I was excited, nervous and apprehensive. I get like that before races, very introspective and quiet. Today I was VERY quiet. The millions of questions floating around my head only distracted by the cute activities and musings of my young daughter.

My nervousness only increased as we turned into Meerendal. Vehicles with expensive clean bicycles parked side by side in the rider parking. There seems to be some sort of telepathy that riders develop while training for an event like this. You look across at someone else as you’re offloading and no words are exchanged but there is a silent mutual respect.

Rain was forecast for the day and it threatened the early starters that were standing ready for the start. The accompanying wind made for a cold and unpleasant wait.

08:15 - The PA system asked for Team 326 to step forward and we were in line to climb up into the start box.

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Photo by Greg Beadle/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

The Start

As we rolled off the start chute there was already a fair crowd gathered up the straight and we turned a few sharp corners to enter the Manor house.

Rolling out the doors on the other side we were met by a generous crowd and two short staircases to ride down. Also a very curious large area of plastic sheeting filled with grapes that we rode over. The assumption is that the 1200 cyclists on the day are having a go at pressing grapes for Meerendal. Very cool and from what I can gather has to be a first.

Onto a ramp that took us over the Meerendal road with a steep drop onto the grass and some singletrack that included cambered dips, rises and few bridges that led to the real warm up of the day. The stairway to heaven, this boasted more ramped bridges used cleverly so that riders starting off on the course rode above riders coming back in under the ramps and we now climbed the mix of brick, concrete strip and clay switchbacks. The climb was constant but we climbed at a reserved pace passing a few teams and passed by one of two others until we reached the single track that was traditionally reserved for descending. It followed the passing pattern of the first part of the climb until we reached the top.

A quick drink and then we descended a path that lined a farm fence which veered off left and then swept along the hillsides. This opened out onto the high speed quarry road where you had to be careful as random rocks and drainage dips littered the road.

The route then wound its way through the farmlands along the incredible amount of single track that the hills in the area are covered with, such a treat. Thrown in were two short steep climbs on farm road to the top of the hills followed again by some great flowing trails.

Across a wooden bridge that brought us back to the Meerendal farm and we joined the tracks again under the previously mentioned ramps and up another short climb that led us to, well the most fun part of the route. A BMX style bermed section that had riders whooping for joy and the previous 19km of the route were quickly forgotten. Then back onto the Meerendal clay singletrack that led us down to the finish. But only after throwing us up over another scaffold ramp and onto a short section of farm road into the crowd lined finish.

A really enjoyable 23km with 700m of climbing that was hard on the wrists but great for the soul and a great start to this year’s Epic. The atmosphere at the start was hardly dampened by the moody Cape Town weather with a great turnout of spectators.

Tomorrow’s stage is going to be a tough one and according to all weather reports a wet one so it should be very interesting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBXGzuEz4sc