Read on to get some insights from John Wakefield, performance coach for Team BORA-hansgrohe and director at Science to Sport.
The Absa Cape Epic, often referred to as the “Tour de France of mountain biking,” is a gruelling multi-stage race that pushes riders to their limits as they navigate rugged terrain and conquer challenging climbs. As we prepare for the 2024 edition of this epic event, it’s crucial to understand the training philosophies and strategies that can make or break your performance. To shed light on this, we spoke to expert trainer John Wakefield, who shared his insights on the route and how to approach the race.
Prologue: A Short but Pivotal Start
The prologue is the prologue. It’s a short and intense stage and sets the tone for the entire race. According to John, while the routes may change over the years, the approach stays the same and the 2024 Absa Cape Epic will be no different. “So your approach to the prologue would be exactly the same, whether you are, as an example, Matt, and looking to possibly get that yellow jersey or still be in the mix from an overall position or whether you’re looking just to get into a specific group,” says John. “It’s short enough that you can go all out and recover for the next day.” The prologue’s brevity allows for an all-out effort, but it’s essential to remember that recovery is key, given the punishing days ahead.
Intensity and Climbing: Key Factors in 2024
One significant change in the 2024 Absa Cape Epic is the emphasis on climbing. While the stages have been shortened in terms of kilometres, riders will face more climbing than before. “The intensity will probably be a little bit higher just because it’s shorter and the stages are harder overall,” John observes. “Even though the midfield has shrunk, I believe the intensity throughout the field will increase.”
The increased intensity is a direct result of the front riders setting a faster pace. This leads to shorter cutoff times, putting pressure on all participants to maintain a brisk tempo.
Stage 1 and 2: Pacing and Mental Toughness
The initial stages of the 2024 Absa Cape Epic, especially Stages 1 and 2, are going to demand careful pacing and mental fortitude. John highlights the importance of not overexerting on Stage 1 over 90km around Tulbagh. “Guys often go hammer and tongs because they’re feeling fresh and in the first hour, they basically do a cross-country race in terms of intensity,” he warns. “It’s essential to rein yourself in and not go as hard as you could, as blowing it in the first few hours can be detrimental.” That stage also features a big chunk of climbing with 2450m.
At 93km, Stage 2 is no walk in the park either, with technical terrain and fatigue coming into play. According to John, attempting to make up for a tough Stage 1 can lead to a cycle of overexertion, making pacing and strategy crucial in these initial stages.
The Queen Stage: Technical Skill and Positioning
Stage 4, is the Queen Stage from Tulbagh to Wellington and is characterised by challenging climbs and technical singletracks and presents a unique set of challenges. John emphasises the importance of positioning at key moments. “Positioning is relative throughout the field,” he says. “You want to make sure that you are in that ‘front group’ of your batch to get over the top of the big climbs and then enter the singletrack in a good placing (without getting held up),” he notes. “Even if you’re just trying to make the cutoff, getting stuck behind a slow rider can lead to significant time losses.”
Training for Absa Cape Epic Success
In broad sweeps, for those looking to prepare properly for the 2024 Absa Cape Epic, John suggests a focus on specificity in training. Now this may seem simple but the key lies in focussing on what lies in store with this route: “Understand the terrain and the rhythm it’s going to take to ride it,” he advises. “Practice proper climbing techniques, smooth pedal strokes and handle your bike effectively on climbs. Additionally, work on technical skills in a fatigued state.”
According to John, training isn’t just about miles on the road; it’s about mastering the specific demands of the race. He believes that working ‘climbing and descending in a fatigued state’ into your programme will stand you in good stead.
“The ability to climb effectively is a fundamental skill that can significantly impact your performance,” he says before explaining that, “it’s essential to consider your bike setup and how you manage your bike while tackling uphill sections.”
According to John, in addition to climbing skills, honing your ability to handle technical singletracks even when you’re physically tired needs to be practiced. “For instance, incorporating repeated ten-minute climbs with singletrack descents into your training rides can be highly beneficial for building this skillset.”
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a first-time participant, these strategies and insights from John Wakefield can help you conquer the challenges of the 2024 Absa Cape Epic.
John has written a series of incredibly rich and insightful articles for us on coaching and cycling-specific training that you can find here.