologue I woke up with some minor flu symptoms but wrote it off as pre-race nerves. If only it was the case… Racing a prologue mid-day in scorching temperatures didn’t help and by nightfall I couldn’t ignore the symptoms any longer and had to accept my fate.
The days that followed were a battle, not only against the challenges the course and weather conditions had thrown at us, but also against my own body. Mentally and physically it was just a tough week (and I’m sure I’m not the only one with war stories to tell) but having a supportive teammate and supporting crew is without a doubt what kept me in the race.
Theresa was and is an incredible partner. She always stayed positive and never made me feel like I was holding the team back despite it being blatantly obvious. She motivated me along and made me feel like a real trooper for hanging in despite my illness. She kept the built-up tears at bay with her charismatic humour before, during and after each stage.
Obviously every rider has his/her own ambitions for an event and makes plenty of sacrifices to be in good form at the Epic. Yet when I wasn’t up to the challenge Theresa pushed her own ambitions and disappointments aside and instead decided to focus on the positive – which was to get us to the finish line. Experiencing this team ethic firsthand from Theresa as well as the amazing support from our crew made the Epic worth all the sweat and tears.
After the completion of each stage we got transferred back to our accommodation where homemade sandwiches lay in wait. All our home cooked meals were freshly prepared for us, our laundry was washed, we got treated to daily massages and the logistical arrangements were all sorted out. I felt like a VIP and have to admit I’ve never been so spoiled at any event in my life.
My Epic 2017 will always be remembered not for the racing but the camaraderie of Theresa and the unbelievable support I received from our Epic crew. Thanks Mr. Charmain and co for the wonderful opportunity and for sharing the experience with me!